Discover National Parks fortnight runs this year from 6 – 21 April, what better time then, to have our first family bothy adventure, taking the kids whilst on their Spring holidays to experience the Cairngorm National Park.
This year marks the 70th Anniversary of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act that paved the way for the establishment of National Parks in the UK. There are fifteen national parks created to protect and care for special landscapes across the UK, and for everyone in the country to enjoy. They span the length and breadth of the country. 10 in England, three in Wales and two in Scotland, and they protect almost 10 percent of England, 20 percent of Wales and 8 percent of Scotland.
The largest National Park in the UK is the Cairngorms. At 4,528 square kilometres, it’s bigger than the whole of Luxembourg and we are lucky enough to be able to get there from here in Aberdeen in under an hour’s drive.
Ramona (6) and Rufus (4) were so excited about the trip for about a week before going. Rufus would ask every day if we were going to the Bothy today. Also, he has the funniest accent sometimes and pronounces it bothay, like it has a French acute accent at the end!
We decided Glas Allt Shiel within the Cairngorms would make the perfect first bothy experience for the kids. There is pay and display parking at the Spittal of Glen Muick and it is a level walk in from there of about 3km - a distance we knew would be manageable. It ended up taking about an hour and a half to walk with the kids.
The open Bothy here is a previous outhouse to the main lodge situated on the Balmoral Estate by the shore of Loch Muick. In its present form it was built in 1868 by Queen Victoria, to be what she called her "widow's house" where she could escape from the world following the death of her husband Albert. It is now a category B listed building owned personally by Queen Elizabeth II. The Royals are known to picnic at the spot during their Balmoral visits, unsurprising as it is a seriously beautiful spot!
We knew the weather was forecast to be quite bad so Dan and I wore our regular gear for wet weather hiking and we also had the following:
What the kids wore to walk in:
Top and Bottom Thermals
Top and Bottom Cotton Layer
Down Insulated Jacket
Fleece Lined Waterproof Dungarees
Waterproof Outer Coat
Hat, Buff, Inner gloves, Outer waterproof gloves.
What we took for each of us to change into when we got there, (all dry clothes were stored in dry bags):
2 Changes of Underwear
Cosy Hoodie or fleece
Dry Hat and Buff (Hat could be slept in)
Change of Thermals
Change of Cotton Layer
Toothbrushes & Toothpaste
Food & Provisions:
Pre-made pasta sauce (prepared earlier at home based on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s macaroni peas recipe which the kids always love…we added pancetta for the trip, but you can find the original recipe in this article)
little tub of salt (to cook pasta)
Gingerbread Cake (For dessert!)
4x Custard Pots (For dessert!)
big insulated flask of milk
little tub of sugar
little tub of cheerios
Instant Hot Chocolate
Packet of Brioche
Caramel Wafers (Snack for walk out)
4 Crackle Logs
In hindsight it seems like a lot of stuff! But Dan and I knew it wasn’t a long walk in and we would manage to carry it. The kids each carried their own Classic Kanken backpacks with a cuddly toy and story book and each carried a little extra bit of kit, Rufus had all the head torches and cups, and Ramona carried the hot chocolate and pans.
The walk in was enjoyable, a dusting of snow on the ground, but I think we were lucky with a weather window as there was only a little sleet. The kids were fine as they are both very hardy and are used to being in weather and their kit! We did go over a few rules though, and the importance of keeping yourself, particularly your hands, feet and head as warm and dry as possible whilst in the mountains as Rufus in particular wanted to play in the snow and I didn’t want him to be getting cold right at the start of our walk in. We talked about how snow melt helps to create the mountain streams and rivers and how it ends up flowing all the way to the sea at Aberdeen, and we found loads of frog spawn on the way.
We got to the bothy around 5pm. We changed out of any wet gear and got the fire going before having our dinner and being joined by Ronnie, an avid bothy user! We chatted and had bedtime stories before settling down into our sleeping bags for the night. The kids slept pretty well actually, helped by the walking and the fact that the fire was kept burning overnight so we didn’t get too cold. In the morning we got dressed, had our breakfast and washed our dishes and faces in the stream running adjacent to the bothy before packing up again for the walk out.
By morning it had turned into a glorious day! Dry and Bright. The spot around the lodge is a truly beautiful spot and you couldn’t help but be deliriously happy waking up with a view like that at the door. We walked back out at a leisurely pace. Rufus especially! We checked on all the frog spawn as we went. Saw numerous birds of prey and deer grazing nearby. Sunlight glittering on the Loch in the background. By this time a number of walkers were meeting us on their days into the hills or around the Loch.
We were back to the car and home again for a late lunch. The kids were delighted by their adventure, and I’ve got a feeling that although it was our first, it definitely won’t be our last family bothy expedition!