Corrour bothy © gavin_scott_pictures

Picture yourself on an expedition through the wild Scottish Highlands, with the weather and evening drawing in and no possible place to find shelter for the night. Until in the middle of nowhere, you spot what looks like an abandoned cottage, like an oasis in the desert but made of ancient stones, roughly chopped wood and tin, seemingly forgotten amidst the heather, peat bogs and glens. The chances are you’ve stumbled upon a ‘Bothy,’ a simple dwelling where you can spend the night, incredibly for free. 

Allt Scheicheachan © Journeyman.online

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

-Bothy definition from the  Mountain Bothies Association Member’s Handbook.

Bothies are generally very basic buildings that you can find scattered in some of the most remote corners of the UK, but are mostly associated with the wilds of Scotland. Converted from old crofter’s cottages, mountain huts, or shepherd’s dwellings and the like that have fallen abandoned, most bothies are gathered under the care of the Mountain Bothies Association. Brilliantly, the front doors are always unlocked, and they’re freely available for any passerby to spend the night in. 

© Geoff Allan

Scotland’s landscape is undoubtedly beautiful, but its a beauty belies a danger, where temperatures can suddenly drop, and blizzards and fierce storms are commonplace that can suddenly catch out a hiker. Spotting a distant bothy hidden in a secluded valley, or overlooking a loch might just save your life. 

© Geoff Allan

Don’t expect to find a bothy filled with comfy furniture; often there’s just a fireplace, a table and a couple of chairs, and space to stow your sleeping bag. But sometimes you’ll find bothies supplied with welcome firewood, tea bags and perhaps a book or two, thoughtfully left behind by fellow explorers. Part of the adventure is discovering who else might be seeking shelter there, a chance encounter with a fellow explorer to swap tales with around the comforting fireplace. But often the bothy will be completely empty, providing a simple roof over your head and a place to seek shelter from a storm.

© Geoff Allan

“Leaning back in a rickety old chair I soak up the atmosphere of this cosy little space: the homely scent of coal smoke and food cooked over camping gas mixes with the soft, earthy smell of the building itself. Boots clump on wooden boards and sleeping bags, socks and mitts hang on a line. My new friends pass me a bottle of whiskey, while around the room candles burn gently in the necks of already empty bottles, each a testament to a past night just like this one.”

 – Jamie Andrew OBE, international mountaineer & quadruple amputee, from the foreword to the Scottish Bothy Bible.

© Geoff Allan

Here at the SGE, we’re particularly fond of bothies: one of our first expeditions was a summer spent wandering around Scotland with a university friend. Starting in Edinburgh, heading to Inverness and into the Western Highlands before sailing to the Isle of Skye and venturing into the Outer Hebrides, mostly staying in remote bothies with just a backpack, map and compass for company. One particular night was spent on the far flung island of South Uist, by the ruins of a 9th century Gaelic church overlooking the Atlantic Coast. In this edition of Life in Isolation we can think of no better place to escape to. 

© Geoff Allan

To find out more about all things bothy we were privileged to catch up with Geoff Allan, the author of the ‘Scottish Bothy Bible’, winner of the Travel Guidebook of the Year 2017, ‘Scottish Bothy Walks’, and the founder of the ‘Bothies on a Bike’ blog, Bothies are by their nature, remote and somewhat hard to find, so his work is a first rate resource, complete with enchanting photographs. We also caught up with an old friend, fellow explorer, writer, photographer and bothy enthusiast Lee Osborne of Journeyman.online to discover more about the beautiful world of the bothy. You can also find him on Instagram here!

© dannnoonan

Society of Gentlemen Explorers (SGE): Can you tell us where the name ‘Bothy’ comes from?

Geoff Allan (GA): The term bothy derives from the Gaelic bothan (via the Old Irish both) meaning hut, and originally described rough and ready accommodation provided by landowners for farm labourers or estate workers. It’s only in recent times that the term has become synonymous with an idea of sanctuary and shelter. 

© Geoff Allan
Croft House © Journeyman.online

SGE: Where the did the bothies come from? Where the old cottages that were left abandoned for example?

