More on El Alamein Refuge in the Cairngorms. Bothies threatened by Commercial groups?

Many will have read my Blog on the El Alamein Refuge in the Cairngorms. My blogs on various occasions have spoken about this old bothy in disrepair.  A pal has visited and tried to patch things up a bit any views.

A bit of history  – 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  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. In winter this area holds heavy snow and can be an interesting journey to test your skills. 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 affected this wild area.

A stone is embedded 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 Alamein survived is that it was located in Inverness-shire, whereas the others were in Moray or Banffshire.

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.  It is so near the Ski area which is just now a construction site area yet nearby such a wild place to be.

Update this week  15 August 2016

This bothy is not looked after by the MBA it has some history though!  At least the big groups will not be taking clients to this bothy a bit too spartan I would think ?.


“The sustainability of Scotland’s mountain bothies is being threatened by commercial groups, the organisation that maintains the network has warned.

The Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) said it was concerned about the increasing number of businesses using the shelters.

Bothies are found throughout the Highlands, with most of them maintained by the MBA

They are free, but users are asked to follow a “bothy code”.

The code prohibits the use of the buildings by commercial groups.

Many bothies were estate buildings originally built for stalking parties or gamekeepers, but are now popular with hillwalkers and climbers. The MBA was formed in 1965 and looks after about 100 bothies throughout the UK.

Most of the shelters are found in Scotland. They provide basic accommodation, but are generally wind and watertight.

Emergency use

The charity said there were a “number of reasons” why commercial use of bothies – for example by guided tours or adventure holidays – could damage the interests of other bothy users.

In a statement, the MBA said: “There have been occasions when an owner has threatened to close a bothy if we fail to act to prevent further use in this way.

“There have been incidents when legitimate bothy users have been made to feel unwelcome, inconvenienced or even refused entry when commercial groups have been in residence.

“Our volunteers who maintain the bothies, not unreasonably, feel aggrieved to know that their hard work is contributing to the profits of a business that probably does not support our organisation in any way.”

But the MBA said it was happy with commercial groups using bothies as a lunch shelter or “in the event of a genuine emergency”.

The bothy below is not an MBA maintained one!


ElAlamein J Fraser Aug 2016

ElAlamein J Fraser Aug 2016

Hello Heavy,

When you write something on the internet you just don’t know what some madman will do in reaction to it. So it is in this case that I read about the state of the El Alamein Refuge on your blog and went to see if I could do something about it. I thought of taking an enormous toolkit but instead I settled on a lump hammer and a cold chisel.

When I got there the air conditioning was definitely on since large sections of the NE corner and east roof were in a very bad state. The door hung sadly from one hinge and the wire bench was at a silly angle.

This photograph from the Alan Halewood Blog shows roughly the condition as I found it.
Note how well lit the subjects are since there is very little above them.

The stonework on the east (downhill) side is in a very poor state and needs stripped down and rebuilt by a good dry-stoner. It is poor protection for visitors and a danger to anyone who works on it. At one point, while trying to fill in the holes, I had to run for my life as a good half tonne of granite came my way. Although by no means perfect, the west wall and roof are in a far better and secure state.

Some aluminium section can be seen on the right, behind the door, in the Halewood photograph. That was still there and there was also another piece of aluminium and some steel galvanised wire.

The first thing I did was hang the door back on the hinges and batter them into some kind of working shape. The door now works and the outside bolt works but the hinges are still weak and will easily fail again. One can secure the door from the inside by using the piece of wire that hangs from it. I have made new support wires for the wire grid bench.

ElAlameinJF Aug 2016 photos J Fraser.

ElAlameinJF Aug 2016 photos J Fraser.

I flattened the aluminium sections so that I had two flat sheets that were luckily roughly the size of the missing part of the roof. The wire grid on the roof is in two layers and a textile and plastic sandwich had originally been put between these for protection and insulation. I was able to force the aluminium sheets between the two layers and fix them to the wire grid with pieces of wire. It is not water-tight but provides considerably more protection than has been there for some years.

I rebuilt some of the NE corner walls and then added the flattest stones I could find to the lower part of the east roof. I did not manage to complete the stonework for the north (back) wall and the east roof. There is a still a gap in the wall at the SE corner. The air conditioning is still on!
Two photographs attached.

If anyone else sees fit to do more work on it then please be sure to take some suitable PPE. Impact-protection work gloves and safety boots are recommended. Heavy leather rigger gloves and winter boots at a minimum.

They should also make sure your ‘lone-worker’ precautions are better than mine were!


Jim Fraser – thanks for the info.

In winter a wild place

In winter a wild place – not easy to find?

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Bothies, Enviroment, mountain safety. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to More on El Alamein Refuge in the Cairngorms. Bothies threatened by Commercial groups?

  1. Good effort by Jim Fraser! Not sure the MBA would ever take this on, being in such a strange place (but who knows?) – but it’s great to see the bothy/howff-building spirit is still strong in some quarters and hasn’t been entirely institutionalised.


  2. Jim Fraser says:

    To bring El Alamein Refuge back to original condition would be a considerable task. However, making it into a useful basic shelter again wouldn’t be so hard.
    1. DOOR. The hinges need replaced. The bottom one is in the worst state. The inside bolt is corroded away but replacing the bolts with a single sliding bar that can be easily operated from both sides by cold mittened hands would be best.
    2. ROOF. Aluminium sheet is a decent interim solution that can be managed by a small work party with limited equipment. Adding more sheet on the east side and then a ridge piece, or pieces, would be good. 2mm galvanised fence wire is useful for securing. I haven’t been there in the rain so I can’t be sure I know how effective the west side of the roof is. More flat stones are required to complete the roof.
    3. WALLS. There are major holes near the door and high at the opposite gable. The east (downhill) wall is very unstable and I cannot stress enough how dangerous it is working around that quantity of precariously balanced granite. A work party of two or three strong folk, one of whom is an experienced dry stone worker, could make a huge difference to it over a weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jim Fraser says:

    I am of the opinion that the removal of mountain refuges that has taken place has not been necessary. What I believe is true and should have been addressed is that they were often in stupid places. If such structures are going to function as an emergency refuge (although some may also have other purposes) then they must be located where a party in trouble in bad weather can hardly miss them rather than where they function as a navigational challenge! In that respect, El Alamein is as bad as any. However, I don’t think there is an appetite for a move! It’s an oddity, by a green and beautiful place, with spectacular views, and bears the letters HD that still mean something to some of us and ensures our protection.

    Liked by 1 person

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