Dotted across the more remote landscapes of the UK are some 100 bothies. Most are in Scotland, while others are situated in the north of England and Wales. Public access to bothies is either on foot, bicycle, or boat, but not car.
These shelters, which are free to use, are variously described as basic, simple and rustic. Most bothies are formerly ruined buildings that have been restored to a basic standard, and provide a windproof and watertight place to rest or sleep.
They vary in size from little more than a large box-sized hut to a two-storey cottage. Many bothies that I have visited have designated sleeping areas, which are usually just a raised wooden platform. Sometimes there is a bedroom or upstairs area but most bothies are one big living/sleeping area. No bedding, mattresses, or blankets are provided.
Often you’ll find that a bothy boasts a fireplace and most are near a natural source of water. If you are lucky there may be nearby wood for the fire but luxuries such as a toilet or running water are rare.
Who owns the bothies?
The bothies are usually the properties of landowners but subject to an agreement with the MBA they are available for use by walkers. They are looked after and maintained by a charity, with the help of some 4,000 members.
The interesting thing about bothies is that they are meant to be something of a mystery. It’s not that people can’t use them or find out about them, but Mountain Bothies prefer the exact location of these shelters to remain unpublicised in mainstream publications.
Most people learn about bothies through walking guides, chats with other walkers, walking pub gossip and because they come across one while exploring the great outdoors.
Many walkers use bothies when spending more than a day or two in the mountains because it reduces the amount of kit they need to carry. For example, staying in a bothy does away with the need for a tent.
Bothies also offer a good meeting place for solo walkers or if you fancy a bit of company during an outdoors adventure. At times, you can reach a bothy to find it is so full that there is sleeping-on-the-floor-room only. But it’s the chance you take. I have stayed in bothies with only my partner as the other occupant and also arrived to discover it’s a sleeping-like-sardines night.
Code of the bothy
As a rule, walkers should leave a bothy as they found it or in a better state. Respect for other people means that bothies are usually fairly well looked after but if you find one in a mess it’s frowned upon to leave it that way. Generally I have found bothies to be in good – although very spartan – condition.
Respect other users: Leave the bothy clean and tidy for the next users, and if possible also leave dry material for lighting a fire.
Respect the bothy: Sweep out the parts of the bothy that you have used, clean work and table tops and leave the bothy in a clean and tidy condition.
Guard against fire risk when using your own cooker or the bothy stove and fireplace. Make sure that fires are completely out when you leave the bothy.
Don’t cause graffiti or vandalism.
Take out all rubbish that can’t be burned.
Don‘t leave perishable food behind because it will attract vermin.
Respect the environment
Keep the surrounding areas clean and tidy, and use the spade provided when you go to the toilet up the hill.
Fuel is not provided so you must bring your own. (Never cut live wood for use in a bothy.)
Conserve fuel: if you bring your own, always leave a small supply for someone who, in an emergency, may need it more than you.
A first-time experience in a Scottish bothy
Novice bothy user Ben Dolphin rides his mountain bike to a remote bothy located by a loch in Sutherland. He reveals some tips and what it's like to stay in a bothy.
For more information about bothies generally see www.mountainbothies.org.uk.