GA: Scotland’s bothies are a loose collection of shepherd’s cottages, estate houses and abandoned crofts that have been saved from ruin and renovated. They form a network of basic shelters located throughout the country’s most remote and uninhabited regions. Freely available for anyone to use as a lunch stop, or to stay in overnight, bothies have been used by mountaineers and outdoor enthusiasts for well over a hundred years and have become an integral component to Scotland’s outdoor culture. In very simple terms, the reason why there are many derelict properties scattered across the Scottish landscape is due to successive waves of depopulation that began in the mid to late 18th century and did not ease until after World War II.

© Geoff Allan

GA: The initial driving force behind the exodus was a process of forced evictions known as the ‘Highland Clearances’. People then continued to abandon their communities when harvest failures led to illness and famine, with many leaving for the industrial heartland that grew rapidly in lowland Scotland through the Victorian era. The rural exodus following World War II left an increasing number of farmhouses unoccupied, and walkers simply started using them as somewhere to stay overnight. By the 1960s, however, the fabric of many of these properties began to suffer through misuse and lack of maintenance. A few were cared for by climbing clubs, but the remainder received little attention

Gorton © Journeyman.online

SGE: How did you come to be interested in bothies? 

GA: My adventures into the bothy world began during my student days in the late 1980s, when I became an enthusiastic member of the Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club. By my second year of study, I was bothy secretary for the club hut at Glenlicht, tucked away beneath the mountains of Kintail, and had begun to seek out bothy locations. At the time, these were closely guarded secrets, held only by a knowledgable few. One of my first bothy experiences was walking to remote hut at Camban, which sits on the lonely pass between Glen Affric and Glenlicht. I vividly remember staring up at the mist-laden Munros surrounding the bothy, not quite believing that this isolated refuge was free to use by anyone who had the wherewithal to get there. And basically I’ve been bothying ever since, travelling round the country seeking out far flung places. 

© eatsleepwild

In 2011 I hit upon the idea of producing a country wide bothy guide. Remarkably there was not a recognised reference book about bothies on the market at that time. In the end it took over five years to complete the survey and research all the background material; the vast majority of the fieldwork undertaken using my trusty bike and public transport. This a blog of my adventure bothies on a bike   The Scottish Bothy Bible was finally published in 2017 and has gone on the sell over 50,000 copies. Even after more than thirty years spent exploring Scotland’s nooks and crannies, I still feel a surge of anticipation and delight when I see a bothy in the distance, even if I have visited it many times before.

SGE: Who actually owns and takes care of the bothies?

GA: The bothy network was formalised and developed by an organisation called the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) which began life over 50 years ago. The MBA maintains a large number of properties with the agreement and support of the estates which own them.  Bothies are all privately owned, except for two which have been bequeathed to the Mountain Bothies Association. (Remarkably two are located on the Queen’s Royal Estate at Balmoral and free to use.) Some remain locked and are exclusively used by various estates (game keepers, stalkers and gentlemen shooters etc), but a surprising number are left open for anyone to use. During the late 1960s and early 1970s the MBA extended its work from Galloway to the Cairngorms and the West coast of Scotland, as well as taking over the upkeep of many bothies which had been cared for independently. By 1975 the organisation had a list of 35 bothies that were under its care. Through the ensuing decades, as more estates accepted requests to transform what were, in many cases, redundant properties.

© davehunt.photography

The MBA works collaboratively with the estates in which the bothies are located and relies extensively on the voluntary work of its members. The system relies on the good will of all parties. The most active members attend work parties which are the mainstay of the MBA’s maintenance role, and without which the bothy system would start to creak. The current network has been split into seven regions, each of which is overseen by an Area Officer (AO), and each individual bothy has a maintenance officer (MO). The MOs are expected to visit at least two or three times a year, checking on the building’s condition, noting any odd jobs that need doing, and taking away any rubbish. Many estate owners and their employees also take an active part, often providing transport and materials.

© sarah0photo

Here at the SGE, one of our favourite aspects of the bothy culture is its slightly underground nature; not many people known about them, where they are, or that you can stay in one for free. The collective upkeep of the bothies is also appealing. Each bothy in the MBA carries a copy of the ‘Bothy Code’ a loose set of guidelines that ensure the remote bothies are left in good shape for the next explorer, such as old friend Lee Osborne of Journeyman Online.

SGE: What is about bothies that appeals to you? 

