The El Alamein’s bothy in the Cairngorms location was accidental – intended to be sited at the plateau’s edge just above the gently sloping grassy Coire na Spreidhe (Coire of the Cattle), a mistake in the map reference saw it constructed some distance beneath this coire, on the steep and boulder-strewn slopes of Strath Nethy. This is a lovely part of the Cairngorms with great views of Strath Nethy and Loch Avon. It is a place to sit and enjoy the views and peace away from the industrial Ski area. It is amazing what wild life you see so close to this busy area but in summer it is usually peaceful and enjoyable.
A small line of tiny (now largely collapsed) never found them cairns lead down towards it, but even on a good day these would be difficult to discern from the other piles of rock which are abundant in this area. Other incidents influenced matters too. In November 1972, there was the so-called Cairngorm Tragedy when seven children in a school party perished in the winter weather. The subsequent Fatal Accident Inquiry concluded that the existence of Curran Bothy caused the school party to head for it to spend the night, and hence if it had not been there they would not have headed for it and not gone on and perished. There are other arguments against bothies on the highly vulnerable plateau.
The plateau bothies, the Curran Bothy and the St Valery were demolished and the El Alamein left to its own devices. Jean’s Hut and the Sinclair Hut have gone,for various reasons. The Fords of Avon bothy on land owned by the RSPB has recently been rebuilt, but not for overnight accommodation. Basically it is an emergency shelter for those marooned while crossing the Lairig and Loaigh. It has been credited with saving several lives over the years. Whatever your views these places were and are part of the history of this place and make a good navigation exercise locating where they were and how they effected this wild area,
A stone is emebedded in the wall of the bothy it reads El Alamein Refuge 1963. It has the badge of the 51 st Highland Division that was thought they built the shelter a similar plaque lies at the former site of the St Valery Refuge. The military trained heavily in this area of the Cairngorms during the war, using the harsh environment as a test for the troops.
This is from Ray Sefton the guru of the Cairngorms – However, I have to make a minor correction to the history of the bothies. They were not built by the 51st Highland Division, but in memory of the Division. They were built by the Artificer Apprentices from HMS Caledonia, Rosyth, led by CSM Jim Curran of the Royal Marines. Jim married a local girl and lived in Aviemore for many years. The metal work for the El Alamein, Curran, St Valery and Fords of Avon were made in the workshops at Rosyth and carried to the sites as part of adventure training exercises and the walls were then built. I think the reason the El Alemain survived is that it was located in Inverness-shire, whereas the others were in Moray or Banffshire. Thanks Ray Sefton!
The plaque for the St Valery Refuge is worth trying to find a what a location it is in and makes an interesting search for a group. You wonder how many stories of nights in these wee bothies in the past. I spent a couple of nights in the 70’s as it was a great area for a night Exercise and a part that few of the Team knew. It would be hard to find in the days before GPS and many times it was very hard work to locate. It is as I said a great place to spot wild life and the many ptarmigan that live in this area are hard to spot especially during the nesting season. Be aware where you are walking as their camouflage is incredible, it is easy to stand on a nesting bird such is their dedication to their young. Please be as careful as you can not to disturb the nesting birds.
This is not a barren wasteland but a place of great beauty and solitude. enjoy it. I hope to get out this weekend at long last!
From George Mc Ewan – The background to the HD symbol is St Valery was where the original 51st Highland Division was captured by the Germans whilst serving as a rearguard for the British Army pulling out of Dunkirk in 1940. It was reformed and the reborn division’s baptism of fire was at El Alamein in 1942. The Gordon Highlanders who made up one of the main infantry components of the division recruited from around this part of the Highlands. I think that’s the link. My Grandfather served with the 51st during this period and from his diary and the histoRy of the 51st they were mostly based up in the NE and around to Inverness – I’ve not read that they actually trained in the hills. The 51st’s sister division – 52nd Highland Division did train in the Cairngorms – they were being trained up as a mountain warfare division, complete with pack howitzers and mule trains ran by Sikh muleteers. Their first action in 1944 was – part of the division shipped off to the jungles of Burma, the other part took part in the fighting in the flooded coastal areas of Holland! Both a far cry from the Cairngorms.
Thanks for the information.