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Rustic Shelters Called Bothies (nytimes.com)
79 points by mykowebhn 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments

A few years ago I walked across the Isle of Skye off the northwest coast of Scotland. Near the north cape of the island is a former Coast Guard lookout converted to a bothy. It's tiny, with just enough room for 2 bunks, a couple of chairs and a sweeping view over the North Atlantic. Inside a plaque commemorates the man who did much of the work to restore it for public use. Here's a photo:


It's delightful that such a wonderful place can be kept free for public use and is treated with respect by the few who visit it. It has few amenities, pretty much just shelter from the elements, but that counts for a lot when you're self-propelled in the Scottish weather.

The Mangersta bothy (AKA The Eagles Nest) is also in a superb location:


Hunting those, or making them, looks fun!

If you are looking for something like this in the western United States, check out fire lookouts.


You can rent a number of them from the Forest Service. The ones I have stayed in offer an amazing view and some of the best night skies I have ever seen.


Various state and national forests in the US have public-use cabins. There used to be many, many more of them. But many have been sold off, or eliminated because they were too frequently trashed.

Way back in the day, friends and I used to live in them, on an itinerant basis. Everything that I owned was saturated with woodsmoke. Some city friends would joke that they didn't need to look in the mailbox to know if they'd received a letter from me. They could smell it at some distance ;)

And if you want a subset of the experience without the need to go <outside>, "Firewatch" lets you play a fire lookout in the waning days of 1989.

And apparently one of the updates added a free roam mode. Which I can only assume I missed as I got the game waaaay after free mode was released and being forced along the plot was my only regret.

A bit of etiquette for most bothies is to leave kindling and some matches in a ready state for igniting. Its a nice feeling entering a bothy after a cold and wet day walking in the Trossachs and getting a fire going in no time!

As a slightly morbid aside, some bothies have been demolished over the years as they were seen to encourage risky behaviour:


Unfortunately, no lack of people who still underestimate how dangerous the mountains in Scotland can be:


Fortunately those people were rescued, but walking on the Cairngorm plateau in wintry weather without jackets and other essential gear is a pretty risky thing to do.

And Wales. I live on the edge of Snowdonia, and we’ve had a little snow over the past week - and mountain rescue have been flying back and forth several times a day every day to go rescue folks who are more often than not woefully underprepared - the weather here can turn on a dime, and a nice sunny jeans and light jacket day can turn into a blizzard almost spontaneously.

I always carry water, a rat pack and an emergency shelter, even if I’m only going for an afternoon hike in the summer - but you’ll often see people herding their kids about like they’re at Disneyland.

I suppose part of it is having had the experience of being stranded without - as a kid I got badly lost in the alps after skiing down the wrong side of a mountain at dusk (I thought it was the same valley the resort was in - it was not), and spent a night in a snow hole by a tree before I found my way to a track. I was fine, a little frostnipped, very exhausted, but it scared the bejesus out of me.

That moment when you realize "that isn't the lake/valley/landmark I thought it was"... yeah, that's not fun. I had my own version of that a couple summers ago.

What do you carry for an emergency shelter?

I always (at the very least) carry a survival bag in the hills - just the big orange plastic bag things. As recommended in this list:


A pair of mylar blankets - one to wrap up in, one to use as a bivvy. One is effective, two are almost cosy - stops radiative cooling completely. Take up about as much space as a couple of packs of cigarettes.

I've been caught out on a walk before having drastically misjudged the time, steepness, and distance. That said, it took about 40 minutes to resolve the problem of rapidly disappearing light by making straight for the nearest pub for hot soup and a pint. Agree with you, I simply cannot fathom what does (or doesn't) go through a persons head when contemplating setting out dressed for summer into what is virtually an Arctic mountain environment. I guess some people have never been taught?

I suspect the height of Scottish hills will make people think they are safe - after all 1300m is lower than a lot of towns in the Alps and people won't realise how quickly the weather can change and how bad it can get if it does take a turn for the worse.

Edit: I take a couple of print outs of OS maps as a backup for my mobile device and normal paper map. More than once I've ended up handing these out to people I've met who have no idea where they are....

I stayed in a few of these over the years. Loved it, especially for the sense of "middle of nowhere". Really surprised to see another piece in a major paper, or to turn up on HN for that matter.

There was a piece in the Guardian, also this month, that the MBA is struggling and they may die out unless they start getting some younger volunteers soon. Bothies are volunteer maintained and restored, and the volunteers are apparently aging rapidly.

With lots more photos: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/jan/25/mountain-resc...

In the game (sometimes derided as a “walking simulator”) Dear Esther, you start out in a bothy, which the narrator refers to in one of his first narrations.

