The Mountain Bothies Association has formally reopened the bothies again!
As we currently exist in a tenuous ebb of a worldwide pandemic, it is even more important that we respect the code of use that surrounds the bothies. Admittedly, it may not have crossed all of our minds that they were formally closed (after all, most don’t have locks) and perhaps a few of us (myself included) have spent a night at a bothy or two in the last year and a half. Well, we can pay our penance in ultra-diligence because the existence of these shelters is a special one, and we all want to keep it that way.
What’s a Bothy?
For the as-yet uninitiated, a bothy is a structure, normally repurposed from a former outbuilding, stalkers’ hut, or cottage that has fallen out of use. Before the establishment of the MBA and the formalisation of bothies, these shelters would be known to those that lived and worked in the remote area in which they stand and used as a welcome respite, a barrier from the weather or, at times, a life saving refuge. All purposes that still stand today.
A bothy is simple; it does not have electricity, nor heating and the vast, vast majority do not have indoor plumbing – though many are close by to a natural water source. They are remote and not accessible by road. They are, essentially, stone tents.
At its most basic, a bothy can basically be a shed with wide benches for you to set up your sleeping gear on, a toilet spade, and a broom. Some now have full bunks, many have fireplaces and a separate eating/sitting area. They are not fancy – any furniture will be old – and they definitely do not have housekeeping.
Whilst the MBA has guardianship over most of the bothies – located primarily throughout Scotland with a scattering in the Lake District, Northumberland National Park, and Snowdonia – they are still usually located on private land that public access codes has been made accessible. MBA will maintain the bothies, but it is up to you, I, and every visitor to do our bit to keep them habitable, safe, clean and enjoyable places.
The Bothy Code
It is a privilege to be able to spend time in remote and beautiful areas and be sheltered for free. It is a peace of mind for both mountain and open country lovers to know they are there when the weather gets ugly, or things take a turn for the worse. Bothies are, foremost, sanctuaries, and should be respected as such.
Therefore the MBA has a very simple, common sense code for all visitors to follow:
Respect Other Users
Keep it clean and keep it tidy. Pack out ALL your rubbish with you. By all means leave that book you’ve finished or the half canister of gas you no longer need – but only leave the things that might genuinely be useful to others. Three drops remaining in a bottle of tabasco is not useful. There is no maid coming round the next day – the crap you leave becomes another, better hearted, visitor’s crap to deal with and things get out of hand fast.
Replace any kindling or wood you use. Bothies with fireplaces will generally have a wood bucket filled by the previous guests. Do the same for the people that come after. However, only use fallen or dead wood. Do NOT go hacking at the trees.
This respect extends to any other visitors that are there when you arrive or may arrive while you are there. A bothy is not meant for one person or group’s sole use – it is open to all. No dibsies. It’s not the place to hold a three day stag do. Ideally you’re only there for one night, unobtrusively. Be aware that if you arrive and it is empty, that others may still come, and make space and consideration for that.
Respect The Bothy
Don’t vandalise or graffiti the bothy. No one else is going to be interested that ‘Jimmy & Shaz’ intend to be together 4eva. Those boring, dribbling captions are going to be there until a volunteer from MBA makes the lengthy trip to the bothy just to scrub them off. Or decide that they have to replace those boards completely.
Respecting the bothy means not leaving it a tip; sweep it out and take your rubbish with you. Do not bury rubbish, even if that rubbish is supposedly biodegradeable – you would be polluting the environment and that’s just not cool. Leaving opened or uncontained food and food wrappers behind will attract vermin. I understand that maybe you don’t need those opened crackers anymore and they might genuinely be useful to someone else, but there’s a good chance a mouse or two or three will get them first . Or something bigger.
Lastly, make sure the fire is completely out before you leave, and fully close all the windows and doors so animals can’t get in.
However, the quicker the MBA becomes aware of damage or infestation, the quicker it can be dealt with. If you have accidentally caused damage, or observe any damage, then make a bothy report.
Respect The Surroundings
Most bothies do not have toilets. However, they will helpfully provide a toilet spade for those who aren’t carrying a trowel. Human waste must be buried out of sight, away from the vicinity of the bothy, and at least 30 metres from any water sources. Do not bury toilet paper. Pack it out.
Once again, do not cut live wood. In doing so you are not only doing something pointless and damaging to nature, you are damaging the property of whomever owns the land that the bothy stands on and that, my friend, is a crime. So don’t go nuts with your fireplaces, use fuel sparingly, and restock the wood responsibly.
Respect The Agreement with The Estate
During lambing or deer-stalking season there might well be restrictions on the use of a bothy. Respect these.
The estate has permitted the use of that building as a bothy on an understanding that that use is discreet; therefore no large groups or extended stays. If you do wish to have a stay longer than a couple nights, please contact the estate owner to ask permission. The owner of each bothy is listed on its page on the MBA website.
Respect The Restrictions on Numbers
Groups of six or more should not use a bothy. This is primarily to prevent overcrowding, especially in these tenuously distanced virussy times. Bothies are not for commercial use, nor are they party houses.
How Can I Do More For The MBA?
What a nice question, I’m glad you asked. The MBA is a charity, and therefore you can donate to them. You can also join their membership for £25 a year which is a good idea if you are a regular user to indicate your appreciation. There is also an online shop.
You can also volunteer for their work parties which are advertised on their website. If you volunteer, be prepared for at least a full weekend of intense manual labour in the summer – everything from reroofing to replacing windows. Of course those with specialist skills are very much appreciated, but no more so than the willing packhorse who will carry sand and gravel all day or the Mary Poppins that will get an unkempt and grimy bothy looking shipshape in no time. Contact the project organiser named on the work listing and express your interest.
If you do volunteer for a work party, be prepared to be self sufficient. Bothies are remote and you won’t be carted off to a B&B each night on the charity’s dime; you will be expected to bring your own shelter…and pretty much your own everything else. Whilst food is supplied on larger work parties, for the shorter or smaller ones, you’ll be expected to supply your own.
It will be an intense experience, but you will likely leave with some excellent new friends, fantastic memories, and an even bigger appreciation for the bothies.
In summary, when visiting a bothy, don’t be doing anything that you wouldn’t do at your mum’s house. Except crap in a hole outside. Please don’t do that at your mum’s house.