Lee Osborne (LO): They provide unique access to very remote locations that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. They make it possible to carry out multi-day hiking trips, or just provide rest and shelter on a long walk. They’re very basic and often not particularly comfortable – I’ve had some chilly sleepless nights in them — but ultimately the concept is fantastic. They’re provided completely free of charge for anyone to use, and as such they allow really exciting trips to be carried out cheaply and spontaneously. There’s a wonderful slightly anarchistic vibe to them, and they’re looked after by a dedicated band of volunteers (myself included) that believe strongly in the value of this superb resource. As well as providing a place to sleep, relax and enjoy the scenery, they’ve often been essential refuges for walkers and climbers when bad weather or injuries hit, and they’ve regularly saved lives. Although there’s a few in northern England and Wales, there’s something particularly Scottish about bothy culture, and they make access to Scotland’s wild beauty a lot easier.

© Geoff Allan

SGE: What first drew you to staying in a bothy? Can you remember the first one you stayed in?

LO: I’m actually bit of a newcomer to bothies. I remember hearing a bit about them not long after I moved to Scotland in 2009, but didn’t find out anything about what — and more importantly where – they are until the Scottish Bothy Bible was published. I was particularly drawn to this book by the excellent photography. As a keen landscape photographer myself, I was hugely impressed. After reading the book, I was hugely excited about visiting bothies, and planned my first trip – Greensykes, in the Scottish Borders, in August 2017. I chose it because it looked like a good one to start with — fairly easy to reach, and with decent surroundings. It turned out to be an amazing trip – I had the place to myself for the night, and found it was full of food and beer previous visitors had left behind. I’m really lucky that my first trip went so well

© Geoff Allan

SGE: Is there a favourite one you’ve stayed in?

LO: That’s a very tough one to answer. They all tend to have a lot of features in common, but some stand out as exceptional. Greensykes is in a beautiful location and I’ll fondly remember it for my first-ever bothy adventure. I’ve subsequently been back there with my daughter. I also really like Dryfehead, which can be combined with Over Phawhope – spending a night in each makes for a fantastic weekend of hiking. The Croft House really stands out because it’s incredibly remote — getting there involved a twelve-mile hike, and it truly is in the middle of nowhere. So much so, it spooked me out a bit!

Greensykes © Journeyman.online

SGE: Have you ever come across anyone staying in one when you’ve been there?

LO: I’m an introvert so I do like to try and get bothies to myself, but of course the principle is that there’s always room for one more, and you should always expect other people to be there. That said, if you use bothies midweek in the winter, you stand a pretty good chance of them not being busy. I’ve often had them to myself. I’ve tended to be lucky when other people have shown up — they’ve all been friendly and respectful. Usually you won’t get too many people, but my visit to Allt Scheicheachan in Perthshire was pretty memorable. It’s a small bothy, but we ended up with about twenty people in it overnight. It was in March 2018, and it was the first weekend of decent weather after the blizzards of the Beast From The East. Everyone wanted to get out at the same time! It was somewhat cosy when everyone settled down to sleep. It was quite rowdy and noisy in the evening, with a fair bit of drinking and a bit of weed being passed around, which isn’t quite my thing but certainly provided for an interesting trip. It was a lot of fun.

Supplies left for the next traveler © Journeyman.online

LO: Mostly the buildings are owned by estates, farms or occasionally individuals. Often they were farm cottages that fell into disuse before being restored. Originally, Scottish hillwalkers in the 1930s began using abandoned buildings in the Highlands to doss down in, and locations of good ones spread by word of mouth, forming an unofficial network. Most are now looked after by the Mountain Bothies Association, who occasionally identify new buildings for bothy projects. The MBA only actually owns one bothy themselves (Over Phawhope) — they look after the rest through agreements with the landowners. In some cases, it’s really hard to tell who owns them! One or two have ended up in the hands of government departments somehow, and a couple are owned by the Royal Family.

© Geoff Allan

SGE: Can you tell our readers more about the Bothy Code?


LO: The Bothy Code is there to make sure that bothies are safe and accessible for everyone. It’s the nearest you’ll get to rules, and they’re not particularly onerous.

