How To Stay In A Bothy In Scotland: A Beginner’s Guide
I bet you have seen the photos before.
A lone building, gently nestled between high mountains and green hills. Completely isolated, but still oddly welcoming. Perhaps there’s smoke escaping from a wee chimney, perhaps the only neighbour is a sheep.
Welcome to the world of bothies, the most quintessential form of Scottish accommodation you’ll ever come across.
Utterly charming. Utterly magic. But certainly not for everyone.
What Is A Bothy?
Let’s get the ABC sorted first. The term “bothy” comes from the Gaelic bothan meaning hut. Located in the wilderness across isolated isles and windswept glens – far from anything that can even slightly resemble cities, roads and society – you’ll find the little mountain huts we know as bothies. Chances are that they’ll be the most rudimentary form of accommodation that you’ll ever come across, yet they have somehow experienced a nearly galactic popularity rise over the past few years. It’s so trendy that even BBC have written about it.
Perhaps it’s because the younger generations are craving something different – a pause from an overwhelming life where their phones are constantly buzzing, where questionable world leaders won’t stop tweeting out shite, and life simply don’t want to stand still. Perhaps logging off, hiking across a glen and snuggle up in a bothy, is one of few ways in which we can actually take a break, catch our breaths, and just be.
Today, the bothies are part of a well-established network of mountain huts run by Mountain Bothies Association (MBA), a volunteer group that looks after and maintain 81 properties across the country (and even a few located in England, figure that!). For my Norwegian readers, this is very similar to the network of huts operated by Turistforeningen – the bothies are just harder to find, that’s all.
But not only are they hard to find, they also come with the ultimate reward: it’s completely free to spend the night in a bothy.
How Can You Stay In A Bothy In Scotland?
Well there’s a few things we need to get out of the way, before you eagerly pack your bags and head for Scotland for some good old bothy bagging. You see, bothies differ from other mountain huts because they were not meant to be one. Originally, they were small huts meant for shepherds or small families. And that’s why they’re so famously out of the way. They’re not necessarily found near any famous mountain, a big road or a popular hiking routes.
You see, there’s no real pattern or strategy behind their chosen locations. You’ll rarely find any signs guiding the way. And you’ll certainly not find them on your ultramodern GPS. They are hard to find, and – to be fair – finding them is a treat in itself. I can recommend that you find an old map, ask some locals, or – the most popular option – buy Geoff Allens infamous book The Bothy Bible for the complete directions and professional guidance.
Bothies might be a challenge to find, but the reward is pretty epic.
Lately, the Mountain Bothy Association have worked hard to rebuild some of the old bothies, and you’ll find that the majority are no longer as cold and drafty as you might imagine. Many of them sport new stoves, a wee library where you can exchange your books, and properly insulated wood panelling to keep the bitter winds out. When you snuggle up in your sleeping bag at night, happy and content after a long day of mountain hiking, interesting fireside conversation, a hearty meal and perhaps even a wee dram, it’ll be hard to believe that it’s all free of charge.
And that there’s 80 more of them out there somewhere, just waiting for you to grab your boots and your backpack and find your way. You can just keep going, really. And there’s no booking systems or wardens, so you can simply just walk in at any time. It’s a shelter from the wind, a shelter from a society which never stops talking, messaging and calling. It’s the ultimate change to be offline and just human around.
What To Expect When Staying In A Bothy?
It sounds exciting doesn’t it? Spending the night in a historic building, with an amazing view and only the sound of nature to accompany you. And especially so when it comes free of charge, too!
But mate, hold your horses for a wee second. Remember what I said about a bothy not being for everyone?
You need to be aware that a bothy is far from a luxury accommodation. It might be charming and isolated, but it’s not exactly a hotel. Or a hostel, even. Heck, you’ll even be lucky if you find one with an inside loo. But, as a friend of mine once stated, rather contently, on a mountain top: “Oh nature. If Mother Nature isn’t the ultimate loo with a view, then I don’t know what is”.
That’s what awaits you at the bothy. That, and a long hike to get there. Take it or leave it, mate. So it’s not exactly the trip you take your toddlers on (unless you have extremely sporty toddlers that are used to long hikes, rudimentary accommodation and to carry their own bodyweight in a wee backpack. I mean, what do I know). Are you leaving the family behind and going solo instead? I totally understand. Here’s a wee guide to how you can make your Scottish solo trip absolutely amazing.
And, in most cases, there are no facilities besides a place to dry your boots and a bed to rest your head in. There’s rarely any gas, electricity or tap. It’s basically somewhere dry and warm to sleep for the night. It’s wee place sporting a good fire, affectionately known as bothy tv, where you can cuddle up as the night creeps closer.
So What Should You Bring To A Bothy?
The golden rule when it comes to what to bring to a bothy, is basically to pack everything you would bring for a camping trip (minus the tent, obviously). The essential items are:
- Your backpack, obviously
- Sleeping bag (make sure it’s suitable for the time of year)
- Sleeping mat
- Kitchen utensils (whatever you need for cooking, eating, drinking basically)
- Head torch (and hey, don’t forget the spare batteries!)
- Map and compass
- Lighter/matches and tea lights
- Penknife (might be handy, you never know)
- Water bottle
- Toilet paper (very unsexy, but this is one item you will seriously regret not bringing)
- Tick remover and midge repellant
- Whisky, wine or whatever your preferred poison is
Additional Knowledge: Scotland’s Right To Roam
If you’re preparing for a hike in Scotland for the first or the fiftieth time, it will be helpful to know that Scotland sports some of the most liberal access rights in the world (they still can’t beat Norway though). The right to roam was enshrined in statue by the Land Reform Act in 2003.
By law, landowners must not put up fences or signs that prevent people from trekking across their land, but please try to stick to marked paths when possible. Anyway, you will not break any law by hiking to a Scottish bothy.
If you are planning on bagging a lot of bothies, I would highly recommend that you sign up for a membership at The Mountain Bothy Association. Your annual fee will go towards general maintenance of the bothies, so it’s a good way to give back to the community.
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