The Haunted Bothy

During my years as a writer I’ve researched many violent and unnerving stories from Scotland’s turbulent history. Indeed, there cannot be many other places in the world, certainly not in the British Isles, which can lay claim to such a brutal and unnerving past. It is hardly surprising then, that among the many tales I’ve uncovered there have been a number of spinetingling ghostly apparitions and unexplained phenomenon. Many of these paranormal legends have their roots in Highland superstition or perhaps in a Celtic folktale. Very occasionally, however, a story defies explanation; and cannot be easily explained or disproved. This is one such story. It is one man’s utterly terrifying real experience.

I have changed the name of the people involved.

In February 1973 two young climbers from a South Glasgow Climbing Club experienced a disturbing and nerve-shattering chain of events, while staying at a remote mountain bothy during a holiday break.

Eighteen-year-old Paul, already an experienced climber, set off with his friend and fellow climber Jack, and the pair headed away from the bustle of the city into the solitude of the Lochaber mountains.

After reaching Kinlochleven at the eastern edge of Loch Leven, Paul and Jack set out on foot, heading northeast, in six inches of snow, through Mamore Forest, until they reached Lùibeilt Lodge, an isolated and abandoned former Victorian deer staking lodge, nestled on the south side of the Abhainn Rath river. By 1973, the tumbledown building was little more than a ruin, and had been converted into a bothy to provide shelter to climbers and hillwalkers. The lodge was situated at the end of a rough track, more than ten miles from Kinlochleven, and miles in any direction from civilisation, save for another lonely bothy, Meanach, which sat a quarter of a mile away on the other side of the river. The only witness to the two bothies are the Grey Corries, looming ominously behind.

Bleak and boggy terrain hallmark this valley, which is often shrouded in mist. Few trees find the environment there a welcome habitat; save for a lonely clump of five pine trees. In fact, it is difficult to be stood anywhere on mainland Britain, and be more removed from the comfort of other human contact, than it is for the hardy soul who chooses to spend the night at Lùibeilt Lodge.

The Haunted Bothy

In 1973 it was rumoured that a small group of isolationists or ‘hippies’ had recently taken to living permanently ‘off-grid’ at Lùibeilt Lodge. Nevertheless, Paul and Jack still believed that the lodge’s new residents would welcome any walkers or climbers who happened to be in the area; especially in such bitter conditions. The two men hoped to use Lùibeilt as a base for their continuing climbing trip.

Paul, who still vividly recalls the men’s experience, was interviewed in 2022 for BBC Radio 4 and for a series of newspaper articles.

Illuminated by the winter half-light, the two climbers departed Kinlochleven early on the morning of Saturday 3rd February, and trudged along the snow-covered track towards the old lodge.

Surprisingly, when they arrived at Lùibeilt Lodge the door was locked. They knocked, but received no answer. Both men peered through the grimy windows into the shadowy interior of the old deer stalking lodge. There did not seem to be anyone inside the property, although they could clearly see what appeared to be recently used crockery piled in the sink.

Thinking that the residents may have left to obtain provisions, and would return later, the pair left their rucksacks in an outbuilding and decided to attempt a climb among the snow and ice on the surrounding hillsides, before returning to the isolated lodge at 9pm.

By this time, the intense winter darkness had descended, temperatures had plummeted, and the two climbers had no desire to spend the night outside in the snow, with the ominous ice-capped mountains looming over them.

‘It was pitch dark, Paul recalled, ‘we shone our torches through the windows and nothing seemed to have changed since earlier.’

Fortunately, they located an unsecured window with a black polythene bag tied to it and, carefully prising it open, they climbed inside the gloomy building.

‘It was cold, that was the first thing. Strangely, it was much colder on the inside than outside,’ said Paul, ‘It felt odd. It just didn’t feel right. We made our way around the house and it became immediately obvious that the place looked as if the people had vacated it very rapidly. There was a table set for Christmas dinner, there were Christmas crackers still to be pulled open on the table, but Christmas clearly hadn’t happened.’

