In Scotland, Bothies are a remarkable part of our outdoors’ culture. The word bothy can really mean any form of very basic accommodation, but to hillwalkers the term is usually applied to ‘open’ bothies – buildings which are left unlocked for anyone to use. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Mountain Bothy Association, which was set up by outdoor enthusiasts Bernard and Betty Heath to try to save from ruin many of the uninhabited buildings in the wilder parts of Scotland, which had traditionally been used as dosses. Today the association maintains – entirely through the efforts of volunteers – around 100 bothies, mostly in Scotland but with a few in England and Wales – free for walkers and other outdoors’ folk to use. There are other open bothies – not connected to the MBA – which are maintained by estates.
Most people who have spent much time exploring the Scottish countryside will have passed a bothy. For those who don’t know what to expect, it’s best to regard staying in a bothy as camping without a tent. All that can be relied upon is four walls and a roof; many bothies have a stove or open fire but you’ll probably need to bring your own fuel. Some have sleeping platforms but many others just have space on the floor – you’ll always need a sleeping bag, mat, and a stove for cooking. If you do visit a bothy, please follow the ‘Bothy Code’:
Respect Other Users
Please leave the bothy clean and tidy with dry kindling for the next visitors. Make other visitors welcome. If they are not MBA members set a good example.
Respect the Bothy
Tell the MBA about any accidental damage. Don’t leave graffiti or vandalise the bothy. Please take out all rubbish which you can’t burn. Avoid burying rubbish; this pollutes the environment. Please don’t leave perishable food as this attracts vermin. Guard against fire risk and ensure the fire is out before you leave. Make sure the doors and windows are properly closed when you leave.
Respect the Surroundings
If there is no toilet at the bothy please bury human waste out of sight. Use the spade provided, keep well away from the water supply and never use the vicinity of the bothy as a toilet. Never cut live wood or damage estate property. Use fuel sparingly.
Respect the Agreement with the Estate
Please observe any restrictions on use of the bothy, for example during stag stalking or at lambing time. Please remember that bothies are for short stays only. The owner’s permission must be obtained if you intend an extended stay.
Respect the Restriction On Numbers
Because of overcrowding and lack of facilities, large groups (6 or more) should not use a bothy or
camp near a bothy without first seeking permission from the owner. Bothies are not available for commercial groups.
Even if you do just pop inside for a break it is appreciated if you could assist the MBA by carrying out any rubbish you find.
With one exception, bothies are not owned by the MBA – still belonging to their estates – and there are occasionally restrictions on their use, particularly during the stalking season. It’s worth checking the Mountain Bothy Association website for details of these – and, after you’ve visited a bothy, to fill in the online form to let the MBA know of any maintanance issues – or even just to let them know all is ok and tidy.
If you want to find out more or support the continued existence of this fabulous resource, it’s well worth joining the Mountain Bothy Association – and perhaps even volunteering to help at one of their maintenance parties; there is work suitable for everyone and usually great craic to be had.
Here’s a few of our favourites.
Corrour is probably the best known of all bothies, situated on the celebrated Lairig Ghru walkers’ pass through the heart of the Cairngorms. Its proximity to some of the remotest high mountains including Cairn Toul and the Devil’s Point mean that it is often busy. Over the years waste became an increasing problem, and the MBA have now built an attached basic drop toilet – spare a thought for the volunteers working a regular rota to empty it.
Taigh Seumas a’ Ghlinne, Duror, Argyll
This bothy – hidden away in the forestry plantations behind Beinn a’Bheithir, has a tale to tell. It was built on the site of an earlier cottage said to have been the birthplace of James of the Glen (Seumas a’ Ghlinne) – James was the man who was wrongfully hung for the murder of a government tax inspector in the years after the Jacobite rebellion. The true story formed the basis of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel, Kidnapped. The bothy can be visited by a short walk from Duror.
Suileag is situated in the stunning landscape of Assynt, close to the usual approach route to Suilven from Glencanisp Lodge.
Camban, Glen Affric
Camban has a very remote location, in the Fionngleann which is the uppermost part of Glen Affric, one of Scotland’s longest and most beautiful glens. It is fairly popular as a halt of the Affric-Kintail Way; this part of the route was a popular wild walk long before it became an official route.
The Teahouse – Easan Dorcha, Coulin Forest
The teahouse must be the tiniest of bothies – more suitable as a place of shelter for a brew and a respite from the weather rather than a place to spend the night. It is set amongst the spectacular mountains of the Coulin Forest – between Torridon and Strathcarron – and is visited on this circular walk. Rumour has it that the bothy was visited by Holywood legends Robert de Niro and Michelle Pfieffer during a break from local filming on the hit movie Stardust.
Ruigh Aiteachain, Glen Feshie, Cairngorms
Ruigh Aiteachain is a very popular bothy, and like Corrour is one of the few with any type of toilet facility other than a spade (separate building nearby). During the stalking season you must contact the estate before planning to use the bothy. Note that the bridge at Carnachuin was washed away several years ago. The bothy is visited by our Glen Feshie walk, and is on the route of the Scottish National Trail.
Luib Chonnal, Glen Roy, Lochaber
Luib Chonnal is set near the source of the River Roy at the very head of Glen Roy – which provides the shortest route in. It can also be reached by a longer, wetter approach from the end of the public road beyond Garva Bridge above Laggan – but this involves unbridged burn crossings. This is little-visited hill country; the two Gleann Eachach Carn Deargs being the nearest significant hills.
Glencoul is in a remote location near the head of the loch of the same name; reaching it involves a very long walk unless you have a boat. It is one of many bothies along the route of the Cape Wrath Trail – Scotland’s toughest backpacking challenge – as well as the Scottish National Trail.
Tomsleibhe, Isle of Mull
The only MBA bothy on the Isle of Mull, Tomsleibhe is near the head of Glen Forsa at the foot of Beinn Talaidh. The estate requests walkers to get in touch during the stag and hind stalking seasons (15 Aug – 15 February) – phone number is on the MBA webpage.
Ryvoan is another of the best known and most visited bothies, lying just over the top of the Ryvoan Pass and part of a popular walk from Glenmore.
Ollisdal, Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye has several bothies, of which Ollisdal is the most remote, on the Duirinish peninsula in the northwestern part of the island. It is close by the route of the classic wild clifftop coast walk from Ramasaig to Orbost.
Unless approached by sea, Uags is at the end of a rugged, boggy walk from Toscaig south of Applecross. The reward for the effort is this bothy with its stunning location by the sea, overlooking the Crowlin Islands and Skye.
To further get you in the mood, we leave you with adventurer Alastair Humphreys’ great short film, Mountain Bikes and Bothy Nights, shared via Vimeo.