Bothy Sweet Bothy


I was dreaming about a strange scratching sound. Somehow I realised that I was awake... Mouse!  I put on my head torch and examined our food stash.  The little fella had nibbled through our carrier bag and had been munching into the bourbons...

Bothies are simple shelters in remote places that are left unlocked to be used by climbers and walkers.  A night in a bothy can transform a day out in the hills into a proper little adventure.  Unlike staying in a tent, you can feel the solidity of the walls around you, and there's sometimes the chance to warm up by a fire.

Bothies are mainly abandoned farm buildings and sometimes old mining buildings.  There is one on Skye that is an old coastguard lookout station.  Whatever the building was before, working parties from the Mountain Bothies Association have turned up and rebuilt them to a state where they can be used by anyone who stumbles past.

Some ideas for a cosy night:

Find out where the bothy is
Bothies are mainly in Scotland but there are ten that slip across into Northern England, and eight in Wales. The MBA website gives grid references for the location of the bothies they maintain.  Make sure you can navigate precisely enough to find your bothy.

You could try and cook on the fire but it's probably easier to take a stove.  Probably what you want is something easy to cook and tasty, like the sort of food you'd want for camping. Alastair and I have often gone for pre-packed filled pasta which only takes a few minutes to cook.  Other options are ration packs, precooked ready meals and noodles.  It is also nice to have lots of nice snacks like biscuits and chocolate.  Sometimes people leave food, gas canisters, pots and pans, and other useful things in a  bothy.  Which is nice.  It's not a good idea to leave behind perishable food or anything that'll attract vermin (no offence to mice).  Don't make our mistake, keep your food away from mousey! Hang it on a nail from a beam or put it in a solid tupperware box.

Head torch and spare batteries, candles
Obviously these huts aren't wired up to the grid so you'll need some light.

Firewood, tinder and matches
If you're lucky there'll be a fireplace.  If you're really lucky there'll be a wood-burning stove.  If you have the option of walking in with a bit of wood, you'll be all the cosier.  If there is wood there when you arrive use it sparingly, ideally replace it.  Don't cut down live wood or burn the estate owner's fence posts.  When you leave make sure the fire is out and clean up the fireplace and leave dry kindling for the next visitors.

In the Luib Chonnal bothy we were huddled in our sleeping bags trying to sleep when a bearded man came in.  He had long shaggy grey hair and looked like he'd been dragged through a bush backwards.  He sat down introduced himself and offered us a wee dram of whiskey. We had a fantastic night being regaled with stories about the old bloke's fishing and bird watching escapades.

You can't guarantee there'll be a hairy Scotsman to entertain you. There won't be a telly.  It's going to be a case of getting back to the entertainment system of ancient times: a pack of cards.

Hats, gloves, warm clothes, sleeping bag, sleeping mat
It's not going to be a sauna. So bring what you need to be warm enough.

There's often a spade in a bothy.  If you need a crap, bury it in a hole well away from the bothy, any water courses and any paths.  One option to get rid of toilet paper is to burn it with a cigarette lighter.

Have a back up plan
If you can't find the bothy, or the roof has burnt down, what then?  You could walk back from where you came from, or you might decide to bring a tent just in case.  Either way it's worth thinking through what you might do.

The Bothy Code
Have a quick read of the bothy code. It's mainly common sense, or stuff I've said here.  If you use bothies frequently it might be worth considering becoming a member, donating or attending a working party.

In the Alps the mountain huts tend to be great big things that sleep 30 or 40, have a chef and beer on tap.  We don't have that in the UK's mountains but what we do have is bothies.  Part of getting out into the mountains is about simplifying and leaving the luxuries behind.  Bothies have a simple, cold and draughty charm of their own.

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