Friday 6 December 2019

Thoughts on Bothies

Two recent pieces on bothies has set me thinking about these basic shelters and just how important they are in the story of hillgoing. Mountaineer and mountain rescue expert @HeavyWhalley has written an interesting piece here. He mentions that there's a row going on about bothies online. I've managed to avoid this completely, which is a relief! I gather it's about how much bothies should be promoted and how much information should be available. Whatever the rights and wrongs of various opinions it's too late to go back to the days when it was harder to find out about bothies (though never that hard, you just had to join the Mountain Bothies Association, which I did well over thirty years ago). Heavy Whalley also reminisces about bothy days and nights and posts many pictures.

This is the time of year when bothies can be welcome. Bothy afficiando John D.Burns' 10 Tips for a Winter Bothy Visit is useful and entertaining, especially Tip 11! Bothies feature in all his books, one of them being titled Bothy Tales.

A classic on bothies is Dave Brown and Ian R. Mitchell's Mountains Days and Bothy Nights. Published in 1987 and with tales going back to the 1960s this is a fascinating book, well worth reading.

Here's some bothy stories of my own, taken from a piece written several years ago for The Great Outdoors.

My first introduction to bothies was during a Pennine Way walk one April long ago. Coming off Cross Fell in dense wet mist I found little Greg’s Hut and spent a warm night there after drying out damp gear in front of a fire. Since then I have spent many nights in bothies and have grown to love the individual quirks and designs of the many different buildings that have been pressed into service as shelters for outdoors people. Bothies are particularly welcome on winter trips, especially when the weather is stormy, as spending long hours cooped up in a small tent can become wearisome. I was reminded of this one February when I hiked the Southern Upland Way, a 13-day trip on which the weather was mostly wet and windy. My second day was spent in wind, rain and low cloud and by the time I reached the little wooden Beehive bothy amongst the dripping trees in Galloway Forest Park I was very glad of its shelter as I had a damp tent from the night before and the wet mist meant that any camp would be very soggy indeed. 

The next day the weather was worse, starting out with drizzle and finishing with several hours of heavy rain. And throughout I was in thick damp mist. Rather than camp I decided to press on to the next bothy, White Laggan, which I reached long after dark, having been out for 11 hours during which I sloshed some 42 kilometres. The bothy had a good store of wood and a stove, so I was soon sitting in the warm cooking my late supper feeling amazingly relieved just to be there. The next morning I stuck my head outside just as the first light was creeping over the land. My journal entry tells the story – “mist blasting past the bothy in wet waves. Very windy. No visibility”. I was glad I hadn’t spent the night in my damp tent.

Bothies are also a place to meet other outdoors people and share experiences. I have had many interesting conversations with walkers and climbers over a hot brew and a bothy fire. Of course sometimes bothies can be crowded – after an experience many years ago when fifteen of us crammed into little Corrour bothy in the Cairngorms, which was really only big enough for half that number, I have always carried a tent or tarp and been prepared to camp out if a bothy is full. The only exception was when I planned a TGO Challenge Route using bothies plus a few B&Bs the whole way across, including one high level rickety wooden hut that was blown down by the wind a few years later. On this trip I found another disadvantage of not carrying a tent – you have to reach the bothy regardless of conditions. Overall it was a difficult crossing – the hardest of the 16 Challenges I have done. There was still deep snow on the hills and the weather was windy and frosty. An ice axe was essential, and our route was changed a few times to deal with the conditions (we were blown back from an attempt on Ben Nevis). On reaching the Cairngorms we stayed in Ruigh Aiteachain bothy in Glen Feshie before crossing the Moine Mhor to Corrour bothy. The going was hard work due to the deep soft snow and it was late when we arrived on the rim of Coire Odhar high above the bothy. However, the snow on the steep upper slopes of the corrie was hard and icy and, having no crampons, we had to cut steps with our ice axes, slowly zigzagging back and forth across the slope until we reached easier ground. All the time we could see tents outside the bothy so we had the added worry that it might be full. In fact, to our great relief it was empty. If we’d had tents we’d have camped on the tops or found an easier way down.

Another attraction of bothies is the bothy book where visitors can record their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Here you can learn about suggested routes in the area, weather conditions at different times of year, problems with river crossings and see how many people use the bothy and at what times of year. (There is one bothy in the Eastern Cairngorms – the Shielin’ of Mark – that has a sudden spike in visitors in the middle of May when TGO Challengers pass by and hardly any visitors at any other time.)

Bothies require maintenance if they are to remain safe and watertight of course. A wonderful volunteer organisation, the Mountain Bothies Association, does the work and deserves the support of everyone who ever uses a bothy. I joined it after my stay in Greg’s Hut and have been a member ever since. The MBA has an excellent website – – where the Bothy Code – sensible guidelines for using bothies – can be found.


  1. I love the idea of the Bothies. I live in America and read an article about them a few years ago. I hope to one day come to Scotland and hike the higlands and stay in a Bothies.

  2. I remember that tgo challenge Chris,was it 1983? All the best from mark & Helen xx

    1. Yes, 1983. I remember how scary the Sgurr na Ciche-Garbh Chioch Mor ridge was without ice axes!

    2. I remember the high level rickety hut where we fastened fertiliser bags over the glassless windows and had just enough room to sleep on the two benches! Plus I was glad that you had a lot of experience of Scottish winter walking.

    3. That hut was on Glas Maol. Long gone.

  3. A brothie or a mountain refuge should be cold and dank on a fair weather excursion where a tent will appear the better option, but appear to be a castle when you are cold and wet and near defeat.