Scottish Bothies: How to go bothy-ing

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"Simple shelters in remote locations for the use and benefit of all who love wild and lonely places”. That’s the rather romantic definition of a bothy according to the Mountain Bothies Association, a charity that does great work maintaining over 100 bothies all across Britain. Bothies are simple, no-frills shelters that anyone can stay in for free. Inside, you shouldn’t expect much more than a cabin or an old cottage with four walls, a wooden sleeping platform, a roof and if you’re lucky, a wood-burning stove, because what makes bothies so spectacular is their location. Found in the valleys between mountains, on the shores of remote lakes and perched on rugged coastlines, they dot some of the most extreme and beautiful landscapes in the country, with money-can’t-buy views of peaks and ocean from their windows. And most of Britain’s bothies are to be found in Scotland, the last corner of this island nation where real wilderness remains.

I’ve been hooked on bothy adventures ever since I first heard of these appealing shelters, and have spent many winter nights sitting by crackling fires in stone cottages while rain lashes outside, or sheltering gratefully from clouds of bloodthirsty midges in the summer months. It’s not just the joy of sleeping in the wild that makes bothies so rewarding – it’s also the camaraderie of the bothy. Often you won’t be alone, but sharing a hut with fellow hikers, climbers and cyclists who love the great outdoors. Even if you do get a bothy all to yourself, other visitors will often have left dry food, kindling and even treats like candles or a nip of whisky behind for others to use, and bothies that become rundown are usually restored by the Mountain Bothies Association volunteers to keep them safe for future use. In an expensive, built-up and busy world, there’s something wonderful about these shelters being totally free for everyone to use. That’s why part of the culture of bothy-ing is respect – for other users and for the landscape around you. All bothy users should follow the Bothy Code (see below), packing out any rubbish, respecting rules on when bothies are open to the public and ideally, leaving behind useful bits and bobs such as matches or dried food to pay the pleasure of a stay here forward.

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Wondering how can you go bothy-ing as a beginner? First, pick your bothy. If it’s your first hike to one, choose a shelter that’s not a huge distance from civilization. There’s a bothy to suit just about everyone, from cosy riverside cabins such as Bob Scott’s Hut in the Cairngorms to The Lookout on Skye, a former coastguard’s station you can watch whales from, and Kearvaig on Cape Wrath, often called Scotland’s most beautiful bothy and complete with a white sand beach, a roaring fire and even a disco ball. Once you’ve chosen a bothy, you’ll need the right kit for a comfortable night’s stay - pack a sleeping bag and camping mat, plus food supplies and a small stove to cook it all up on. Some bothies have fresh water sources nearby, but you should still bring your own supply. A small trowel allows you to bury human waste if the bothy has no loo, and don’t forget a bin bag, to pack out any rubbish. I always bring a book and a headtorch, so I can snuggle up in my sleeping bag by the light of the fire, and feel sheltered from the wonderful wild places just outside the door. Scottish bothies worth adventuring to:

THE WILDLIFE BOTHY THE LOOKOUT, ISLE OF SKYE Once a coastguard watch station on Skye’s blustery coast, the Lookout is now a simple bothy with a breathtaking view of the Western Isles. This cliff-top perch is a fantastic spot to watch for whales and dolphins migrating across the Minch. The bothy is on the small side, with no stove, fireplace or access to drinking water nearby, but the views are worth it.

THE COSY BOTHY OVER PHAWHOPE BOTHY, SCOTTISH BORDERS By bothy standards, Over Phawhope is positively luxurious – this is a good choice if you aren’t sure if roughing it in a basic shelter is for you. Inside this bothy is a cheerful wood stove, a comfy sofa and two bedrooms with sleeping platforms. There’s even a compost loo and a picnic table outside. THE HAUNTED BOTHY BEN ALDER BOTHY, CENTRAL HIGHLANDS If you don’t mind the idea of spending a spooky idea in the wild, try Ben Alder – it’s said to be haunted, with bothy visitors reporting hearing footsteps and even old-fashioned music here. Besides its creepy reputation, this is a wonderful spot to spend the night on the shores of Loch Ericht. THE REMOTE BOTHY KEARVAIG BOTHY, CAPE WRATH Scotland’s most northernmost bothy is also one of its most beautiful, looking out over its very own white sand bay and a turquoise sweep of sea in Scotland’s most north-westerly corner, the 50,000-acre-wide wild Cape Wrath. This bothy is the definition of remote, and you have to earn a night here by making the pilgrimage on foot, mountain bike or ferry.

THE PRETTY BOTHY BOB SCOTT’S BOTHY, CAIRNGORMS One of Scotland’s most photogenic bothies, Bob Scott’s is a charming wood cabin named for the friendly estate worker who used to let hikers and climbers stay in his cottage for free. Bob’s is deservedly popular for its beautiful location, enclosed by tall trees and perched on the shores of the River Lui, which winds right past the door.

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THE TINY BOTHY THE TEA HOUSE, WESTER ROSS Small is beautiful – the ‘Tea House’ is a tiny but charming one-room bothy with a bright green roof. Inside you’ll find a wooden table, benches and sketchbooks left behind by artistically-minded visitors. The Easan Gael river meanders nearby, and you can wash in its waterfall pools.

THE ELECTRIC BOTHY CORRYHULLY BOTHY, GLENFINNAN A picturesque stone building with a tin roof, Corryhully is nicknamed the ‘Electric Bothy’ because, well, it has electricity. Inside, the bothy is rustic but tidy, with bare stone walls, a fireplace and platforms for sleeping on as well as a proper bothy luxury – an electric kettle.

THE CLIFFTOP BOTHY CARLOTTA’S EYRIE, ARISAIG Surely Scotland’s most romantically-named bothy, Carlotta’s Eyrie is a dinky hideaway precariously perched right on the rocky shores of the bay of Camus Ghaoideil. Inside there’s a roomy sleeping platform, a shelf of books to peruse and a long window with sea views.

Follow the bothy code: Respect Other Users Leave the bothy clean and tidy with dry kindling for the next visitors. Make other visitors welcome and be considerate to other users.

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Respect the Bothy Don’t leave graffiti or vandalise the bothy. Take all rubbish home with you, including perishable food, which attracts vermin. Respect the Surroundings If there is no toilet at the bothy bury human waste out of sight. Use a spade (often provided, but bringing your own small shovel is a good idea), 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 Agreement with the Estate Observe any restrictions on use of the bothy, for example during stag stalking or at lambing time.

Respect the Restriction on Numbers Large groups and commercial groups should not use a bothy.

Find out more about the Mountain Bothies Association

Check out Sian’s collection of walking routes to amazing bothies across Britain, mapped on Komoot: https://www.komoot.com/collection/2153064

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