Scotland's mountain bothy heroes
For the walker treading Scotland's highest terrains, the sight of a mountain bothy coming into view must feel like the greatest reward.
A quiet army of volunteers with the Mountain Bothies Association keeps Scotland’s 81 “stone tents” open and maintained for those who like to wander deep into the hills.
The shelters provide not only free, dry lodgings but possibly also a night by a warm fire and a chance to meet like minded folk.
The MBA works closely with estate owners to rescue derelict buildings, likely to have been used by shepherds and ghillies in the past, and bring them back into use for those walkers drawn to the country’s wildest and most remote places.
Neil Stewart, trustee of the Mountain Bothies Association, of Glasgow, said: “One of the unwritten rules of the bothy is that no matter how many people are in there, there is always room for someone else. Nobody every gets turned away.”
Bothies will generally be equipped with a sleeping platform and a fire but there won’t be any running water or electricity. A spade will likely be supplied to help when nature calls.
Those wanting to stay in a bothy will need to bring fuel, food, water and a sleeping bag - and take everything away with them, only leaving fresh kindling in the fire for the next people who walk through the door.
“I like to think of it as camping without a tent - in a stone tent,” Mr Stewart said.
“There are people whose hobby is bothying but then they are used by people who really want to get closer to the hills,” he added.
Work parties are held throughout the year by the MBA to both overhaul crumbling buildings and repair and maintain the bothies that stand at present.
Two new bothies are due to be handed over to the MBA this year - one in Argyll and one in the Cairngorms.
The organisation owns one of the shelters, in the Borders, after it was left to the organisation in the landowner’s will.
Legacies do help fund the charity’s work but a £25 subscription paid by 3,800 or so members is key to keeping the bothies open.
Around 10 or 20 people usually make up a work party, with materials often transported long distances on foot by MBA members.
Mr Stewart said: “The bothy locations are generally very remote. The estate owners have proved to be extremely willing to help us transport materials and help with the repair work, as well as being very generous to allow these buildings to be used by the MBA.
“For a lot of the bothies, the only way to get the material in is to carry them on foot or sometimes we can take them in by sea using a canoe or a boat. Occasionally, where it is a really big project, we might use a helicopter.”
Materials had been flown out to a restoration project on Jura and a number in the Cairngorms, Mr Stewart added.
He added: “The work parties are social occasions as well as hard work. People do what they want to do and what they can do. It’s not like a rigid work regime.
“Most of our members are keep walkers and we usually need people who have some skills but we are very happy to have people along who haven’t these skills as there always lots of jobs needing done, including making the tea.”
In 2016, the association spent £85,000 on maintenance activities. Volunteers contributed over 1,400 working days and undertook maintenance at more than 50 bothies.
Bothies suit the needs of those who travel in ones and twos with groups of six or more discouraged, Mr Stewart said.
While users may open the door to find a warm fire already burning and a social atmosphere, you are just as likely to arrive and no one else is there, Mr Stewart added,
More people are using bothies as more people head to the outdoors for space from modern life, Mr Stewart said. For some, the “stone tents” have helped them survive in the hills.
Mr Stewart said: “We received an email this winter from a chap who was extremely thankful for the work that we do. He had been out in the Cairngorms when the weather turned bad and he knew there was a bothy fairly nearby where he made his way to and stayed overnight.
“His view was that if the bothy hadn’t been there, who knows what might have happened to him.”
The Scottish Bothy Bible by Geoff Allan, published by Wild Things, is out now with 10 per cent of proceeds going to MBA.