How to use bothies

How to use bothies

What is a bothy?

Bothies are free, simple shelters in remote country that anyone can use. But they can be much more than just a place to sleep – at their best they represent a culture and a community.

The Mountain Bothies Association (MBA), which runs around 100 bothies all across the UK (mostly in Scotland, with a handful in England and Wales), has a wonderfully pure mission statement: “To maintain simple shelters in remote country for the use and benefit of all those who love wild places.” Not all bothies are run by the MBA, but those which are share the same ethos. They are free to use, open to all and maintained by the generosity of members and the wider bothy community. And in contrast to today’s identi-hostels, each bothy is an individual, with its own history, character and rugged appeal.

Back to basics

Bothies don’t offer luxury. Volunteers who maintain them try and ensure they are kept robust and watertight, but beyond that the facilities on offer vary. Some offer little more than a roof and a concrete floor, but most have raised platforms for sleeping and often a fireplace. One or two even have fancy mod-cons like electricity or toilets. As a rule, though, you should take everything you need to be self-sufficient. Part of the appeal of bothying is encountering unexpected acts of generosity in the form of candles, coal, or even tinned food left behind by others – but don’t rely on it.

Never ‘crowd out’ a bothy. There is no booking system, but the rule is a bothy is never ‘full’ – you can always squeeze another in. According to some recollections, bothies seem to assume Tardis-like properties; stories of a dozen people cramming into a shelter meant for three or four have been recounted. If that doesn’t sound particularly fun, plan to avoid busy bothies at peak times and you stand a good chance of having the bothy to yourself, or at least a decent amount of personal space. To help keep numbers under control, groups of six or more are discouraged, and bothies are not for the use of commercial parties.

Then there’s the matter of sanitation. As the MBA website delicately puts it: “Few bothies have toilet facilities apart from a spade and the advice is that you should walk at least a couple of hundred metres from the bothy and 60 metres from the water supply before excavations and evacuations commence.”

A bothy in Knoydart.


By now, you’ve probably got the picture that bothies are not necessarily to everyone’s taste. They offer free accommodation, but they can be much more than that. There is no financial transaction involved, only a reciprocal exchange of goodwill. Bothies demand that you be self-reliant, respect the building and possibly share a space with strangers. In return you get free shelter, the opportunity to wake up in magnificent wild surroundings, and the potential for rewarding encounters with like-minded people. Bothy users must respect the building – don’t leave litter or perishable food, and when leaving make sure the fire is fully extinguished and the door securely closed. Not exactly glamping, then – but approached with respect and an open mind, a special bothy experience can be far more memorable.

Bothy FAQs

The mantra goes that a bothy is never full: there’s always room to squeeze one more in. Realistically, though, it’s often a good idea to have a tent or bivvy bag just in case.

Broadly speaking, in summer at weekends – particularly holiday weekends. Some bothies are busier than others and it doesn’t do any harm to do a little research first. The UKBothies Forum is a handy source of information.

Of course – that’s what they're left for. If you're not in a position to replace them, it’s good to pass on the favour when you have the opportunity, either at that bothy or at another. Coal and candles are always appreciated, but leaving perishable or mouse-vulnerable food is a no-no, as are sleeping bags, wet socks or bottles.

One serious threat is rubbish. Don't be the ones to leave rubbish in bothies! Some, such as the very popular Corrour Bothy in the Lairig Ghru, it reaches crisis point during the summer months. If you use bothies you can help by burning or removing any rubbish you find there. Don’t leave it for already hard-pressed volunteers to remove.

And bothies are looked after by hill-goers for hillgoers, and that gives a sense of ownership and community lacking from commercial huts or bunkhouses. Bothies, at best, are more than just a refuge from the weather: they’re a place for sharing information, food and drink, assistance and friendship.

WATCH: The Bothy Project - Discovering the wild Shenavall