© Geoff Allan

Geoff Allan explains further: 

GA: Although there are no formal rules that you have to abide by when visiting a bothy, there is a bothy code which has been formulated by the MBA, posted at every property that the association maintains. This is a common sense enunciation of the philosophy of treating others as you would want to be treated yourself, and leaving a bothy in the condition in which you would wish to find it and frames a recognised bothy ethos.The most important thing to emphasise is that no one has an exclusive right to a bothy, and there is absolutely no recognised concept of ‘first come, first served’. Bothies are open shelters, available to all, and the overriding ethos is that ‘there is always room for one more,’ even if the bothy appears full. In truth this is rarely a problem, as long as you take heed of the cautionary note about the popularity of certain bothies at Easter and in the summer months. (See the Scottish Bothy Bible for more information!) Good social skills are definitely an asset, and there is a common theme of people helping each other out, whether offering food and hot drinks, dry clothing if someone is in dire need, or sharing advice and experiences. 

© Geoff Allan

THE BOTHY CODE

The Bothies maintained by the MBA are available by courtesy of the owners. Please respect this privilege. Please record your visit in the Bothy Log-Book. Note that bothies are used entirely at your own risk

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 over crowding and lack of facilities, large groups (6 or more) should not use a bothy.

© Geoff Allan

SGE: How many bothies are there?

GA: That is actually quite a difficult question to answer! There are currently 85 MBA bothies in Scotland, plus 12 in England and 9 in Wales. However, there are many more non MBA bothies dotted around the country. Some are open secrets (the Scottish Bothy Bible contains over 100 entries) but there are still some out there which very few people know about. Hardened bothy enthusiasts all have a list, information gleaned round the bothy fire and increasingly (and more prosaically) rooting around the internet and bothy facebook forums. I have a list of 175 bothies, and I have been to 125. However, I know there are at least 20-30 bothies which I know are out there but I don’t know their locations. Know unknowns in Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous observation!

© sarah0photo

SGE: Do you have a favourite bothy?

GA: Ah a favourite…well, as you can imagine I have been asked this question a number of times! I like to say that my favourite bothies are like old friends, and its difficult to pick out one above the others however one bothy has been steadfast over the years, a bothy called Staoineag which lies east of Fort William. It is the bothy I have visited more often than any other, not only because of its remote location, but also through its accessibility by train. (Its actually easier to access by train than by car) 

Bothies are without a doubt one of our favourite ways to explore Scotland. Currently the bothies are closed due to the virus, but will hopefully reopen soon enough. Little known about, with a brilliant collective ethos behind them, we heartily encourage trying some out next time you’re venturing around Scotland. Here’s a taste of just some of the bothies waiting to be discovered, thanks to Geoff Allan’s brilliant research!

© Geoff Allan

Overnight at Staoineag Bothy

Re-vitalising expedition to the sweeping glen of the Abhainn Rath, a hidden corner of Lochaber made accessible by its proximity to Corrour Station, one of the spectacular stops on the West Highland Railway Line. A visit to Staoineag is the quintessential bothy experience.

Map: LR Map 41 Ben Nevis – Fort William & Glen Coe, Explorer 485 Rannoch Moor & Ben Alder

Start Grid Ref: NN 356 664 Corrour Railway Station

Distance: 8.5 km – 5.25 miles

Time : 2h 30 – 3 h (round trip 6 hours)

Total Ascent : 100m

Highest point :410m

Terrain: Easy – Track and well-used path all the way to the bothy

Navigation: Easy

Seriousness: Straight forward

Public Transport: Scotrail West Highland Line from Glasgow Queen St. to Fort William, stops at Corrour station.

Special notes:Open throughout the year, but hill access may be restricted during stag stalking from 15 August to 20 October, and the hind cull from 21 October to 15 February. Contact the Killiechonate and Mamores Estate (01855 831 337) for information.

Stepping stones outside the bothy may be submerged after rain.