Paul and Jack nervously explored the crumbling lodge by the light of their torches, moving from room to room, noting that each one appeared to have been recently occupied. There were furnishings, piles of old, dusty books and the general detritus, which might indicate recent habitation. Next they climbed the creaking staircase. As they carefully made their way along the musty landing and entered the furthest bedroom, directly above the bothy’s living room, the ambience seemed to be markedly different from the other rooms. This bedroom felt unwelcoming and icily cold. It contained nothing but a dismantled metal bed frame propped up against a wall and, to the right, a large window with a pair of open olive-green curtains. On the window ledge stood a curiously placed boulder which Paul described as, ‘larger than my hand.’

The two climbers decided that the inhabitants must have left hurriedly on Christmas Day, for some unknown reason, and had not returned since. ‘We went downstairs to the living room and got into our sleeping bags to bed down for the night,’ Paul remembered, ‘it was about midnight. Jack played his recorder and sang a few songs. The sort of thing mountaineers do in the hills.’

Paul and Jack were not unduly concerned. It was unlikely that the tenants would suddenly return in the dead of night. It was clear that the house had remained undisturbed since being abandoned so suddenly before Christmas. The remoteness of the location, the weather, and the intense darkness made it virtually impossible for someone to simply arrive on the spur of the moment.

Paul described exactly what happened next, ‘It was extremely cold. It enveloped you. We blew our candles out. It was black in there, like you really can’t understand what black actually is. You can wave your fingers in front of your face and you will not see them. The other thing is the silence. When you’re out in the middle of nowhere the silence is palpable.

Almost the minute we blew out our candle there were noises upstairs. The first noises which we heard were footsteps upstairs in that room above. The second noise we heard was the dismantled metal-framed bed being pulled away from the wall and it sounded as though it was being put together, and then a little while later, the third noise we heard was the boulder on the window ledge being rolled around the floor.’

The noises ceased for a short while, as Paul later explained, ’Suddenly the place went absolutely dead silent, completely dead silent.’ Relieved, the two cold, terrified and exhausted men somehow managed to drift into a fitful slumber. However, at 4am, Paul was woken again when, ‘Suddenly everything changed. The noises weren’t just in the room above, they’re in our room. With a violent jolt, the entire living room erupted with the sounds of objects flying around all over the place. We can’t see them of course, because it was completely black, but you know — including our razor-sharp ice axes and ice hammers — everything was flying around the room in the total darkness.’

‘I was absolutely petrified,’ Paul recalled, ‘I got on top of my sleeping bag and I gripped it tightly, in a sort of foetus position. Jack was three feet away from me; and he could hear my heart beat! I don’t know what it would take to hear someone else’s heart beat? But that’s a fact, he could hear my heart thumping.

I lit a candle only for it to mysteriously launch itself across the room, as though somebody had kicked it away. Books were also sent flying of the bookshelves, and we could hear the sound of footsteps coming from the corner of the bedroom upstairs.’

A moment’s silence followed, before the unmistakeable shuffle of footsteps resumed,

‘This time they seemed closer still, as if this thing was coming directly down the staircase in causal footsteps from the upstairs to the bottom of the staircase, right on the other side of the closed living room door’ — the very room in which the two terrified men were sheltering. Somehow Paul managed to fumble for his ice axe in the dark and went to the door. He threw it open but the hallway outside was empty. He continued, ‘I slammed the door shut and heard the footsteps go straight back up the staircase to the top and emerge above us, wandering across the bedroom floor above.’

Paul and Jack were both certain the cottage had been empty when they had fallen to sleep. Distressed and terrified, they decided to make their escape via the opened window, through which they had entered earlier. As they fumbled into the darkness outside, they turned and shone their headtorches towards the upstairs bedroom window. As the beam picked out the window frame, they could clearly see that the olive-green curtains were now closed.

The Haunted Bothy

The men firmly believed that no-one could have been hiding in the lodge or had entered while they slept, ‘“I’m absolutely certain of it,’ Paul confirmed in his later interviews, ‘we got there, and we went through the entire building and there was nobody there. And we would have seen their footprints in the snow.’

It was a frightening choice the two men made that night; stay and continue to face the sheer terror of the dark, mysterious house, or leave in the middle of the night, not knowing what they might face outside. Paul was asked in a subsequent newspaper interview, ‘Any sensible person would want to get the hell out of there but bear in mind it was four o’clock in the morning and in the middle of winter and extremely cold.’

