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Richard Gaston and Kimberley Grant are the co-authors of Wild Guide Scotland: Hidden Places, Great Adventures & the Good Life (£16.99, Wild Things Publishing).
A remarkable part of Scotland’s outdoor culture, bothies are a form of basic accommodation left unlocked for anyone to use, free of charge. Most survive solely thanks to the efforts and the passion of the Mountain Bothy Association, a group of volunteers who help to save the spartan shelters from ruin. There are more than 100 bothies scattered around some of the most remote parts of the country – deep inside leafy glens, hidden away in quiet bays or at the foot of towering mountains.
Getting to a bothy is not always easy, and although on the outside some may look like pretty holiday cottages, on the inside it can be a different story. Your bed will likely be a worn-out wooden bench, your sink will be the nearby stream and your heating will be an open stone fireplace. With that being said, those adventurous enough to make the journey carrying firewood and food – snuggling deep into a sleeping bag to keep warm – will be rewarded with a magical experience.
Guirdil Best for: wildlife spotting
This enchanting bothy is set in Guirdil Bay on the wild coast of the Isle of Rùm. A river rushes down the glen here and into the sea below Bloodstone Hill, named for the semi-precious, jade- green mineral with flecks of red “blood” running through it that can be found on the shingle beach. There are magnificent views of the Hebridean isle of Canna from the bothy, and inside a large deer skull hangs above the fireplace. In late September you can hear rutting stags roaring on the hills.
Kearvaig Best for: a true sense of isolation
A single track runs down through miles of bleak moorland used for military target practice to one of the country’s loneliest buildings, just west of the mainland’s highest cliffs. Kearvaig Bay is surrounded by dark rocks, including the 40m-tall Stack Clò Kearvaig, which is known as “the cathedral” because of its spire- like sandstone pinnacles and a natural “window”, which was created by the erosion of the sea. Wood is scarce here, so carry some with you. You’ll find that a roaring fire makes the bothy all the more cosy.
Shenavall Best for: mountain views
Shenavall is a well-located base camp in the Fisherfield forest, which is often described as the “great wilderness of Scotland”. (Although ironically the area is almost completely devoid of trees.) This is one of the best-known and busiest bothies in the country, which is only to be expected given Shenavall’s stunning location. The shelter offers unrivalled views of the heather-coated Fisherfield Munros – dominating and awe-inspiring neighbours. Days here are best spent hill-walking and rock-scrambling.
Corrour Best for: access to climbing spots
You’ll find Corrour bothy located halfway through the Lairig Ghru traverse (one of the best-known mountain passes in Scotland) sitting directly below the peak of the Devil’s Point. The stone shelter is engulfed by the surrounding Cairngorm Mountains, and almost goes unnoticed. Once an empty shell with an earth floor and piles of heather for mattresses, today Corrour has benches for sleeping, a wood-burning stove and a composting toilet, making it a popular outpost of shelter in an otherwise unforgiving environment.
Ruigh Aiteachain Best for: a scenic entry
This well-kept stone bothy is situated deep in Glen Feshie between impressive mature trees, including magnificent Scots pinewoods. The artist Sir Edwin Landseer studied red deer here before getting to work on his iconic oil painting the Monarch of the Glen. Ruigh Aiteachain is currently closed for refurbishment and is due to open early this summer with extra wood-burning stoves, built-in bunks and a new stone porch housing stairs that will lead to more bedrooms on the upper floor.
Camban Best for: highland scenery
Camban bothy, which is ten miles from anywhere, is located in a lonely spot at the heart of the Kintail mountains. Beginning in beautiful Glen Affric, a walk from here leads through pinewood forests and past lochs towards the narrowing valleys of Kintail. The original cottage was built in the early 1800s to house a shepherd and his family, but new life was breathed into the shelter in 2008. Backed by the grand peaks of the Five Sisters of Kintail, Camban is a lost little bothy in the most remote setting.
1. You can’t book bothies.
2. Prepare to bump into other people. If you’re planning to visit a popular bothy, then pack a tent just in case.
3. Bring a stove for cooking and candles for light.
4. Don’t expect luxuries like heating, running water or a toilet. Pack a spade.
5. Be a good camper and leave the bothy clean and tidy.
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