Bothies – remote shelters in the wilderness where walkers can spend the night free of charge – have long been one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets. A new book has revealed the location of 80 of the mountain huts.
For more than 50 years the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) has maintained an eclectic network of shelters across the wilderness areas of Scotland.
The vast majority are single-storey crofts or huts for shepherds which have long since been abandoned.
The secluded hideaways became popular with ramblers and hillwalkers but many were falling into ruin before a group of climbers and walkers formed the MBA to take on their upkeep, with the permission of the owners of the vast estates on which they sit.
The bothy network has never been advertised to tourists and information was always spread by word of mouth between those in the know.
But long-time bothy enthusiast Geoff Allan decided five years ago that the time was right to produce the definitive guide to Scotland’s bothies.
The author of the Scottish Bothy Bible told BBC Scotland: “Part of the reason it took so long was that I only went out in weather windows to get all the photography in good weather.
“In Scotland that takes quite a bit of time.”
Mr Allan, 47, originally from Suffolk, has been based in Edinburgh since he was at university in the city.
He says he joined the mountaineering club at Edinburgh University and soon started to use the bothy network.
“I come from a youth hostelling background,” he says.
“So free accommodation out on the hills caught my imagination.
“Basically I have never really had any money. I would have had many more weeks in self-catering accommodation but it always seems to have been bothies.”
Mr Allan, who was a surveyor but who now works as a photographer and creative artist, says: “I had a car when I was planning the bothy research but it got scrapped because I could not afford to run it so I have been to all the bothies by bike and public transport.”
The Mountain Bothy Association (MBA), which does not own the buildings it maintains, said it had no input into Mr Allan’s book but that the author was acting as an “ambassador” for the movement.
Neil Stewart, a trustee of the MBA, said it had published the grid references of the bothies online in 2009 so the “genie was out of the bottle”.
He said he was happy for Mr Allan to promote the work of the bothy movement as long as people who used the shelters stuck to the strict code of “respect for the buildings, for the environment and other people using the bothy”.
Geoff Allan spotlights some of the best bothies
HIGHEST – Hutchison Memorial Hut
One of the few purpose-built shelters on the list is built in memory of Dr Arthur Gilbertson Hutchison, a keen outdoor enthusiast from Aberdeen who died in a climbing accident in 1949. It is located high on the north flank of Derry Cairngorm.
REMOTE – Maol Bhuidhe
East of Plockton there is almost 40 miles of wilderness all the way to Cannich. Maol Bhuidhe lies within this area.
It is a remote roadless area between Glen Carron and Glen Shiel.
The cottage was occupied by shepherds until it was abandoned in 1914. It fell into disrepair and for the next decades it was only used by tramps and vagabonds, people who took to “stravaigin” the country during the mass unemployment of the 20s and 30s.
The Bothy Bible offers two routes to the bothy, both challenging walks of more than 10 miles which would take upwards of four hours.
Geoff Allan says: “There are three rivers so when it is bad weather you can get stuck quite easily cause you have to wade the rivers to get out and there are no tracks or passes. You really need to know what you are doing.”
STRANGEST – Strathchailleach
This battered old estate cottage sits on the vast empty moorland south of Cape Wrath in the far north of Scotland.
It is where hermit James MacRory-Smith lived until as recently as 1996.
Inside the cottage, it is just as he left it 20 years ago, with the murals he painted still on the walls.
Geoff Allan says: “It is really spooky when you are in there because it feels like he’s still there.
“It is like a living museum and because it is so far north and so few people go, it hasn’t been vandalised or anything. It has been left, a bit like the Marie Celeste.”
SMALLEST – The Tea House Easan Dorcha
“It is basically a glorified garden shed,” says Geoff Allan. He says it is more of a lunch stop than an overnight destination.
Inside there is a small table and chair and a long wooden bench that is not really wide enough to lie on.
There is room on the floor for three people to sleep very closely together.
The cabin sits in woodland in Wester Ross.
‘BEST’ – for first timers /families – Peanmeanach
“If I was to recommend a bothy to someone in the pub I’d say ‘go to Peanmeanach’,” says Geoff Allan.
If you take the Mallaig road from Fort William you will pass the Ardnish peninsula.
Peanmeanach is located on a raised beach on a rugged headland.
“It is relatively easy to get to,” says the author.
“It’s in its own little raised beach. There is just something about it.
“It has all of the best west coast magic. There is very little to do other than just go to the bothy so you just tune out and escape.”
MOST POPULAR – Shenavall
This is one of the most famous bothies looked after by the MBA.
It lies south of An Teallach, one of the most well-known Munros in an area of mountains called “The Great Wilderness”.
It sits on the edge of Fisherfield Forest. “It is amazing scenery,” says Geoff Allan. “It is busy during the summer. Best to take a tent, just in case.”
OLDEST – Guirdil on the Isle of Rum
Lots of the bothies have long histories. So Geoff Allan has chosen the oldest settlement.
There was a crofting township which was cleared in the 1700s and there was a shepherd’s cottage built in the 1840s.
“Before all that there was an archaeological dig nearby which dated the settlement back 7,500 years, to the Middle Stone age,” says Geoff Allan.
“There is a seam of jade close to the bothy called Bloodstone and people would come and mine it make it into ornaments and tools. It is one of the oldest settlements in Scotland.”
MUSICAL INSPIRATION – Cadderlie
East of Oban, high above on Loch Etive’s west shore, there is a bothy that inspired one of Scottish folk singer Dougie Maclean’s songs.
Geoff Allan says Maclean’s grandfather was brought up in the cottage.
The songwriter wrote the lyrics: “Standing here on Cadderlie, between the burn and the turning sea,
“I gaze across at these golden hills, I’m looking all the way to eternity.”
Until the 1700s there was a good-sized crofting community here but it dwindled following the Highland Clearances.
The current bothy is probably not much more than 100 years old and was used to house shepherds and their families.
SOLITUDE – Greensykes
This bothy is in the Scottish Borders, not commonly thought of as a bothy area. It is located in Eskdalemuir, close to the Samye Ling Tibetan monastery.
“It is very peaceful,” says Geoff Allan.
ROMANTIC – An Cladach on Islay
An obvious “Romantic” place is An Cladach, says Geoff Allan.
“There is Islay and there is whisky. There is a wee bothy .
“Only half of it was rebuilt. It is just 20 yards from the Sound of Jura. It has got two double bunk beds. It is very well equipped with a library and a fireplace.
“If you get that to yourself it is a very romantic spot.