Dramatic mountain rock towered around the edge of Llyn Dulyn. A waterfall tumbled in from the left. The cloud hung low over the surface of the water. Deep purples and greens from the Welsh stone gave the reservoir an eerie glow in the fading light. If it had been a warmer day, I would have been tempted to try the water for a swim. As it was, the rain had started to hammer down in the time we’d taken to poke around the reservoirs. My gloves were soaked through. The wind picked up, and we took it as our cue to drop down off the path and head for the shelter of the bothy.
Phil and I had set off that morning in search of the ‘Hut Among The Hills’ – also known as Dulyn bothy. Neither of us had ever stayed in a bothy before. Normally, when we see little huts while out on walks, my instinct is to assume that this is private property, and that I must stay away. This is completely at odds with my usual attitude towards responsible wild camping (‘it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission’), but popping into an unknown building felt like it was more definitely ‘not allowed’ than slipping into a bivvy bag on a hillside. This time, however, Phil’s Wilderness Weekends guidebook said we could stay there, so it was alright by me.
We trudged through the long grass and rocks to the door of the bothy. Rain drops hammered on to my head and shoulders, and the water splashed back into my face. My toes were cold and what little light we had left was dropping away in the valley. I grabbed the rusted metal handle gratefully, and pushed.
The door didn’t open. I tried again, harder. I stepped back in disbelief. I was sure this was going to be available. It was in the guide book! There was a Mountain Bothies Association plaque on the door. We did two full circles of the bothy, desperately looking for another way in. On the second loop, I slipped and fell on the concrete yard which was attached to the building and, now, slick from the rain. I was despondent. All we had were our bivvy bags as an emergency backup. We hadn’t brought a tarp, as I was confident that we would be able to shelter inside. There was no other cover around. Relief from the rain was so close, and yet so far. The only alternative was to give up and return to the car by the boggy path through the heather, in the dark.
From my hard, miserable perch, where I sat with my head in my hands, I heard a shout. Phil had been poking his arms through the holes in the wood in the bothy porch, and had found the way to free the latch. It was on the inside of the door, accessed by a hole we had overlooked in our eagerness to get out of the rain. Relieved, and making a mental note of our first important lesson on ‘how bothies work’, we crammed into the porch and turned the handle on the second door.
Four people turned to greet us. They were all in their late twenties or early thirties and were dressed in various levels of walking socks, woolly hats, and scarves. Behind them, the table against the wall groaned under the weight of crusty loaves of bread, cheeses, cured meats, and snacks.
The current occupants had taken the best hanging spots for their own wet things but we managed to engineer an innovative washing line and a creative use of the windowsill. After extracting myself from my soaking waterproofs and boots, and spreading my waterproof trousers out along the sill and weighing them down with a rock, I peered out of the misted window. Clouds rolled through the lonely valley and the grass glistened in the rain.
I found a comfortable-looking bit of floor and spread my sleeping gear out along it. I nestled into the puffy down for a short rest, drifting into a nap accompanied by the sounds of friendly voices from the next room.
A few hours later, we were all crammed around the fire, sat on metal chairs. The air inside our little stone hut was filled with warmth and the smells of food and wine. As the evening drew on, the bothy door swung open once more. Two more drenched hikers made their way in. They had come a much longer way than we had, climbing through the hills and over the summit of Foel Grach. They had started their hike late, thanks to the traffic, and they hadn’t been sure if they were going to make it to the bothy that night. They filled the room with the warming sound of roaring gas as they heated their Wayfarer meals through on a Jetboil. Phil and I cooked our chilli on our Trangia, and extracted a couple of cans of beer from our rucksacks. We all shared food, sipped our beers, and amused ourselves with conversation. Everybody was interested in everyone else’s stories and lives. Around midnight, two of the group bidded us goodnight and ventured out into the night to set up a tent on the flat grass in front of the bothy. One by one, as the fire died away, the rest of us drifted into the second room and settled down to sleep.
The sun was peeking up over Clogwynreryr when we left the bothy the next morning. Clouds rolled across the blue sky, and we followed the streams along the valley back to the car. To the untrained eye, all we had done was sleep in a stone hut with strangers. In reality, we had spent a glorious night away from the distractions of our daily lives, and had experienced some of the best examples of the kindness of other people. A love affair – a long one, I hope – with bothies had been born.