This blog tells the story of my continuing endeavours to document every Scottish bothy, which is now entering its fifth year. This includes all those maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association (MBA), www.mountainbothies.org.uk, a wonderful organisation that maintains 81 properties in bonnie Caledonia, as well as a few south of the border, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. I am now compiling the information I have gathered during my travels, and aiming to publish the first comprehensive guidebook to all the most popular Scottish bothies later this year…
Geoff Allan Jan 2016
What is a bothy?
The term bothy comes from the Gaelic ‘bothan’, and was originally used to describe the basic accommodation used by farm labourers, or estate workers. However, over the last few decades, the word has been co-opted to describe places that are freely available for anyone to use, as somewhere to stay the night, or for that matter just have lunch. The vast majority are old cottages, although a few have been purpose built, and are made available by the courtesy of the landowner. Some, though by no means all, are at least an hour or two hours walk from the nearest road, but every single one is found in the most beautiful, out of the way locations in the land.
A rough and ready guide
Bothy accommodation is very basic, and its important to assume that there will be no facilities. This means no gas, no electricity or a tap. You should only expect to find a wind and waterproof building with somewhere dry to sleep. So if your staying overnight, you will have to carry in all the equipment you would take camping, plus candles, and if there is a fireplace, something to burn. Water comes from a stream or spring nearby. Do not expect the bothy to have toilet facilities, you will need to use the spade provided. Leave the bothy clean and tidy, and take away all your rubbish. There is no booking system or wardens, and you should anticipate company for the evening, but there is absolutely no concept of first come, first served. Except on extremely rare occasions, late comers will just squeeze in on the floor if the bothy is full, though it may be common sense to take a light weight tent, if you are going to a bothy in a popular area in the summer months.
The beauty of bothies is that if you have some good equipment, are happy to carry in a few luxuries in terms of food and drink, and get a fire lit, you can have a really comfortable evening in some amazing locations for very little cost. The best bothies are almost like hostels, with a well drawing fire or stove, platform beds to sleep on, and in some cases even a supply of wood left by a benevolent estate. Take a few friends, or meet others who are equally inspired by their love of the hills, and your experience will live long in the memory.
Bothies have been part of my life ever since I came to Edinburgh as an undergraduate in 1988, and went on my first bothy meet at the EUMC club hut in Glenlicht, near Shiel Bridge in Kintail, to bring in the bells at new year. I’ve never looked back, became bothy secretary the following year, and have been out and about ever since, always happy to carry in some coal, and offer a glass (well plastic mug) of something to the collected company…