Published 27th March 2024, 10:54

    THE bright red door is a familiar landmark to those walking over the high pass of Jock's Road from Glen Doll to Braemar.

    It's also a reassuring presence in the midst of this beautifully bleak high terrain, the entrance to the emergency mountain shelter known as Davie's (often marked as Davy's) Bourach.

    The importance of the location is evident from the plaque on a nearby rock which commemorates the five members of the Universal Hiking Club from Glasgow who died during an attempted crossing of this ancient route in 1959. The experienced group had set off from Braemar on New Year's Day with the intention of meeting other club members in Glen Doll but they were caught in a ferocious storm at the head of Glen Callater. 

    A rescue team found one of them three days later but had to abandon further searches due to deteriorating weather and deep snow. The others were discovered one by one over the next three months, the last in mid April. All had died from hypothermia. 

    In the aftermath of the tragedy, local mountain man Davie Glen, along with fellow members of the Forfar and District Hill Walkers Club, built an emergency shelter near the spot where he had found two of the bodies. They used stones from the ruin of a hut, but still had to trek the four miles to the site from Glen Doll with timber and corrugated iron for the roof. 

    The club celebrated their 60th anniversary last year, and during that time they have remained custodians of the shelter carrying out maintenance on a regular basis. There were major repairs in 1984, 1987 and 2001. The 1987 work saw the bourach being totally re-roofed using material carried in by helicopter. 

    A major rebuild was necessary in 2019 after the collapse of a wall left the shelter unsafe for use. It was a time-consuming job that ate up nearly 1,000 hours, and during which time the work parties notched up more than 2,000 miles trekking up and down the path. Further repairs and improvements continued throughout 2020, 2021 and 2022.

    The word bourach likely derives from the Gaelic burach, meaning a burrow or a disorderly heap, and it well described the rough and ready nature of the earlier version. So well was it blended into the landscape that it could be difficult to spot if approaching from the Braemar side in thick weather or under a deep blanket of snow. The interior had earth floors and was dark, but in dire circumstances it would be a lifesaver, somewhere to crawl into and wait out the fury of the storm.

    These days there are high marker poles to help better pinpoint the location, a window has more recently been added into the door face to provide some light and there are new, sturdier wooden sleeping platforms inside.

    Davie Glen was a fascinating character, a well-known face on the Scottish hills. He lived in a converted railway carriage in Tealing, a few miles north of Dundee, for more than 30 years and it was well frequented by the local climbing fraternity.

    The first mountain he climbed was Beinn a' Bheither in 1931 while he was working on the roads nearby. He had his own brush with disaster on Christmas Eve 1935 when he almost died from exhaustion and exposure while trying to find his way off Bidean nam Bian in Glen Coe in darkness as the weather worsened. He finally made it to safety with his ice axe frozen solid to one of his gloves.

    Davie was a great storyteller and once claimed he won the vast majority of the lie-telling competitions he had entered. He was also a champion at diddling – a Scottish form of mouth music – twice winning national competitions and making several TV appearances. 

    He participated in competitive cycle racing and was semi-professional for a while in the 1930s, and in subsequent years he would take part in long distance runs around Scotland. His cycling life came to an end in curious fashion in 1967 however – a blackbird had built a nest in the front wheel of his bike and Davie didn't want to disturb it. 

    After a short spell of retirement to the Inverness area for health reasons in 1972, he returned to his railway carriage in Tealing. In 1978, a neighbour found him unconscious outside his home and he died in hospital. He was 69.

    Next time you are passing this humble yet vital shelter, take a minute to remember the man who put so much work into its creation and salute the sterling work being done by the Forfar club members who put so much time and effort into looking after his legacy.

    • You can see the full history of Davie's Bourach with an extensive photo collection from the work parties on the Forfar club's websitehttps://www.fdhwc.org.uk/Bourach