Mountain bothies – mountain refuges

Mountain bothy

Many who enjoy the outdoors and that have spent time in the mountainous areas of Scotland will be aware of mountain bothies.  They may even have made use of one or two of them over the years.  Lots of others won’t know of their existence, but may have perhaps wondered what that abandoned looking old cottage is that they are walking by.  You can find bothies across Scotland.

What is a Bothy?

Bothies and bothying have been described as many things.  Holiday homes they are not.  Camping without a tent is closer to the mark, though lots of things can be useful in a bothy that have no place in a tent, such as candles or a line for drying socks from.  If you have a look at the MBA website (Mountain Bothies Association) their description of what bothying involves works best….

When going to a bothy, it is important to assume that there will be no facilities.  No tap, no sink, no beds, no lights, and, even if there is a fireplace, perhaps nothing to burn.  Bothies may have a simple sleeping platform, but if busy you might find that the only place to sleep is on a stone floor. 

You will need to make your own arrangement for water and should be aware that there may not be a suitable supply near the bothy.  If there is no fire then on a cold night you may have trouble staying warm.  The great majority of nights in Britain are on the cool side and remember that most bothies are up in the hills.  Few bothies have toilet facilities apart from a spade and the advice is that you should walk at least a couple of hundred metres from the bothy and 60 metres from the water supply before excavations and evacuations commence.  If all this sounds rather rough, you are beginning to get the picture. Your comforts have to be carried in.

Why should you stay in a bothy?

You might be think the MBA are trying to put you off when you read that.  However, there are some very good reasons to stay in a bothy (based on personal experience):

  • They are found in some of the most amazing locations
  • If the weather is really bad, then being in the bothy is definitely better, even if you have to sleep on the floor.  Trying to put a tent up in a gale isn’t much fun and is most likely to result in your tent being blown away or damaged.
  • You have space to organise your kit, sort out your food, and pack again in the morning.
  • You might find you get the bothy to yourself – you can spread your kit out to help it dry out and get some time to read your book or listen to some music.
  • You might find there are people sharing the bothy.  It’s great to meet like-minded walkers and have a good old blether about adventures-passed, particularly if someone happens to bring along a little whisky and the fire is crackling away!
  • Memories – I’ve spent a number of enjoyable nights in bothies over the last 30 years or so but one particlar memory stands out.  I woke up in the morning sun to see a horse’s head peaking through the open bothy window.  It had poked its nose through the open window to see what was going on and after it saw all it needed it headed off again.

Don’t get me wrong, I love camping in a tent, particularly lightweight adventures with a solo tent or bivvy bag. However, I’ve really enjoyed my stays in bothies over the years, and sometimes that additional shelter you get from a solid roof and walls is just what is required.

Cairngorms bothy

Unfortunately, some individuals abuse the bothies, not heeding the Bothy Code.  This is a real shame because their mindless acts impact on the experience for others.  I remember visiting a bothy to some of find the furniture had been broken up to burn at some point before our arrival, or leaving their rubbish behind for someone else to deal with.  Grrrrrrrr!!

Find out more about the Mountain Bothy Association

You can find out more about bothies, where to find them and what the Mountain Bothy Association do on the website.  You can even join as a member to help keep bothies open and in good shape for many years to come.

You might also be interested in finding our more about Geoff Allan.  Geoff is someone who knows more than most about bothies and who has written a book about them, The Bothy BibleFind out more about Geoff and his book on the Fiona Outdoors blog

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