What are Bothies?

If you find yourself out and about in the wilderness and bad weather comes in (perhaps your tent doesn’t survive the gales, or if you just want 4 walls between you and the wildlife) then a bothie could be the answer to your literal prayers out on the hills.

Bothies are usually farm houses that are often refurbished or maintained in the same way that they have been left  for years, and are unlived in but kept in a safe condition by the Mountain Bothie Association to to allow overnight protection in the hills. Even though they are many centuries old, bothies offer the same rural viewpoint as wild camping allows, but the bothy means you aren’t in danger of pitching up on private land or causing unknown damage for the night and are free as well.

These aren’t hotels, huts or yurts though, so you need everything you would for a night of wild camping like a sleeping bag, a stove, food, water, as well as shovel for waste. (Most bothies will be maintained so there is a brush and a spade, but just in case, take a small one of your own,)

So why are there so many bothies? After World War II with new shortened working hours hill walking grew in popularity, whilst there was depopulation in rural areas and a decline in hill faming. This lead to many leftover houses left on the hills.

‘Bothying’ became the name for staying in these houses overnight and the MBA formed  in 1965 to help create or maintain basic shelters.

Are there any rules for bothying?

  • It’s not a case of ‘first comers have the bothy’ as bothies are open to everyone, so you could well find yourself offering a newcomer a cup of tea as you settle down for the night.
  • You can be a member of the Bothie association, but you can stay, member or not, although long stays or groups of 6 plus should call ahead.
  • Try and tidy up and if possible, leave some fuel (don’t cut local trees, fences or anything live down.)
  • Don’t bury rubbish but do take a spade to bury bodily waste.
  • If you use a stream, go downstream past drinking water- especially for cleaning day old walking socks.
  • Leaving non-perishable items, such as unopened tins is OK – but not perishables.
  • Check that the fire is out and all doors and windows are securely closed so sheep don’t sneak in!

Bothies are a great alternative to wild camping and with around 96 bothies known to the Mountain Bothie Association they tend to be widespread enough so you can find them instead of pitching on someone’s field.

You can pay a members fee of £20 (eligible for Gift Aid) a year and this money goes towards the tools and maintenance work on the bothies. Some bothies are destroyed by fire or accidents, or just wear and tear in the bad weather, so any work you can do to help is beneficial.

You can help by reporting on the bothies after a visit, so a maintenance person can come fix things before they escalate. Look at the slates, tiles, gutters and the roof. Is it secure or damp? Are there any broken windows, and cracks in the stove or a choked ash pan with ash or cans? (This can be sorted by you!) Is the floor springy? Or is there any concrete cracks?

Don’t forget to report all issues (or non-issues- good news is welcomed) so that your favourite bothy can live on.

Have you stayed in a bothy? How did you find it? Less or more equipped than you wanted?