The two men returned, frightened and breathless, to Kinlochleven and from there to the illuminated safety of Glasgow.

This terrifying encounter would prove to be only half of the story.

Following the terrifying events at Lùibeilt Lodge, Paul returned to his flat in Gibson Street, in Glasgow’s West End. Unsurprisingly, for a full six months after the events of February 1973 Paul found sleeping almost impossible. He only attempted sleep with the light on, suffered anxiety at the thought of going anywhere alone; and frequently felt the strange sensation that someone else was present in the room with him; even when he knew he was alone. Paul then began to observe unusual and unnerving occurrences in his flat — things of which he claimed to have had no knowledge, prior to 1973; or had not previously noticed. Before the frightening events at Lùibeilt Bothy, Paul had taken little heed of ghost stories. In fact, he was unaware of his flat’s rather disturbing past. A group of American students who had rented the same Gibson Street flat in 1958 had previously reported the existence of repeated poltergeist activity within the building. They claims were reported in an article published in the (somewhat sceptical) Glasgow Herald on 14th July 1958:

‘Three American students, inexperienced, no doubt, in the life and peculiar aura of the Glasgow tenement have given up their tenancy of a flat in Gibson Street, which they are persuaded is haunted. They have heard things which have convinced them that they share their dwelling with a poltergeist, a mild, murmuring elemental, that sometimes turned off the radiogram and occasionally pushed egg boxes and bread boards off the kitchenette shelf. It is a wordless visitant that mumbles in two voices, but never so distinctly that the listener can distinguish what it is trying to say. It is reported that the neighbours of the extra-sensory perceptive American students in Gibson Street say that they themselves have never heard anything ghostly. This, however, does not mean that the noises are not there, or indeed that they have not heard them, but simply that the sounds, being without mystery, are not registered on their consciousness.’

The Haunted Bothy

Yet, despite Gibson Street’s disturbing reputation, Paul had previously been blissfully oblivious to any unusual sensation or phenomenon. It was as if the strange presence he had experienced that night at Lùibeilt had somehow returned with him to Glasgow.

The kitchen in Paul’s flat included a hidden passageway, which was accessible via a small door, and led to a small basement. As Paul explained, ‘I began to harbour the idea that perhaps there’s something down there, after what happened at the lodge. Everything had taken on a different sort of feel, and maybe Gibson Street had as well.’

What followed next was even more disturbing. On an otherwise normal day in 1974, while undertaking some minor renovations in the kitchen, Paul pulled back the carpet tiles from the floor. Underneath the tiles, positioned on top of the floorboards and taped into position, Paul came upon the unmistakable shape of a crucifix, carefully fashioned from old newspapers. Right at the centre of the cross there appeared to be a large and mysterious bloodstain. At that very same instance, he noticed a sealed trap door in the floor, which had also been concealed under the carpet tiles. The whole incident caused an eery feeling of uneasiness to wash over him. Then, perhaps most unnervingly of all, at the exact moment his hand instinctively moved towards the trapdoor handle, the fitted lightbulb above him in the kitchen unscrewed itself, fell from the ceiling and shattered beside him. He vacated the flat soon after.

Surprisingly, Paul bravely ventured back to Lùibeilt Lodge in 1974, and again in the summer of 1975. He was determined to better understand the mystery of the bizarre, and seemingly, paranormal activity he had encountered eighteen months earlier. He was again accompanied by his fellow climber Jack, and a further witness, Daniel, who was a sceptic and made the perfect, independent observer. Upon their arrival something immediately struck the three men. Paul would later remark, ‘It was clear from the scribblings on the walls and ceilings that other folk had suffered difficult nights there too.’

Despite this unsettling welcome, initially all seemed peaceful inside the old lodge. Night fell. The party settled in the living room, lit their candles, and climbed into their sleeping bags.

