Bothy Culture

To qualify as a true outdoor adventurer, an overnight visit to an isolated Scottish bothy is an absolute right-of-passage. A bucket list item to be ticked off in Scotland’s magnificent wilderness, just one where the bucket might also be used to recharge the rudimentary toilet facilities or bring freshly caught mackerel up from the shore for a BBQ…

The term bothy covers a multitude of basic shelters – we’ve sat on dirt floors in what was essentially a cowshed near Loch Etive, enjoyed well appointed buildings tucked behind shooting lodges on the Queen’s highland estate and dropped into the magnificently renovated Ruigh Aiteachain in the wonderful Glen Feshie. The basics are universal – communal living, off-the-grid escapism and the camaraderie that comes from all tribes of outdoor lovers coming together to enjoy the wild places and maybe a whisky or two.

Commonly viewed as being open shelters for all to use, there are also a large number of locked bothies, used by estate workers during hunting season or kept by climbing and outdoor clubs for members to use. With a bit of research, you might find that you can arrange access to some of the locked bothies for a special weekend in remote spot. Even if you can’t spend the night in a bothy, it’s worth dropping in for some respite from wild weather – it’ll only take 15 minutes to clear.

Our five favourite bothies:

Taigh Thormoid Dhuibh – nestling into the rough hillside at the northern tip of Raasay, this former blackhouse is at the end of a rough and often boggy path from the south (or from a rocky landing point from the sea to the north) and is surrounded by the splendour of Skye and Lochaber’s mighty landscapes. White Tailed Eagles are often spotted overhead, flying out from their eyrie on Eilean Tigh.

Ben Alder Cottage – a short hop from Loch Ericht, the bothy lies at the foot of a superb descent on renovated stalkers path from the Bealach Dubh and can be reached by bike easily from the east and less easily from the west and south. But who doesn’t like a bit of heather bashing? Don’t let the rumours of a ghost put you off settling in for the night.

Camban – another spot that’s “easy” to reach by bike and on the route of the brilliant  Beinn Fhada circuit, Camban lies between the splendour of Glen Affric and Kintail. The route also take you past Glen Licht House, a private club bothy with a built in Twister floor…

The Hutchie Hut – set in a truly spectacular location high in the Cairngorms, this bothy more formally known as the Hutchison Memorial hut was built in the memory of Dr Arthur Gilbertson Hutchison in 1954 and renovated in 2012. Sitting by Loch Etchachan and just off the path to Ben Macdui, it’s an unforgettable place to spend a night.

Dibidil – you wanted remote, right? Dibidil on Rhum is not an easy place to get to. Firstly you have to get to Mallaig, then you have to catch a ferry out to the largest of the Small Isles, then you have to ride or walk for several, not entirely pleasant hours, before you catch sight of a small building in some of the roughest terrain we’ve dragged a bike through. A spot to marvel at the places that our forebears scratched a living.

Five bothy tips:

  1. Popular bothies can be busy places at weekends and be in remote places with no other shelter nearby. Be prepared to sleep outside with a tent or a bivi bag if it’s rammed.
  2. Join the Mountain Bothy Association – this charity looks after bothies in Scotland, England and Wales, organising work parties and caring for an invaluable asset.
  3. Pack in, pack out. If you could carry it in, you can carry it away again.
  4. Learn a bothy ballad or two to while away the hours by the stove. Everyone can sing with a wee dram in them…
  5. Always, always pack midge spray. We recommend Smidge, a DEET free waterproof formula that’s kept the midges at bay on a number of trips into the wild. The folically challenged should also pack an Endura Multitube or cap to wear under their helmet.



Writer and expert