Over the years Staoineag has been a steadfast friend, a place I have returned to again and again. Tucked beneath steep crags on the banks of the meandering Abhainn Rath, (a remote valley north of Rannoch Moor, and east of Glen Nevis), the bothy makes a perfect place to go off-grid, and forget day-to-day preoccupations. What makes a trip so special? The key enticement is that it is one of the most easily accessible remote locations in Scotland! Alighting from the train at Corrour Station saves an extra 10 mile trek from the road end at Rannoch Station, and further from Spean Bridge. You are plunged straight into the wilderness, without having to strain every sinew to get there. The walk-in from Corrour still provides a healthy challenge, but is manageable in all weathers. The reward is overnight accommodation in a stunning location, with plenty of space, two well-used fireplaces, and a reliable wood supply along the banks of the river. Without the necessity of motorised transport, the bothy encourages a wide cross-section of visitors, beyond the stereotyped outdoor enthusiast, and this firmly enriches the experience.


Stepping onto the platform at Corrour Station, and watching the lumbering rolling-stock disappear from view, the sense of isolation is immediately apparent. Famously used as a location in Danny Boyle’s culture-defining film Trainspotting, the station was originally built as a tourist destination in the late Victorian era. Guests staying at the exclusive lodge at the far end of Loch Ossian were taken by carriage down to the loch side, before boarding a paddle steamer for the final part of the journey. Since those bygone days, the derelict waiting room has been converted into a SYHA hostel, providing useful fall-back accommodation if you are caught out by bad weather. There is also an enticing cafe and restaurant in the Station House, (open in the summer season), and even an Airbnb in the signal box. But don’t be lulled into any complacency. Once you set off beyond the psychological comfort blanket of the railway line, a creeping awareness of how far you are from civilisation begins to concentrate the mind.

(1) From the far side of the level crossing at the northern end of the platform, turn right parallel to the railway tracks along to the bridge at NN 341 681, where a new access road descends to Loch Treig. This used to be a boggy morass where wooden planks floated optimistically across areas of waterlogged peat, but now there is well-maintained path, and footbridges across the streams, including the fast-flowing Allt Lùib Ruairidh. (2) The wide track down to Loch Treig, was bulldozed through for the construction of a small hydro-electric power facility, completed in the autumn of 2015. This is dwarfed by the Loch Treig dam, built in the late 1920’s, as part of an impressive scheme to provide electricity for an aluminium smelter in Fort William. A remarkable feat of engineering, the turbines in the power house harnessed the catchments of the River Treig and River Spean, plus the River Spey, through a series of dams, pumping stations and tunnels. At the time, the 15 mile section from Loch Treig to the plant was the longest water-carrying tunnel in the world. The track continues along the southern shore of Loch Treig to the ghostly lodge at Creaguaineach, all that remains of a small township which was submerged when the dam was completed.

(3) Just before the lodge, leave the main track, turning left onto a rough path which runs close to the Abhainn Rath’s southern bank. There is a signpost here, but it does not supply a reassuring arrow. The way markers only denote the route on to Spean Bridge and back the way you have come, continuing to Rannoch. For the very committed, the wind-blown branches of the Scott’s Pines nestled around the lodge provide the first opportunity to collect wood. This is excellent for kindling, though there is still a fair way to go. A closer supply is consistently found on the wide meander just over half a mile further on, washed down stream after the river has been in spate. Once you have navigated round this curving bend, the path weaves through scenic birches, follows the fence line past tumbling rapids and on to flats which open up just before bothy. Finally Staoineag is in sight, standing impervious to the elements, on a rocky prow above the river.

So many memories are evoked each time I cross the threshold. As well as the inevitable whiskey-inspired evenings, I have spent the night listening to the funereal bellowing of testosterone-filled young stags in the autumn rutting season; seen the river rise alarmingly in overnight rain, completely submerging the stepping stones which run across to the far bank; spent three nights alone in the depths over winter, temperatures dipping to -10 C with a deflated Thermarest. Summer-time swims in the deep river pools, and birthday celebrations with a three course meal and a choice of wine are also dear to my heart. I have also met a wonderful array of people, from outdoor instructors and ultra-marathon runners, to wise old men of the hills holding forth in front of the glowing embers of a bothy fire, infectious teenagers planning the next day’s adventure. There was even an extended family who come every year on their summer holiday. When I met them they were holding a memorial for an Aunt who loved the place, and wanted to have her ashes scattered there. And only once have I been persuaded to go up a hill. Staoineag encapsulates the true spirit of bothying, going as the objective in itself.