In the stillness of the Highland night the house was eerily quiet. Then unexpectedly the silence was broken by a faint, but distinct, muffled, scratching noise. This time, the sound appeared to be coming, not the room upstairs, but from outside the cottage. The disturbance appeared to be emanating from the rough gravel track that separated the bothy from the Abhainn Rath river. It was the definite sound of a heavy object being slowly dragged over the gravel. The men were certain of that. Menacingly, the ominous noise seemed to grow louder, as the unknown object moved closer and closer to the bothy. In the darkness the three friends could see nothing until, as suddenly as it had started, the noise stopped and the glen returned to silence once more. That calm lasted only a brief moment, however, until an even greater fear gripped the trio. In their terror, they became aware that the shuffling, dragging noise had moved inside the house — on the other side of closed door to the room in which they were now cowering, All around them was a cloaking, impenetrable darkness, save for the faint, flickering illumination of their solitary candle.

This time, instead of rushing to the door, Paul instinctively held out his fist in a gesture he had recently learnt was a demonic pagan symbol,

‘I clenched my fist, leaving my thumb and my little finger extended out of my clenched hand, in a demonic sign and I cast a huge shadow with my outstretched hand on the ceiling. The effect of the gesture made it feel as though there was an incredible reversal of the noises.’

Within minutes the terrifying sounds has vanished into the distance and the remainder of the night passed peacefully until the three men could escape in the daylight.

Still determined to unearth the truth, Paul and his colleagues returned to the property on one more occasion, during the long, hot summer of 1975. On this occasion, as they entered the mysterious property they came face to face with a message painted in large capital letters on the wall above the stairway. It read simply:

‘THIS HOUSE IS HAUNTED; THIS HOUSE IS EVIL’

It appeared that Paul and Jack were not the only people to have experienced the horrors of Lùibeilt Lodge. They left immediately and did not return.

The Haunted Bothy

Nevertheless, Paul did not forget his unsettling experience. He attempted to contact other walkers and climbers, who may have stayed at the isolated bothy, through various climbing groups and forums. His strange experiences were investigated in a balanced and even-handed way, by the BBC Sounds Uncanny podcast (now a television series). Psychologist Dr Ciaran O’Keeffe felt that, if the presence of other people in the house could be discounted, then both men may have been feeling the effects of tiredness and the extreme cold. Dr O’Keeffe claimed that this can influence levels of consciousness, alertness and judgement and may have led to mundane sounds being misinterpreted as something more sinister.

Dr O’Keeffe also stated that sustained exposure to very low temperatures, ‘can influence levels of consciousness, alertness and judgement and may have led to mundane sounds being misinterpreted as something sinister.’ In fact, certain experiments conducted by the army have shown similar results. The ‘haunted’ bothy is a surprisingly common occurrence in Scotland. Perhaps a combination of extreme fatigue and cold may well account for this.

However, this still does not explain the fact that both men experienced simultaneous and identical sensations.

Another explanation, often used to explain reports of poltergeist phenomenon, is the existence of background noises, such as traffic or underground trains, or infrasound (low frequency emissions from electrical devices, pylons, etc). However, Lùibeilt Lodge is extremely remote and is characterised by its extreme silence. In truth, it is harder to find a more remote and utterly quiet place on the mainland of Britain.

Another possible solution to the men’s experience is the possibility that an animal may have created the unusual sounds and disruption. A similar phenomenon was reported at Ben Alder Cottage on Rannoch Moor. In that instance, the strange sounds were proven to be simply a stag using its antlers to scrape and bang on the outside walls of the property. It was also believed that the legend of a ghostly encounter at Ben Alder had been fabricated, or at the very least exaggerated, by the tenants to dissuade hillwalkers from wishing to stay there. However, the complete lack of footprints (animal or human) approaching Lùibeilt Lodge seems to discount the presence of an animal or person large enough to create the unusual sounds heard by the two climbers.

Edinburgh-based paranormal psychologist and writer Evelyn Hollow, a regular contributor to the Uncanny podcast, offered a different explanation for the occurrences. She stated that Scotland is ‘saturated’ by the paranormal and is ‘one of the most haunted countries in the world’, suggesting that the phenomenon was indeed a poltergeist — a potentially violent ghost that can move objects.

Before we dismiss Paul’s compelling story, there are several points worth making and coincidences which cannot be ignored.

