When we applied to Bothy Project we intended to spend our week focused on two main things; to experiment more with how we make maps and to see what happens when you spend a prolonged period of time in one place. Our usual method of map-making involves a lot of research and planning and sees us visiting a predetermined place once or twice. We naively imagined that spending a whole week in the Cairngorms would result in some more profound knowledge of the area. We also imagined returning home with a handful of maps all drastically different to anything we’d ever created before. If we had set out to achieve just these two things, then we may have left feeling like our experiment had failed. Yet what we left with – the other random lessons we learnt along the way and the unpredicted maps we decide to make – out-weighed the vague ideas we had set out to achieve.
This Way is a map-making project that we (Emily Macaulay and Felicity Rowley) run in our spare time. As much as life allows, we head out into the UK countryside to hike footpaths we haven’t hiked before, the best of which become maps and recommendations for others looking to discover the great outdoors. We are both brilliant at planning, and our maps are often born out of careful research before visiting an area. For this trip we decided to resist this urge and see what happens if we just discovered things once we were there. We work apart more than we do together, so a week in each other’s company with no other work planned and only maps to make was a freedom that we’ve never given ourselves before.
We packed our bags and travelled north, meeting at the tiny Inverness Airport, ready for our adventure to begin. Inshriach Bothy is beautifully designed, it is well positioned in a corner of the Inshriach Estate, and sits on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. The Bothy is suitably compact and has everything a human could require for a week in the hills. It is perfectly proportioned for four adults to sleep at night. The Cairngorms, in contrast, are vast and wild. Sprawling over many miles, they make up the largest National Park in the United Kingdom.
Our rough intentions had been to map the internal space of the Bothy in detail using our own collected data, before venturing out to discover the National Park. The first part went well; we got our tape measures out and created hand-drawn maps of the internal space. The problem came when we left the front door to face the vast National Park. The mountain ranges of the Cairngorms are extensive. In ‘The Living Mountain’ Nan Shepherd describes them as having an ‘inside’, an interior. She couldn’t be more right. No roads pass through the centre of the park, they take you as far as the edges and leave you there. The mountains create a plateau with deep valleys carved into the hard-to-reach interior. These valleys can only be accessed by hiking up one of the outer hills, where the visible rounded slopes suddenly give way to unexpected drops.
On our second day we chose to hike around the park’s northern fringes, up a hill that would give us a good vantage point over the main body of mountains. We’d heard rumours of a pool where fairies wash their clothes, slowly dying the ice-cold waters an incredible shade of deep green. It’s stories like these that often inspire a map, so we took notes whilst we walked. Later, as we reached the peak of Meall a’ Bhuachaille and looked over to the Cairngorm range, our naivety became apparent, even with a week to explore our surroundings we would only catch a glimpse of this wild landscape. Our route to the peak of Meall a’ Bhuachaille passed the Ryvoan Bothy, a mountain shelter, free to use and open to all. Inside were the traces of years of human visitors, some incredibly useful (jars of peanut butter and sleeping mats) and some not so useful (one smelly sock). It also contained many maps and handwritten notes from past temporary residents all generously describing the things you might need to survive in this environment – water, wood and other places of shelter. We decided to extend the map of our Bothy to include what we knew about the Inshriach Estate, mapping our own human needs.
The rest of our time passed quickly. In between our daily routine of collecting water, lighting the fire and slowing down to cook our meals, we hiked just a small section of the national park, following the river that flows past the Inshriach Bothy up into the valley and eventually to one of the many tiny springs high up in the hills that feeds the River Spey. We drew maps every day of all the places our feet took us. Even though we had intended to experiment with how we draw our maps, they frequently retained much of the look and feel of previous work we had made. It was only by the end of our trip that we realised how much of a shared visual language has developed between us over the last three years. Whilst trying to make sense of these new surroundings we had quickly and without realising it slipped back into this incredibly valuable shared way of communicating.
Sometimes when out hiking conditions may not be as you expected them, you might find that the path you expected to be there is not, or that the weather changes making it impossible to continue. Sometimes plans have to change. So we may not have ticked off the things on our to-do list, drawn up whilst sitting on our sofas pondering over OS maps before we left. What we did discover was more about how we work together. It turns out the Cairngorms are genuinely wild and mapping them could exceed a lifetime’s work. They are like nowhere else we’ve mapped before, we managed to map a few small fragments and we left with an all-too-familiar sense that we now have a long list of places to explore on future visits.
Here are some things we did learn….
- Spending a week in one place doesn’t result in a full understanding of an area just a better one than spending one day there
- Maps are a memory and a record of where you travel through
- Our maps show our shared language of the paths we have travelled
- River direction is very useful for navigation, try including it on future maps
- North is useful but not always. Sometimes you navigate from another significant point
- Include the things that humans need; water, food and shelter
- Always stop to talk to anyone willing to share a tale or two (Thank you for stopping to tell us about the Mountain Railway, Graham Smith)
- Don’t give everything away, give just enough information to entice someone to the top of a hill, but don’t give away all the surprises, those are best discovered alone
Website – www.this-way.co
Instagram – @follow_this_way_maps
Twitter – @follow_this_way
All photos by Curtis James
Website – www.notkindacool.com
Instagram – @oswald808
Twitter – @oswald808
Illustrations by Joby Barnard
Website – www.jobybarnard.co.uk
Instagram – @jobybarnard
Twitter – @Joby