The bothy. A small hut or cottage, especially one for housing farm labourers or for use as a mountain refuge.
The Mountain Bothy Association (MBA) pledge ‘to maintain simple shelters in remote country for the use & benefit of all who love wild & lonely places.’
And in all fairness that’s exactly what they do and more at Llyn Dulyn bothy in the Carneddau mountains, Snowdonia.
The bothy itself sits close to Llyn Dulyn, a deep natural lake from where it is named. It was built in the mid-1880’s with its construction linked to the lake being used as a reservoir. Over the next century it was used as a shepherd hut until finally being recognized as an official mountain bothy.
I wanted to visit this place a few times before I wrote about it, get a proper feel for the place and hopefully get to speak to some other bothy-goers.
Most people taking in the delights of the refuge do so as part of a 5.5 mile circular hike from a car park close to Llyn Eigiau. The path takes you gradually uphill along a 4×4 track into the next valley following the South-West trail towards Llyn Melynllyn. It was at this lake where slate was mined and became known as ’Dragons Tongue’. It became world famous for its ability to hone a blade sharper than any other abrasive rock. If you’re lucky, you might even find a piece.
The trail narrows, hugging the cliff faces and descends towards a second, more sinister looking lake, Llyn Dulyn (Black Lake). It only appears small but it is almost 190ft deep giving it a dark and brooding appearance hence its name. Legend has it that ‘its fish are deformed and unsightly and you will never see any bird alight upon its waters.’
Legends aside, it’s a perfect spec to stop and explore with the steep cliffs rising up from the water to the peaks of Garnedd Ugain and Foel Grach and a small fishing hut to add to the landscape. Don’t be tempted to fire the stove up though as the bothy isn’t far from here. To add to the intrigue of the place, it has been the site of several small aircraft crashes. Low cloud turning its cliff faces into a deadly wall for pilots travelling from the East. During the Summer months after low rainfall, the damaged propeller from a USAF plane can be seen poking from the water.
Turning back on yourself and heading down the opposite side of the valley, a couple of hours after leaving the car park, the chimney of the bothy finally comes into view.
My first visit was with a friend and standing at the front door to the porch entrance we scratched our heads as there was no handle on the door and no obvious way in! A gap in the stonework around the door frame let me get my arm into the darkness to locate the latch from the inside. Fully expecting some demon to devour my hand I opened the door as quick as I could. The second door had a straight-forward handle and the mechanism echoed as it opened.
The first thing you realise after walking in, as the stillness hits is how noisy the weather was outside. The walls are blackened from the smoke from the fire and the air smells like your clothes on the 5th November. The wooden floor creaks as you find your own slice of cosiness.
There are two rooms. The first main room accessible from the small front porch has a large bench/worktop, some plastic school chairs, a multi-fuel open stove and some shelves built into the walls. The second room is more adapted to sleeping quarters with a colourful stack of foam ground mats in the corner and a makeshift washing line strung from one end of the roof to the other. The place is littered with candles and tea lights and the shelves are stacked with all sorts of goodies from tinned food and dry wood to packs of cards, toilet roll and even a game of Scrabble!
On my second visit, as I hung my outer layers out to dry, the door opened and in walked Gwyn and Melvyn; two old boys in their late-seventies, looking for somewhere to eat their corn beef sandwiches. I’d walked past them on the way down the valley and joked that I’d stick the kettle on for them for when they arrived. We shared some coffee and jokes and even knew some mutual friends.
Another visit was with two work friends on a wintery adventure in the snow. It was early on a Monday morning and we assumed we were the only crazy ones to venture out into the mountains that early on such a cold day. We were frozen by the time we reached the bothy and I couldn’t feel my toes as kicked the snow off my boots before demonstrating my skills, popping the latch open through the gap in the wall to the delight of my audience who couldn’t wait to get in and thaw out.
Inside, to our surprise was a lady feeding bits of old timber into the stove. A man appeared from the second room and introduced themselves as Daisy and Phil. They were volunteers of the MBA and were responsible for the repairs and maintenance jobs on the bothy. I couldn’t help but notice Phil’s Southern accent and after asking him, he informed us he was from Brighton, right down on the South coast and travelled all the way up regularly to keep the place in working order. Admiring his commitment I took some dry wood from the shelf and feeling under the watchful eye of the MBA, replaced the wood I’d taken with some waterproof matches from my fire starting kit – swap-shop style! They had brought a huge rucksack with tools and provisions and were there for the day doing some repair work around the windows. We strung out the chat taking advantage of the roaring fire and cooked some food up. I fired up my BioLite stove as Daisy was busy stoking the main one.
The BioLite burns small pieces of dry wood and heats an internal probe which powers a fan increasing the intensity of the fire in the chamber and reducing the amount of smoke providing you keep it alight. Trying to dry some clothes I hadn’t noticed that the fire had died down to a smoulder and began smoking the room out, springing Phil into action as he slammed open a window and flung the door wide open to create a through flow of fresh mountain air. Feeling like a complete amateur and a bit stupid, I apologised to Phil and Daisy once I could see them in front of me again! As hard as he tried to smile, we sensed Phil’s need to get back to how things were before we arrived and we said our goodbyes laughing about the situation as we looked back seeing some smoke still floating from the windows!
Bothys originate in Scotland and they’re pretty much common place in the highlands but there aren’t many in Wales, particularly in the North. I hope over the coming years some more of the abandoned farm houses are revived and learn from the success of Dulyn bothy.
I will always take the time to stop when in the area. It really is a special little place. I definitely intend to spend the night here one day too; I bet the sky looks amazing on a clear night in such a remote location.
Anyone who likes a medium sized, circular hike on moderate terrain taking in numerous points of interest should definitely put this on their list. The drive up to the car park from Dolgarrog tackles most of the altitude so there aren’t many steep hills although there are a few farmers’ gates that you have to drive through and close again behind you. There is also livestock on the road most of the time so please drive carefully.