He has never wavered or changed his version of events, and remains utterly convinced by his experiences. Neither has he sought to gain from them. In fact, the opposite is true.

For those who believe in the existence of the poltergeist phenomenon, there is a possible explanation for the manifestation that Paul experienced at Lùibeilt Lodge. In 1890, a forty-year-old gamekeeper and deerstalker named John McAlpine lived at the lonely cottage with his wife. Sadly, he committed suicide on a particularly bleak April day. His death was subsequently reported in the Oban Times on 26th April 1890,

‘McAlpine went out for a walk in the morning in his usual health, but later in the day his wife found him hanging from a rope tied to a cross beam.’

He had hanged himself in the strangely unnerving bedroom above the room in which the two climbers had attempted to sleep.

The lodge is no stranger to other dark tragedies and still exudes an overwhelming sense of isolation. Dr Brander, whose medical practice covered this part of the Highlands at the beginning of the twentieth century, called it ‘the loneliest spot in the Highlands of Scotland.’

In February 1907 the bodies of three navvies were found by a shepherd in the thick snow on a nearby hillside. It was thought that the three men had been overcome by a bitterly icy snowstorm while making their way to the dam construction project at Kinlochleven, ten miles away. Their efforts to reach the shelter of the lodge had failed as they succumbed to the intense cold.

In September 1920, the next gamekeeper to reside at Lùibeilt Lodge also passed away inside the lonely cottage. The intense sadness and loneliness of the place finally grew too much for William Elliot, who died on the fifth anniversary of his son’s death in the Great War. His son, Private Hugh Elliot, had joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, but sadly succumbed to his injuries in the trenches of France during September 1915. The tragic atmosphere of Lùibeilt Lodge appears to have far-reaching tentacles.

The rundown cottage was eventually abandoned. Nevertheless, even as recently as 1994 a hillwalker hiking past the ruins of Lùibeilt Lodge suddenly crossed paths with another person who unexpectedly appeared from out of the misty gloom. Having not seen another soul for ten hours, the walker was startled and expressed his surprise. The ghostly figure passed him without speaking or making even the slightest sound. When the walker turned around, the man was gone. Two years earlier, in 1992, a group of three girls out hiking had taken shelter in the lodge during a storm, only to be frightened by a knocking sound on the door. Luckily, it was still daylight and the trio decided to brave the weather and leave the cottage. As they passed down the track, in the driving rain, the girls had the distinct impression of a shadowy figure close behind them. However, when they turned around, they were alone. They ran away in fright, never to return. Although little more than a shell remains today, the location still maintains a lonely, sad, and uneasy atmosphere. In summer 2023 a hillwalker suffered from projectile vomiting after visiting the tumbledown lodge.

Curiously, a Rowan tree has now appeared next to the ruins. In Celtic culture the Rowan was traditionally planted to ward off evil spirits. Mysteriously, this tree has grown in a misshapen and grotesque fashion. As if its natural inclination to grow towards the ruins of the lodge has somehow been countered by an unseen force.

The Haunted Bothy

One intriguing question remains. What links this lonely lodge to a flat in Gibson Street, Glasgow, many miles away? Eerily, there is a rather surprisingly link.

There have been many stories of unexplained occurrences in Gibson Street. Hardly surprising, given its litany of brutal murders, violent deaths, and suicides over the past two centuries. These include the three women who kicked a man to death in 1921, a murderous assault in 1883, and the man found hanging in suspicious circumstances in 1862. However, there is one remarkable connection that links Paul with both his flat at 39 Gibson Street and the lonely Lùibeilt Lodge.

Modern ancestral research has enabled us to make an interesting discovery. A one-year-old child had been living at 39 Gibson Street at the time of the 1851 census. This child would have been forty years of age in 1890, at the same time that forty-year-old John McAlpine took his own life at the lonely bothy. Incredibly, that child’s name was also John McAlpine. Were they one and the same person? If so, then Paul may have unwittingly provided the restless spirit of John McAlpine with a conduit to his childhood home.

Whatever we choose to believe, sceptic or believer, this unearthly story of the paranormal is surely enough to send a shiver down even the most resolute of spines.