Monday, 21 December 2020

Jenny Smith, from Jenny’s Bothy, Corgarff. An Appreciation

By David Dean

Jenny's presentation plate commissioned for her by fellow members of Cairngorms Hostels and SIH

David Dean tells the story of Jenny Smith, one of the original independent hostel owners.

After a lifetime dedicated to social and ecological causes together with establishing her distinctive, on message hostel, ‘Jenny’s Bothy’, Jenny Smith died in March of this year.  

She is buried alongside a grandfather she sadly never knew at Innis Na Birlinn cemetery by Corran Ferry on Loch Linnhe.  Jenny’s most beautiful and distinctive headstone is to be erected before the end of the year.  Margie, Jenny’s elder sister, who retired in 2019 from working in End-of Life care in the state of Maine, USA cared beautifully for Jenny for the last six weeks of her life. Margie tells us:-  “The rough shaped headstone is of Kishorn Granite from Loch Carron that formed in water and has small dots of fossilized fish and other cloudy blue/grey markings.” There will be a number of small gatherings in different parts of northern Scotland in the Spring of 2021 to celebrate Jenny’s life.   I will be happy to pass on details of these to anyone who asks when I have them from Margie.  

Seeking out independent hostel owners who had injected something distinctive of themselves into their creations...

I first met Jenny, walking midway along her rough hostel track to the main road where stood her car, not the most robust of vehicles.  It was in 1998 as Valery and I were seeking out independent hostel owners who, in doing what they did, had injected something distinctive of themselves into their creations.  Invariably these turned out to be people of substance for whom their hostel brought together their creativity, dedication to a cause and an ability to translate those qualities and life experience into a welcoming hostel experience for those who came to stay with them as guests. We wanted to learn from these people as we went about launching a hostel of our own at home in the Cairngorms.  

Jenny Smith

For the next twenty years, Jenny, whose credentials for being among the topflight in our list of hostel keepers, became a treasured guest in our home bringing her collie to romp with our dog on the moor. We shared food, talk of values, of the potential of independent hostels, elemental living and incidental healing.  By this I mean that, by chance or design, each of us had found ourselves as the ‘listener’ to numbers of our guests who just needed to talk.  Faced with this challenge, Jenny had so much to offer in that, over time, she had battled her own disquiet and knew innately how to reach the spot with a troubled guest.

Helping promote political change...

Jenny had a visible vibrancy about her, called a spade a spade, fought for her causes ranging from homeless squatters in London in the 1970’s as well as using her art training to teach screen printing and photography to low income people at Lenthal Road Press, Hackney which was dedicated to demonstrating how these skills could help promote political change in boroughs throughout the capital.  

It was in 1977 that Jenny made her home at Delachuper, Corgarff, right on the three hundred year old rough stone Wade Military Road running  from Corgarff Castle to Aberdeen. At that time all the water for the house dropped or slowly dripped, depending on the rainfall, into a bucket under a tiny spring across the track and there was no electricity available. To provide herself with an income in a remote, rural area with little work available, Jenny set up a business making stripped Shetland wool sweaters on a hand knitting loom exhibiting her great talent in mixing colour.

Jenny's Bothy

 In 1982 she decided to create “Jenny's Bothy” in the small barn behind towards the river which had been set up some time before as a private hostel by the previous owner. There was a monstrous Jotul woodstove, centrally positioned and around which huddled a couple of two tier bunks, two singles and a shared spacious kitchen and dining space.  A small room for two was alongside at the end of the substantial stone walled byre. In time Jenny upgraded the water bucket supply to a collection tank on the hillside that gravity fed water to the house and hostel doing much of the plumbing herself and organised an electricity supply to come over the River Don through bog and woodland. The aged Tilley lamps were retired to the emergencies store.

Besides providing hikers and skiers with bunk beds and cooking facilities, many small groups from all over Scotland came and used the Bothy for a variety of self-development workshops including singing with known traditional music Scottish singers. In the Fall of 1992, she hosted a Canadian Indigenous healer, Red Thunder Cloud on a herbal teaching tour of Eastern Scotland.”

During these years Jenny took breaks to visit Edinburgh and other places and continued her life of political activism. In 2011 she closed the Bothy due to issues of poor health realizing that she would need to move to a less arduous environment in which to live, eventually moving to the Findorn/Forres area on the coast of Moray.

David Dean, former chairman, SIH/IBHS making the presentation at Jenny's farewell party at the bothy

We saw Jenny for the last time, at our own retirement gathering in late 2019. We heard afterwards that she largely had organised this event much, as we had her own commemorative plate presentation in 2011. Jenny used her eight or so years in her new home in Findhorn village pursuing yet another enterprising scheme, a community garden right on the High Street in Forres.  She was clearly unwell on the day of our party and the handing over our hostel to incoming steward tenants.  In a few moments aside from the group she put us in the picture as to her rapidly declining health.  We miss hugely her robust hilarity and determined arguing of her point as well as her interest in the experience and views of others.  Countless bothy goers will remember with fondness and gratitude what she did for them and, most importantly, who she was.

I could not have written this tribute to Jenny without the encouragement and additional detail supplied to me by Jenny’s sister, Margie Spencer-Smith. Thanks also to the many of Jenny’s guests, friends met along the way. I am most grateful to them all.

David Dean    Lazy Duck Hostel  ‘Original’  1999 to 2019

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