Notes:

Corrour Station is the only railway stop in the UK not accessible by car. A typical schedule would be to arrive on the morning train from Glasgow, (or earlier on the sleeper from Euston), and return on the following evening train after 6pm..It is common sense to leave adequate time to walk out from the bothy. If you want to make the trip really interesting, save it for the evening train in the depths of winter, arriving in pitch dark, perhaps snow on the breeze (at 1339 ft the halt is also the highest station in Britain), the train pulling into the station after 9 pm. The area is well served with bothies, with short distances between them, creating various multi-day walking options. 

Kearvaig, Durness, Northern Highlands

Standing resplendent above its own secluded bay in the farthest reaches of north-west Scotland, close to the lighthouse at Cape Wrath, Kearvaig is one the country’s finest bothies. The interior has the feel of a hostel rather than a simple shelter, with several rooms, wood panelling and a fireplace. As well as luxuriating on your own private, pristine beach, there are a parade of sea stacks to the East, guarding the towering cliffs of Clò Mòr, the highest in mainland UK. In early summer, your reward for a dizzying walk along the cliff top is the mesmerising scene of thousands of nesting guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and puffins.


Walk in: 1 mile (½ an hour) if dropped off by Cape Wrath lighthouse minibus. Easy: track all the way. Grid ref: NC 292727

Peanmeanach

It is easy to see why people fall instantly in love with Peanmeanach. The bothy sits above an intoxicating raised beach on the rugged headland of Arnish on Scotland’s magical western sea-board, with fabulous views over to Ardnamurchan and Eigg. This stretch of coast south of the A830 Fort William to Mallaig road, has a rich history dating back to before the Viking settlers, and the bothy’s name reflects the Norse system of land division. Pean derives from peighinn meaning ‘pennyland,’ and ‘Meanach’ simply translates as ‘middle’. The cottage was built in the mid-19th century and forms part of a line of ruined ‘black’ houses reminiscent of the classic crescent of cottages on St. Kilda. Although it is hard to imagine today, this remote spot was once a bustling fishing village with a population of over 150, and the bothy served as the post office for the whole area round the Sound of Arisaig. Time seems to stand still while you’re out here, with little to do than hunt out mussels from the rocks below the tide line or wander along the shore to the enchanting beach known locally as the ‘Singing Sands.’

Walk in: 3½ miles (1½ to 2 mins). Easy – Stalkers path all the way. Grid ref: NM 712 805. Note: it looks like this bothy may well be closing for good, so its worth checking out the MBA for further details before heading there.

The Lookout, Isle of Skye

The stunning 180 degree view from the bay window at The Lookout certainly has a certain wow factor. This former coastguard watch station, positioned precariously close to the cliff top above Rubha Hunish, the most northerly tip of Skye, offers a panorama encompassing the entire Western Isles, and, on a clear day the profile of the mainland all the way to Cape Wrath. The bothy is also a fantastic spot for whale and dolphin watching: schools of migrating Minkies pass through the Minch in the autumn, and various other aquatic sightings are recorded in the log book. There is even a pair of bothy binoculars to use. The watch room was built in 1928, and the station operational until the 1970’s when advances in radio technology superseded the need for a duty officer. An old-style telephone hangs on the wall, along with an information board and a poster identifying different whales, dolphins and porpoises.


Walk in:  1½ miles (30 to 45 mins). Easy – well defined path all the way. Grid ref: NM 413 763

Strathcailleach (1999)

Former hermit’s home. Unique and unforgettable.

Strathcailleach is a battered old estate cottage set between the wild Atlantic and the Parph, the vast, empty moorland S of Cape Wrath. Once over the threshold, you feel you have entered a living museum. As recently as 1996 the cottage was occupied by James MacRory-Smith, a hermit better known to the locals as Sandy. This loner lived in the bothy for 32 years, collecting his benefits every 2 weeks from the post office at Balchrick, and keeping warm during the winter using dried peat from the surrounding peat bog. With no piped water, sewerage system, electricity or gas, the house lays claim to be the last inhabited place in mainland Scotland without any services. Inside, a series of distinctive murals Sandy painted on the walls during his long stay add a personal touch, and you could easily imagine this remarkable character bursting through the door, and asking you what you were doing. Sitting in this extraordinary and remote spot, you can begin to appreciate just what it took for Sandy to live out here for all those years, with just a battered old radio and the odd bottle of whisky for company.

