A simple shelter in remote country for the use and benefit of all those who love being in wild and lonely places’
definition from the MBA members’ handbook.
Scotland’s bothies are typically abandoned crofts, farmsteads and estate lodges, which have been saved from ruin and renovated, forming a unique network of over 100 open mountain huts found in some fantastic, out of the way locations. Completely free to use, with no booking system or wardens, they vary in size from little more than a wooden cabin, to beautiful stone-built cottages with several rooms.
The term bothy comes from the Gaelic ‘bothan’, and was originally used to describe temporary lodging used by seasonal labourers. However, the word is now more closely associated with these remote sanctuaries, which have become a distinctive feature of Scottish outdoor culture. Much of the network has been developed and maintained by the dedicated enthusiasts of Mountain Bothy Association (MBA), a volunteer lead charity which received the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2015. Each bothy has a maintenance officer, and regular work parties are organised to make sure the shelters remain wind and water tight.
Although bothies come in many shapes and sizes, the most typical layout is a simple cottage with two rooms, often referred to as a but ‘n ben. This is a Scots term which describes the layout, the but referring to the kitchen and living room, and the ben the bedroom. From the entrance lobby, there is typically a room to the left and one to the right, and often a small additional chamber straight ahead. Occasionally there were also partitions in the roof space, which have been retained in a small number of bothies. These are accessed by secure internal stairs, and mainly used as dormitories. Remarkably, some of the more remote bothies still have their original wood panelling, mantelpieces, and stairs up to attic rooms. The best have sofas, bunk beds and even a library of books left by fellow travellers, while a handful have had extensive internal renovations and now have the feel of a hostel rather than a humble shelter. No two bothies are the same, and each has its own unique history, charm and character.
Bothy accommodation remains pretty basic though, and its important to assume that there will be no facilities. As a bare minimum there’ll be a table and a couple of chairs, and in most cases a sleeping platform, which saves bedding down on the floor. There are no facilities (gas, electricity or a tap) but usually a fire place or multi- fuel stove, and a stream nearby to collect water. A small number of bothies have loos, but generally answering calls of nature involves a walk and the use of the bothy spade to dig a hole. Good social skills are definitely an asset, and bothy goers tend to have a strong community spirit. People help each other out by sharing food, hot drinks and dry clothing as well as telling stories and giving advice and tips.
All you need for a perfect bothy trip are the usual things you would take camping: rucksack, sleeping bag, insulated sleeping mat, stove, and warm clothes plus candles, fuel for the fire, and all the treats you can squeeze in to keep spirits high, whether extra chocolate bars, or your favourite alcoholic tipple. It as also wise to take a lightweight tent if are going to a popular location over Easter and the summer months, though bothies are very rarely full. Most importantly, there is absolutely no concept of first come, and bothy etiquette dictates that everyone should be given space, however late they arrive, and however much a squeeze. Ultimately, it is how you make yourself at home that makes the difference to your bothy experience. Take a few friends, or meet others who are equally inspired by a love of the outdoors, and your adventure will live long in the memory.