If you know and love the wild side of the UK, you will know about the Bothy.
Historically, rural homes and farm cottages located in the remotest places, once for agricultural workers who travelled around from job to job, the buildings later fell into disrepair and in some cases became vagabond shelters.
Today the majority of bothies are in the care of the Mountain Bothies Association , who celebrate 50 years of amazing service this year. Founded by Bernard and Betty Heath, themselves walkers, the MBA doesn’t own any buildings but in agreement with the land owners, organises working parties, raises funds and maintains bothies all around the United Kingdom.
‘To maintain simple shelters in remote country for the use & benefit of all who love wild & lonely places.’ is their mission.
The MBA look after around 100 bothies, providing basic shelter for walkers and adventurers for free. There is somewhere to sleep, sometimes a fireplace – otherwise known as Bothy TV – and perhaps a spade for dealing with the necessaries but little more than four walls and a roof above.
You can join the MBA for £25 per year and this money goes towards the incredible maintenance programme they carry out on all the buildings under their stewardship. Members receive a copy of the Members Handbook so you can get out on the hill and find these special places, a quarterly Newsletter, which contains MBA News, bothy related stories and notification of planned work parties and projects, and the Annual Report and Review.
So, if you’re heading for the hills with a plan to use a bothy, you’ll need to make sure you bring the kit you need. You may also need to find water and fuel for the fire along the way or bring a camp stove with you. There’s a clear code to help walkers be upstanding custodians of the bothy tradition including always taking your rubbish out with you and making room for others that may arrive.
Going back, the location of a bothy was traditionally shared only by word of mouth and to some extent, there is still an appetite for some secrecy however there are now publications such as Geoff Allan’s The Scottish Bothy Bible and Phoebe Smith’s The Book of the Bothy .
Skye is home to three bothies:
Ollisdal, in the north west of the island, is part of the Glendale Estate, which was Scotland’s first community land buy-out, finally concluded during the 1950s. It is now under local volunteer management and newcomers to Glendale can become ‘common-owners’.
The Ollisdal bothy is along the clifftop trail between Ramasaig and Orbost, it has an open fire and is used by shepherds. Because of this, it’s worth noting that no dogs are allowed into Ollisdal.
Camasunary in the south west, can be reached via various routes starting at Strathaird , Elgol or Sligachan. There are actually two bothies here, an old and a new. The owner, Alan Johnson, has taken the old bothy back into family ownership and funded the building of a new replacement in 2014.
This was built by 59 Commando Field Squadron, Royal Engineers, creating a link with the Second World War when Commandos came to Camasunary for a Live Fire training exercise, landing on the beach and attacking a nearby boathouse!
The Lookout is in the far north of the island at Rubha Hunish. This bothy, a former coastguard watch station was built in 1928. There are beautiful views across the Minch to Lewis and Harris and it provides excellent opportunities for spotting sea-life; Minke whales and Orca, basking sharks, dolphin and porpoise as well as varied sea birds. Nearby you’ll find the ruins of the village of Erisco, a crofting community that dates back to the 1600s, it was victim to the Clearances in 1875. There is no fire at The Lookout and you will need to bring in your own water.
Here are a couple of great short films on bothies and bothy culture, the first by photographer Nicolas White called Black Dots Project, which was sponsored by Rab.
The second is by adventurer Alastair Humphreys, called Mountain Bikes and Bothy Nights.
By lovely coincidence, Alastair’s film features Skye’s bothies!
Come and find them for yourself!