10.5km/6.5 miles

Time: 3.5 – 4.5 hours

Eagle’s Nest

Picking your way down through the shattered pink Lewisian Guiess to the tiny beehive bothy at Mangurstadh, you feel like you’ve reached the edge of the world. Teetering on the cliff edge, waves crashing over the skerries and zawns below, the vast wild Atlantic stretched out before you, it is a most breathtaking spot. On a clear day you can see St Kilda and the Flannan Isles, while in the evening the blink of the lighthouse on Eilean Molach is a comforting friend. The bothy is a simple structure of wood and stone with two small windows facing W out to sea and 2 skylights in the roof, designed and built by John and Lorna Norgrove more than 30 years ago. At first its construction aroused little interest, but then people began to visit and admire it. More recently, the bothy became a poignant memorial to the Norgroves’ daughter Linda, an aid worker in Afghanistan who died in 2010 in an attempted rescue by US forces following her kidnap. The Linda Norgrove Foundation, a trust that funds education, health and childcare for women and children affected by the war in Afghanistan, continues her excellent work.

Walk in:  ½ a mile (15 mins). Easy – path all the way. Grid ref: NB 001 317

Shenavall

Location:, 128m, LR Map 19


A flagship MBA bothy, Shenavall is one Scotland’s best known open shelters and a visit is the perfect introduction to the delights of bothying. Spectacularly located on the edge of the Fisherfield Forest, south of Ullapool, in an area know as ‘the Great Wilderness’, it has been a magnet for Munro baggers and walkers over the decades. Among its distinguished guests have been renowned author and mountaineer WH Murray and HRH Prince Charles, who hiked out here while still a pupil at Gordonstoun. Unless you are visiting out of season you are unlikely to have a place to yourself, but this region is one of the jewels of the Scottish Highlands and an opportunity not to be missed.

Walk in: 4½ miles (1½ to 2½ hours).  – Straightforward – track and boggy path Grid ref: NH 066 810

Wild and RemoteCruib Lodge

Sitting unobtrusively above the tide line in one of Loch Tarbert’s numerous hidden coves, Cruib Lodge is a fabulous find, and a very welcome outpost on the wild rugged stretch of coast beyond the isthmus at Tarbert, which continues right to the northern tip of Jura. The original lodge was a summer house set a few hundred metres north of the bothy, a novelty timber folly on stilts shipped over from America which attracted Victorian tourists, who arrived by steam yacht from the Clyde. The bothy served as accommodation for the estate’s stalker and pony man, the stables, as well as a larder where deer carcasses and game birds were hung. Discover secret caves, raised beaches, and basalt dykes along the coast, or follow the stream above the bothy to a fantastic wild swimming spot in a waterfall plunge pool.


Walk in: 4 miles (2 to 3 hours).  – Tough – path and vague trails. Grid ref: NR566 829

Gelder Shiel Stables on the Balmoral Estate

Gelder Sheil Stables, Cairngorms

Walk in: 3 miles (1 to 1½ hours). Easy – track all the way. Grid ref: NO 257 900 OS Landranger map 44

After a glorious walk up through the perimeter grounds of Balmoral Castle and onto the moorland under Old Man Lochnagar, you come to Gelder Shiel Stables in a stand of Caledonian pines. Set directly across from a royal hunting lodge commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1865, the bothy lies beside the Gelder Burn, which gives its Gaelic name ‘white water,’ on the path leading up to Lochnagar’s impressive north facing coire. Gelder Shiel now offers 5-star accommodation, as befits its royal association, but it was once reputed to be a cold, draughty, uninviting doss. In the chapter devoted to the shelter in Mountain Days and Bothy Nights, climbers from Aberdeen bedded down on its stone cobbles, apprehensive that water would start trickling across the floor, and bemoaning the whistling and cold draughts from the prevailing westerlies. Although bunk beds and a concrete floor were added, improvements were kept to a minimum given the estate’s understandable reluctance to encourage overnight stays in a secluded location so close to the Royal Family’s summer residence. However, after years of careful negotiations assent was finally given for a complete overhaul of the building.  Prince Charles officially opened the refurbished bothy (with a piped entrance and a wee dram to celebrate), and signed the bothy book for good measure. 

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