What is a bothy and how to use one

Why is it called a bothy?

The word bothy comes from the Gaelic word “bothan” which simply means hut. Doesn’t bothy sound so much better though?

How to pronounce Bothy

Bothy is pronounced how it is spelled. Say the “both” bit as if you were saying; cloth, sloth, or moth. Scottish accent is optional.

Scotish Bothy
K A / Camban Bothy in 1983

What is a bothy?

Bothies come in many shapes and forms, but they are all shelters with a roof and walls. Left unlocked. they are for the use of all. Expect a bothy to be wind and waterproof.

In a posher bothy, expect to find a fire, and maybe some sleeping platforms, even basic furniture.

Think of it as camping without a tent and you won’t be disappointed. It’s a non-canvas tent. You may have to share your tent with others and that’s part of the appeal.

Initially, a bothy may well have been used as a croft house, or accommodation for estate workers.

The MBA (Mountain Bothies Association) describes a bothy as:

“A simple shelter in remote country for the use and benefit of all those who love being in wild and lonely places.”

When can I go to a bothy?

In principle, bothies are open all year round without restriction. However, sometimes the bothy you turn up at may be closed.

Often, this is a restriction imposed by the landowner for deer stalking and lambing seasons.

Check with the relevant estate if you want to be sure a bothy is open.

The MBA handbook also details regular restrictions.

You can also check out each individual bothy on their website.

https://www.mountainbothies.org.uk/bothies/location-map/

What is a bothy?
Nigel Corby / Corrour Bothy

Where can I find a bothy?

The MBA has a map on their website that shows all the bothies that are in their care. As you will see, most are in Scotland with a handful in Wales.

https://www.mountainbothies.org.uk/bothies/location-map/

Can you sleep in a bothy?

Yes, you can sleep in a bothy, that’s exactly what they are for. A bothy is a place to shelter for the night, or maybe 2. Any more, and you should seek permission from the landowner.

Remember, there will probably be no beds – maybe a sleeping platform if you are lucky. Don’t go looking for luxury and you may well be delighted.

Even if there are beds or platforms, others may have got there before you, and you’ll be on the floor.

The Bothy Bible will give you a much better idea of what to expect at your chosen bothy. This book is well worth buying if you like to know what to expect before you get there.

Do Bothies have beds?

No, bothies do not have beds in the normal sense of the word. There may be a basic wooden structure that could be defined as a bed, but a simple sleeping platform is more normal. You may not even get that.

If the platforms are taken, then a cold stone floor will be your bed.

Make sure you bring a sleeping mat that will insulate you from the ground and keep you comfortable.

If there is no space when you arrive, you could end up outside, so it is worth bringing a bivvy bag or tent, just in case.

You don’t go to a bothy for a luxurious night’s sleep. You will bring any luxury in.

Ear plugs are a good idea if the noise of others is likely to disturb you.

What to take to a bothy?

Expect to be camping outside and view a space inside as a bonus when packing. This probably won’t be the case, but it’s best to be prepared unless you know for a fact you will be inside.

Midge repellant, tick removers, and earplugs are a good bet.

Candles make good lighting, but remember to take away the foils from tea-lights, along with all your rubbish.

If you are planning a fire, bring your own fuel and everything you need to light it. Maybe pack a little extra fuel to leave behind. It could save a life.

Sometimes you will find fuel and provisions that a kind soul has left, but don’t expect it.

At the other end of your stay, make sure you take any perishables and all your rubbish with you. Have a clean up too.

How long can you stay in a bothy?

Bothies are for travellers and hikers seeking shelter on a journey. That doesn’t mean you are not welcome to walk to a bothy and walk back to where you came from.

But don’t outstay your welcome, whatever the reason you are there for. You could be depriving someone else who needs the shelter.

Regards 2 nights as a maximum and, if you intend to stay longer, you should definitely seek permission from the landowner. It may well be permitted, particularly in quiet periods.

Certainly don’t base yourself at a bothy to explore the area.

do the right thing and go to a campsite or a hotel.

James Ayres / Grwyne Fawr Bothy
James Ayres / Grwyne Fawr Bothy

What to do if a bothy is full

In theory, a bothy is never full and people will make room for you – somehow. Don’t count on it, though.

If the bothy is full, you may well be better to camp outside if you have smartly brought a tent. A bivvy bag is an alternative emergency measure to carry with you. It could be useful inside a damp and dirty bothy to protect your sleeping bag, anyway.

Maybe bring a small tarp or groundsheet in case you have to sleep on the ground.

Do you pay to stay in a bothy?

No, bothies are free by the definition of the word. You may come across places using the name bothy that are; hotels, bunkhouses, or guest houses. These are not true bothies.

Donation to the Mountain Bothies Association is a good way to contribute to bothy upkeep, as is volunteering, or joining the association.

Do bothies have toilets?

Well, that depends on how you think of a toilet. Most bothies have no formal facilities and a spade is the provided equipment. If that isn’t going to work for you, then a bothy is not the place to spend the night.

If there are no toilet facilities, then it’s outside and dig a hole to bury your waste. Make sure it is well away from the bothy and away from water sources. At least 200 metres away. Make sure your hole is at least 6 inches or 15 cm deep.

Burn or take away any toilet paper, but be very careful with fire. My advice is to use a ziplock bag and take it away. If you bury it, it may be dug up by animals and make an unsightly mess.

