Discovering Scotland’s Top 7 Bothies

What’s a Bothy you ask? Well, aside from being one of Scotland’s best kept secrets, they’re essentially remote shelters, snuggled in amongst the Scottish wilderness, where wearied walkers can bunker down for the night, free of charge. The shelters come to over 100 in total, and for the last 50-odd years they’ve been looked after by the dedicated not-for-profit, Mountain Bothies Association (MBA).

The vast majority of shelters are simple, single-story crofts or huts that were once used by shepherds, but have long since been abandoned. These hidden sanctuaries began to gain popularity amongst ramblers and hill walkers, but many were falling into disrepair before a gang of galvanized climbers and walkers banded together to form the MBA and took it upon themselves to maintain their upkeep, along with getting the permission of the owners of the vast land on which the bothies sat.

The bothy network has never been officially advertised to tourists, and in the past, knowledge of their whereabouts was usually spread through word of mouth between those in-the-know. However, around 5 years ago, ardent bothy lover Geoff Allan took it upon himself to visit (on foot and public transport, no less) nearly every bothy known to him (around 80) to produce the world’s first, definitive guide to Scotland’s bothies. Below is a pick of favorites for every kind of traveler. 

If You Love A Good View, Cast an Eye Over the Lookout If you’re particularly soft for views, then this is your bothy. The Lookout, which has been remodeled on a former coastguard station and positioned precariously atop the cliff-edge of Rubha Hunish, in the northernmost tip on the Isle of Skye, offers incredible 180o views from its bay window. From here you can take in the entire Western Isles and, on a clear day, the mainland all the way up to Cape Wrath. If you come in the right season (autumn), then this bothy is also a fantastic spot to watch the migration of minke whales pass through the Minch strait. 

Test Your Metal in the Creepiest Bothy of Strathchailleach Strathchailleach is an odd little estate cottage that sits on the vast moorland just south of Cape Wrath in the far north of Scotland. It is in this bothy that the late, enigmatic hermit James MacRory-Smith spent 30 years of his life. Although James’ relationship with the MBA had been strained towards the latter years of his life, they honored his vagabond spirit and left the Strathchailleach bothy in much the same way in which James had lived in it (with a few necessary renovations here and there). You’ll find murals of wildlife that James’s painted on the walls, random furniture that he’d managed to scavenge and odd bits of brick-a-brac. Some have said that it’s akin to sleeping in a spooky museum.

Those Who Are New to the Bothy Lifestyle Should Head to Peanmeanach Peanmeanach is a tidy little bothy that’s easily reached by taking the Mallaig Road from Fort William up past the Ardnish Peninsula. It sits atop a rugged headland over its very own raised beach. Peanmeanach is a secluded and magical spot, as there’s so little to do out there, so it really forces occupants to take in their surrounds and settle into the naturalistic atmosphere.

If You Have a Penchant for History, Then Guirdil on the Isle of Rum is For You A lot of the bothies come with their own long and interesting histories, however, Guirdil located on the Isle of Rum is the oldest there is. The settlement (which is now just a shepherd’s cottage, built in the 1840s) is one of the oldest in Scotland, with roots dating back as far as 5500 BCE. Nearby, you’ll find a seam of jade called Bloodstone, that is believed to be one of the main reasons for the early settlements, as it allowed people to come and mine the stone to make into ornaments and tools.

Looking For a Honeymoon or Anniversary on the Cheap? Whisper Sweet Nothings in a Cladach on Islay The bothy of An Cladach has all that a swooning couple could want: salty sea air, an abundance of world-class whisky and an intimate little bothy 20 yards from the Sound of Jura, with a well-equipped library and fireplace. If you’re lucky enough to snag this place for yourselves, then all that’s required for an amorous night in is a fur (or faux) rug and a ‘Best of Barry White’ playlist. Get down.

Live in the Lap of Free Luxury in Kearvaig If you manage to make it out to the farthest reaches of northwest Scotland, board a ferry across a glistening estuary, hop on a bus from Durness up towards Cape Wrath Lighthouse and trek one mile out, then you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful night’s stay in one of Scotland’s most luxurious bothies. Why so luxurious? Well, not only does Kearvaig come with its own pristine and private beach, but the interior also has been renovated to such a high standard that it feels more like you’re staying in an upmarket hostel than a spartan shack. To the east, you’ll find a collection of sea stacks standing guard over the dizzying cliffs of Clò Mòr (the highest in mainland UK), and if you visit in early summer you’ll find nesting guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and puffins.

If You’ve Got an Aptitude for Altitude, Try to Scale the Walls Near Suardalan Suardalan is a picturesque stone cottage located on a quiet peninsula near Mam Ratagan pass. The bothy itself is fairly typical, but given its location, it doesn’t usually see many visitors (most people tend to head to Kintail or Skye). This bothy is a great destination for ardent climbing fans, as it’s in easy reach of the west face of Beinn Sgritheall (974 meters) and pathless Sgurr Mhic Bharraich (798 meters). Another attraction of this out-of-the-way bothy is the neighboring Gleann Beag, where you’ll find three iron age forts, all over ten meters high and unique to Scotland.

If you enjoyed learning about Scotland’s top 7 bothies and have already started planning a few treks up into the highlands in your BUCKiTDREAM diary, then you might like to take a gander at A Guide to the 5 Malt Whiskey Regions of Scotland, The Gothic Splendor of Edinburgh and Burns Night: What Exactly is Haggis and Should You Try It in a Skirt?