Tales From Britain's Most Haunted Bothy - Outdoors Magic

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Tales From Britain’s Most Haunted Bothy

Many of Britain's bothies have unsettling stories attached to them, but there's one in central Scotland that's by far the most infamous of them all...

Most of Scotland’s bothies could be described as remote, but at 8.5 miles from the nearest public road, you could say Ben Alder Cottage is one of the loneliest you’ll find. It’s located right at the very heart of Scotland, sat within the shadow of the mountain from which it takes its name, with the long, black finger of Loch Ericht stretching miles away from it to the east. And it’s here, at this long abandoned homestead, that many strange goings on have been reported over the decades. 

Some of the earliest tales of the bothy come from the book Undiscovered Scotland by Bill Murray. He details a story told to him by his friend Sir Robert Grieve concerning a former officer in the Great War who, when walking from Rannoch to Dalwhinnie, decided to stay overnight at Ben Alder Cottage at a time when it was inhabited by a stalker and his wife. During the night he supposedly heard what seemed like footsteps in the adjacent room, and the next morning the wife explained that a semi-tame stag was in the habit of banging its antlers on the outside walls. She was, however, said to have told this story so unconvincingly and “with such a look of guilt upon her face” that the visitor was sure that she was covering up the real truth.

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Another story is retold in the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal in a piece by Paddy Buckley, the famous fell runner. He describes a tale by Syd Scroggie, a mountaineer who was blinded during the Second World War but who still managed to tramp the Scottish hills. On his first visit to Ben Alder Cottage in November 1963 Syd and his companion heard a series of “tappings, scratchings, footsteps and groans”. The next morning they were said to have witnessed a packet of biscuits being flung from the mantelpiece to the opposite side of the room. This, Syd believed, was a manifestation of the tension between him and the person he had travelled to the bothy with. On a later visit with his daughter Mary another poltergeist phenomenon supposedly occurred – the bothy door crashing open with no explanation.

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What or who might be haunting the bothy then? One grim story goes that it’s the ghost of a woman that long ago was forced by a storm to take refuge with her baby in the cottage for a number of days. Driven mad with hunger she killed and ate her child and was then seen passing through Rannoch Moor “wild-eyed with despair that no one dared cross her path”  to eventually become “lost in the morasses of the place”.

Sir Robert Grieve perpetuated another story, one that had supposedly once been told within climbing circles. This was that the bothy was haunted by its original resident, a ghillie called McCook, who hanged himself off the back of the front door. 

Both of these tales were eventually debunked. Paddy Buckley explains in his aforementioned piece in the Scottish Mountaineering Journal that the first tale about the storm-crazed woman was made up by the estate stalker and his wife who both lived in the cottage in the 1930s. The reason being that they were fed up with unwelcome travellers trying to stay there. Sir Robert Grieve’s tale about the ghillie was quashed when one of McCook’s descendants, on discovering the legend, declared that he had in fact died in his bed at 85 in Newtonmore where he’d retired to see out his last days. 


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Those are the explanations, but still strange stories from the bothy circulate.

Andy Lamb was settling down to sleep in the bothy when he heard footsteps outside. “Good. People to talk to tonight,” he recalls in his autobiography, as quoted on the website Wales Outdoors. “I heard the feet wander up to the front door, but the door didn’t open. I heard the feet crunch over the frozen snow to the rear of the building. I felt sure I heard the door to the store room open. I was alone in a remote area of the Highlands but was, by now, used to this; used to long dark nights and early starts, used to sounds carried by the wind, used to hearing rock-falls and animals of various sizes moving about at night in their search for food.

“But this time, these footsteps, I was afraid. I buried my head in my sleeping bag and hid from the danger. I must have spent a good half an hour warm but shivering before slowly inching my face out of the bag and taking a look around me. All was as it had been. No more footsteps, no doors opening or closing. A couple of candles provided a warm glow. But the fear was still with me. I wrote in my diary, to take my mind away from the bothy and back to the brightness of the day on Ben Alder.”

According to Lamb, a couple of years later he was chatting to some mountaineers and they got to discussing Scotland and bothies. He mentioned his story and one of the men said that he would not stay at Ben Alder Cottage alone and knew no one who would. 

The most recent ghost story from Ben Alder, at least that can be found online, is only a couple of years old. “Woke up at 2am, loud old fashioned music playing in the room next door,” writes someone in a thread about the bothy on WalkHighlands. “Could hear shuffling like someone was having a party and dancing and jumping around… the room turned out to be empty. I’ll never return”.



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