Perhaps now is a good time to admit that I’m afraid of the dark. Not the dark, per se, but an irrational fear that something or someone is lurking around every corner after dark. Determined that my son won’t inherit the same anxieties, I do my best to model a calm confidence in the face of any fear-inducing night time situation. A night spent at Burley Whag bothy last week gave me the perfect chance to practice. I failed miserably.

This all started with an idea I had in the summer to spend 5 nights in 5 different bothies within 5 weeks while my son was still 5. Very kindly supported by The Next Challenge Adventure Grant we set out last week to sleep in Bothy Number 1 after some necessary mental and organisational preparation. Apart from coming face to face with a dead and decaying wild goat, the walk in to the bothy was blissfully uneventful.

Our timing was perfect, arriving half an hour before torrential downpours that lasted most of the night but which had cleared to a fresh blue sky and fluffy cotton wool clouds by morning. Abandoning our exploration of the bothy surrounds we set about all the usual bothy tasks; collecting water from the burn, giving the bothy a sweep, setting up our sleeping bags and mats, cooking a simple meal, setting the fire and lighting some candles. All complete we settled down in front of the stove with a pack of damp cards that we discovered in the bothy. I taught Finn rummy and much to his satisfaction he beat me almost every time. So far, so good, but the real adventure started after ‘lights out’.

In comparison with our usual frenzied bedtime routine at home, our bothy bedtime was calm and peaceful despite my anxiety as darkness approached. I stared out into the darkening night searching for the lights of any approaching walkers caught out in the rain, but of course saw nothing. Finn fell quickly asleep but as expected I laid awake, eyes wide open, listening hard for any noises out of the ordinary. There were plenty. Starting with various bumps and scrapes in the shepherd’s storeroom adjacent to the bothy followed by a strange continuous ticking and progressing to the sounds of scurrying mice close to our beds. The more obvious mouse related sounds were actually quite comforting after the unidentified noises from the next room. It’s truly amazing how the imagination becomes so enlivened after dark. I drifted in and out of sleep, woken frequently by a new, seemingly louder noise or by Finn shifting over and slipping off his sleeping mat. Once he woke in the pitch black, heard the cacophony going on and asked what the noise was. I explained in my calming, confident voice that it was just the mice. “Oh right” he replied and promptly fell back asleep. Oh how I envied his calm, unconcerned reaction! With the approach of daylight, all my fears were exposed as what they really were. Irrational. Well, mostly, depending on your relationship with mice.

I welcomed the fresh breeze and blue skies of the morning. I washed away my grogginess and night time worries in the refreshing burn water and replaced them with gratitude to be waking in such a stunningly beautiful place with no-one for miles around. We swept out the bothy of mouse droppings accumulated during the night, packed up and played a couple more rounds of rummy. It was a leisurely hike back to the farm where we left the car, over terrain somewhat boggier than the previous day, not surprising after the wet night. We saw wild goats (live ones this time), buzzards, red kites and the still visible gibbous moon. There was just one challenge left to deal with. Finding the car keys. They weren’t anywhere where I thought they might be and would expected to have stored them. I put aside the possibility of having to walk back to the bothy and instead methodically unpacked every single item in my backpack. I finally found them in the bag full of rubbish (any rubbish, including toilet paper needs to be carried back out with you). I still have no idea how they got there. Maybe it was something in the night?

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Setting off for our first bothy of five with enough stuff for two and a bag of firewood

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Finn opted to carry his own jacket and lunch

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Feeling like an overloaded pack horse

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The path became increasingly boggy as we passed some long abandoned buildings.

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The bothy at last! It’s in the process of being re-roofed and there was a bit of a leak during the night

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Welcome to Burley Whag

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Playing outside the bothy before the downpours

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Setting up ‘camp’

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Despite the extra weight, it was worth bringing fuel to light a nice cosy fire

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Evening entertainment

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Washing up after breakfast

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Leaving the bothy with a lighter load

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Bothy mornings: My favourite time of the day

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Hiking home