Loch Chiarain Work Party

Back in June 2004 I decided to be adventurous and go up to Loch Chiarain for the work party organized by the Mountain Bothies Association. What had I let myself in for?

On Sunday 4th July 2004 I packed what seemed to be a ludicrously heavy rucksack which included the standard tent, stove sleeping bag etc. etc. But I didn't forget the essential items that Jim Ross had listed - the tape measure and the claw hammer.

View up Loch Chiarain

I arrived at Corrour in sunshine along with another 50 people - hard to believe but there were 50 people on the platform at Corrour. I put my bog hopping skills into practice along the track to Loch Treig. It was just after dinner time when I arrived at Loch Chiarain. I pitched my tent using the useful advice from John who informed me which tents were occupied by snorers. Feeling the chill of a July evening I ventured inside to eat my Morrison's best Sweet and Sour rice. The post dinner entertainment was provided by Paul with Iain as his able assistant.

The bothy when I arrived
Me on the front roof

On the first morning I was up at a reasonable hour then set to slating the front roof. Iain's instructions were nice and simple - use these nails and this hammer and nail the slates on along the chalk line. The last sentence was 'Don't matter if you break any...so long as its not too many'. Slating kept me occupied for the rest of the day. My light sunburn at the end of the day was evidence that you can still have a summer holiday with sunshine in Scotland. It did not take me long to learn the rules of the canteen: Margaret is in charge of all goings on in the canteen - There were no other rules. After dinner I met Tony who had arrived some 50 meters ahead of Neil who was carrying his rucksack. Tony did the honors by unpacking the rucksack with the various orders whilst detailing the exploits of his night out in Fort William. I have never seen a box containing six full bottles of whiskey being removed from one rucksack. At some point during the day I must have let slip to Iain that I played the tin Whistle. I was presented with one and that a performance was expected later on. The evening passed with as enjoyable ceilidh in the bothy with pieces provided from most people.

View from the back roof

Wednesday was another sunny day. I joined Jim's team working on the back roof. I'm still not sure if it was a promotion or a demotion? The first task was to lay the felt on the sarking. There was a lot of fuss deciding which way to put the felt on whilst keeping the required three inch overlap. Full marks go to Paul for recognising that the white line, approximately three inches from the edge, was there for a reason. Once the felt was nailed in place it was back to nailing slates on again. Slating the back roof was more interesting as we were recycling the slates which had been taken off the roof. These were a hotchpotch of sizes and thickness which added to the fun of trying to get them to lie flat on top of each other.

Under close scrutiny of Jim R
Jim and Neil sorting slates

The weather began to deteriorate on thursday but fortunately it was still too cold for the midges. The rear roof had become a big jigsaw puzzle. Each row became harder to complete as there were fewer suitable slates to choose from. I moved on to slate sorting which was not quite as energetic. It was more of a logistical challenge. We sorted them into piles of the same size with only limited space on the scaffolding. I was in bed early that night as the entertainment for the week end had been announced. There would be Cocktail party on Saturday followed by a 'Traditional Scottish Dinner' on Sunday.

I spent friday continuing to slate the back roof. We were finally getting up towards the ridge! Only 14 rows...11 rows...7 rows to go. We had to diligently salvage the ten inch slates from the scrap pile at the bottom of the scaffolding. The small slates had earlier been discarded for being too small. Our priorities changed to slate chopping and re-holeing the remaining slates. In the evening I ventured up to the top of the hill opposite the bothy (sorry map not to hand at the moment).The views were superb in all directions.

Saturday saw the slowest start so far as the Scottish rain had arrived. Despite the weather we managed to nail on a few more rows of slates. Then it emerged there was another pile of 11 inch slates. They would have to be chopped to make smaller ones. The Cocktail party was a success with full attendance. It was complete with nibbles including cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks. Even the cocktail glasses were filled with Margarets special cocktail. Well done Margaret.

Blackwater Dam

On Sunday the manual labour caught up with me and I just couldn't bring myself to leave my sleeping bag. Consequently I slept in for the first shift. I finally materialized out of my tent just after Jim R had declared a day of rest. I went for a walk up Glas Beinn via the boat house at the far end of the Blackwater dam to check that the dinghy and outboard had been delivered. The views were good although the tops were under cloud. My timing was perfect as I made it back to the bothy just in time for dinner. The Haggis Neeps and Tatties was delicious.

View down Loch Leven
Melissa and Judy

Melissa and Judy had arrived on the Sunday. They joined the rear roof team to form the 'top all girl slating team', christened by Jim Ross. The race was now well under way between the front and rear slating teams lead by Iain and Jim respectively. Which team would reach the ridge first. The rear team finished just before dinner including the top zinc covering section which Paul kindly calculated the clamp spacing... several times. The arrival of the infamous Jim McKenna (apologies if spelt incorrectly) was marked by the playing of Captain Pugwash at the special request of Iain. There was a shortage of seats due to the popularity of the work party. This lead Paul to use his carpenter skills for an evening by building a new bench. He assures me that it is far stronger and more sturdier than any of the other seating.

The finished roof
Progress on the front

The roof was completed on Tuesday by marking the positions for the guttering. We concluded that it would be easier to put up the guttering after the scaffolding had been dismantled. (Also we had to wait for Mike P to return from Fort William with a few vital missing bits.) A good few hours were taken safely dismantling the scaffolding. As far as I know there were only three times we concluded that 'we should have taken that nail out before that one...oopps'. Everything was de-nailed and salvaged ready for its second lease of life. Moving inside I began helping to constuct the partition on the ground floor by attempting to nail in the uprights holding the ply wood. It did not take long for me to conclude that whoever invented four inch nails must have been strong and had great determination. What was wrong with using three inch nails? apart from the fact that we had run out. Jim M & co. returned late for dinner as the outboard had spluttered what could be its last a little way off shore.

Wednesday was my last day at Loch Chiarain. I continued with the partition by shaping the plywood to the profile of the wall. It only took two attempts to get it right (the team at the other side took three). The vital last plywood section required for the partition was Margaret's servery. A suitable and serviceable replacement had to be built before we could be granted permission to remove it. A suitable structure was constructed using the old scaffolding. My last task at the work party was to glue one of the new doors together.

Hard at work Mixing concrete Spectator sport

Thursday was home time. I said my farewells to all including Jim M, who was last seen heading towards Blackwater reservoir with two small ladders and a tool kit to revive the out board. After a brief photo shoot I walked out to Corrour with Melissa and Judy in what should have been plenty of time. Plenty of time turned into only ten minutes to spare before my train south. We never did find the Argo track over the shoulder but fortunately the bog by Corrour had dried sufficiently to permit an almost normal walk across. Funnily enough I did not see much of the trip south as I slept most of it.

A happy fairwell

Thanks to all of you there who made it all so fun!! When eventually do get a house I know who to ask about the DIY! Hope to see you all next year on the work party wherever it may be.

For more information on Mountain Bothy Association work please visit their website www.mountainbothies.org.uk

Thanks again