Mountain Rescue: Bothies in the UK’s Wildest Corners

Mountain Rescue: Bothies in the UK’s Wildest Corners

Scattered across the wilderness, away from roads and home comforts, bothies are beacons of humanity in Britain’s loneliest corners.

This article appears in Volume 32: Homegrown.

paradox about bothies is that, in truth, they offer hardly
anything at all and yet provide everything you need.

To stay in one of these rustic structures is often described as
camping without a tent, and that’s pretty much spot on. Luxurious,
they are not. Far from civilisation – often built from stone, wood
or reclaimed ruins – and without running water or electricity,
bothies are perhaps some of the UK’s most rough-and-ready modern
buildings. And it’s this, for me, that makes them the best way to
experience our wildest spaces.

The vast majority of bothies in the UK are under the stewardship
of the Mountain Bothies Association, an intrepid group of
volunteers that works tirelessly to protect and maintain these
simple shelters. There are more than 100 of them dotted across the
country, most unlocked and free for anyone to use. Nestled deep in
thick glens or exposed at the frozen mouths of great mountain
passes, over the last half-century they have become symbols of
refuge in some of our most remote, lonely corners.

It was after the Second World War that “bothying” was born.
Wages were higher, working hours shorter and hill walking became an
activity that appealed across the spectrum of society. Today, that
broadened sense of community has become enshrined in the bothy
code, an intuitive agreement that hinges on respect for property,
nature and each other.

My fascination with bothies grew not from the buildings
themselves, nor from a love of the landscapes that surround them.
Instead, it’s what these buildings represent that sparked my
curiosity. Scattered away from roads and home comforts, they have
become gathering places for like-minded strangers, small beacons of
humanity. As the weather closes in and the last rays of light fall
below the horizon, individuals and small walking groups make their
way towards the doors of the mountain bothy.

There’s no booking system, no way of knowing what you might find
on arrival. Many times I’ve found myself alone, zipped up in a
sleeping bag and listening to the roar of the weather outside. On
other occasions, you’ll have company. Once you’ve busied yourself
sorting out your bed and gear, there’s not much else to do but to
gather around the fire to share whisky and good conversation.