There’ll rarely be any running water, so consider wet wipes, but once again, do not leave them behind or bury them. Take your rubbish home.

If there is a toilet, read the instructions – it may well have different rules and plumbing needs to the ones you are used to. Nobody wants to be the one who blocks it.

Keeping warm in a bothy

Bothies will sometimes have a fire that you can use. This involves bringing your own fuel in and ideally leaving some for others on your departure. At least try to leave some dry kindling.

Don’t assume you can arrive and cut down wood or find any fuel locally.

The best thing to do is to be self reliant with clothing and sleeping gear. Assume there will be no opportunity to light a fire and you won’t get caught out. Something like the Rab Kinder Smock is ideal bothy wear,

Electricity and water

If you find either, or both, you are in a very upmarket bothy. In fact, you are probably in the wrong place. Any facilities are rare and probably detract from the whole experience.

What about the social life?

Expect your time in the bothy to be a social one. Unless you score a bothy to yourself, the opportunity to spend time with other like-minded people is one of the appeals of bothying. You don’t have to join in, but it is normal to share the space socially as well as physically.

All kinds of people go bothying these days, so expect to meet a varied group. Be tolerant and considerate of others and their reasons for being there.

Join in and have fun, is my advice.

Can you live in a bothy?

Absolutely not. A bothy is a shelter and resting place for travellers. Do not take up residence, and ask the landowner if you want to stay more than 2 nights.

Can you camp outside a bothy?

In principle, there is no reason you can’t camp outside a bothy, and you may well have to if there is no space inside.

In fact, there are advantages to camping, and it is not uncommon for people to use the bothy for cooking and socialising before retiring to the privacy of a tent. Thereby avoiding the snoring and possibly unsociable hours kept by your fellow bothyers.

Getting away from the midges or using the fire are good reasons to camp near a bothy. I guess you get to borrow their spade, too.

Are there any bothies in England?

There are a handful of bothies in England, one of the more famous and popular ones being Warnscale Bothy in the Lake District.

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Warnscale+Bothy/@54.5026659,-3.2286239,14.26z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x46e17757b2f5556f!8m2!3d54.5085906!4d-3.2298067

The National Trust lists “bothies and bunkhouses” but these are paid for, bookable affairs. Not bothies in the genuine sense of the word.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/holiday-lists/bothies-and-bunkhouses-in-the-lake-district

There are many other commercial “bothies” around, but that’s not what this article is about.

How many bothies in Scotland?

There are around 100 bothies in Scotland, most of which are managed by the Mountain Bothy Association.

The Bothy Bible is the best place to find out about them and where they are – in Scotland.

There is a map on the MBA website.

What is the bothy code?

You’ll generally find a copy of the bothy code posted in the bothy.

Here is the code, as published on the MBA website:

Respect Other Users

Please leave the bothy clean and tidy with dry kindling for the next visitors. Make other visitors welcome and be considerate to other users.

Respect the Bothy

Tell us about any accidental damage. Don’t leave graffiti or vandalise the bothy. Please take out all rubbish which you can’t burn. Avoid burying rubbish; this pollutes the environment. Please don’t leave perishable food, as this attracts vermin. Guard against fire risk and ensure the fire is out before you leave. Make sure the doors and windows are properly closed when you leave.

Respect the Surroundings

If there is no toilet at the bothy, please bury human waste out of sight. Use the spade provided, keep well away from the water supply and never use the vicinity of the bothy as a toilet.
Never cut live wood or damage estate property. Use fuel sparingly.

Respect Agreement with the Estate

Please observe any restrictions on use of the bothy, for example, during stag stalking or at lambing time. Please remember, bothies are available for short stays only. The owner’s permission must be obtained if you intend an extended stay.

Respect the Restriction On Numbers

Because of overcrowding and lack of facilities, large groups (6 or more) should not use a bothy.
Bothies are not available for commercial groups.

Mountain Bothies Association (MBA)

The MBA is a charity and the guardian of most of the bothies in Scotland, though not all. Their website is well worth visiting to find out all about them and how you can join and volunteer.

Membership is not a requirement for using the bothies but at £20 a year, one ought to join, in my opinion. They do amazing work to maintain and protect the availability of bothies for us all to use.

You can even volunteer to put some physical work in on maintenance.

You can also donate here:

Do you need to be a member of the MBA?

The Mountain Bothy Association bothies are open to all and for no charge. Donating to, or joining, the MBA is a good way to pay our way and help keep the bothies alive for the future.

Bothy books

There are a few books about bothying and bothies.

Phoebe Smith is responsible for bringing bothies into more mainstream popularity, and her book is a good read.

What is a bothy and how to use one 1

Regarded as the best book on Scottish bothies, The Bothy Bible is a no-brainer if you want to explore from your armchair before venturing out.

What is a bothy and how to use one 3

John Burns has written an excellent book that gives an experienced insight into what bothies and bothying is all about. I can highly recommend this book.

What is a bothy and how to use one 5

Leaving a bothy

Always clean up before you leave and pack any rubbish, even if it’s not yours.

I normally advocate a leave no trace policy for wild camping, but in a bothy I suggest you do leave a record of your stay, in that the place is now cleaner and tidier. You’ll generally find a brush and dustpan, so use it.

Don’t leave any perishables.

Make sure the fire is out.

Close and secure all windows and doors.

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