The bothy is actually at the top of the hill in the second stage, up from the wrecked ship in the bay and past the hole. You start at a ruined lighthouse.

Great article. I remember staying in these as a young Scout - a very cool experience, I can highly recommend it.

Oh for Pete's sake: what Scotsman doesn't know about bothies? If you read oor Willie or the broons what is "the but and Ben" if not a bothie?

(I've stayed in some lowland ones, cycling clubs keep them but the best are all mountain high. New Zealand Bach and a French gite are different)

> Oh for Pete's sake: what Scotsman doesn't know about bothies?

It's a New York newspaper. Even if every Scotsman did know about bothies, which they don't, then it's still relevant for this newspaper isn't it?

It's a terrible attitude to put things down as 'but who doesn't know this already'. I'm sure there are things the author of this article would consider everyone should know that you don't.

For me it's the uniquely American parochialism of these type of articles that grates: 'Hey look guys, I found out that there is actually a world outside America, and in this strange exotic world there are places, and people, and even things!!!!'

Yeah this article isn't that so hackles down. Its someone writing a charming description of a tradition which is most likely completely unknown to their target audience.

Also - the fact that Americans have not taken the time to find out what a Bothy is before now should cause no great offence to anyone. I'm a brit who lived for around a decade in Northumberland and although I know the word bothy I certainly have never seen one.

Bizarre comment, the entire world does this to the rest of the world all the time. It tends to be called travel writing.

I don’t see any suggestion that Scottish people don’t know about them. This is a travel article in a US newspaper read around the world. “Little known” is likely fair, given the mostly non-European readership.

Spellcheck on my phone (USA model Samsung) wants to replace "bothie" with "brothel".

Spellcheck in my eyes did it well enough.

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae mony a blunder free us, An' foolish notion: What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us, An' ev'n devotion!

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,

My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;

Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,

My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.


ye wantin pumped, aye?

A but and ben isn't a bothie, though. But and ben means a two-roomed cottage. A bothie is basic shelter for anyone to use. A bothie would be free but a but and ben is most likely a private residence.

That's right - a but and a ben is specifically a two bedroomed house (the but is the outer public room with the kitchen and the ben is the inner room with the beds), and a bothy normally a single roomed shelter. I'd normally associate a but and a ben with a crofthouse[0].

[0] http://www.shetlandheritageassociation.com/members/south-mai...

I very much doubt Scotsmen are the target audience for this article. And the subject matter doesn't focus exclusively on Scotland, either.

I know the "no true Scotsman" fallacy is bandied around here a lot but I don't think I've ever seen a more literal example than this. ;)

I don’t think the but n ben the Broons visit is a Bothy. Iirc they owned it (or at least rented it) and it was pretty well kitted out. Bothies tend to be pretty Spartan and are just freely available, not owned or for hire

Random aside - the But n ben is also the name of a nice little restaurant a little just outside of Arbroath.

Quite a few places I heard called bothie were privately owned by curious share communities. Up by the headwaters of the iron bru springs around moffat (I know... not really but it was amazingly ferrous water) there were a few shacks we called that way. And down cockburnspath.

Sure. Up in the hills, for serious climbers and walkers? Different story. But bothies included Shephard's huts, and working mens fishing camps and all kinds of things.

What do you think "the butt and ben" looked like before maw broon got some carpets off the rag and bone man and paw broon got that auld sofa?

If you want to be pedantic, yes the working class lowland "hutters" were different. I guess that's what I'm talking about. Colloquially people call these places bothies. It it's not part of the MBA hill stuff, for sure.

> Quite a few places I heard called bothie were privately owned

Aren't all bothies privately owned? What other ownership would there be?

I'm pretty sure they are all privately owned by the landowner (usually a sporting estate, although some are in areas owned by conservation groups e.g. Ryvoan) - even if they are maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association.

NB The default in Scots law is for any building to belong to the landowner even if someone else builds it so even if someone did build a hut somewhere it would still end up being owned by whoever owns the land.

France has "refuges", but the word mushes a wide variety of accommodations together. Around Chamonix "refuges" will be full-service hotels sitting above glaciers, resupplied by helicopter. But most of the refuges, in most of the Alps, are just the same as bothies : small, romantic, cold, smelling of smoke and damp limestone, often maintained by a few men who once got up there alone for a whole month to rebuild old walls, and a great place to make serendipitous friends.

NZ does have huts, which are much more similar. See: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-stay/...

Although there's also private ones as well.

NZ’s huts are generally more luxurious than Bothies, though not in all cases!

“Little known” should perhaps be “little known in America”?

I'm an American who's never been to Scotland, and even I know it's spelled "Oor Wullie." :)

Clearly Scotsman were not the target audience. What made you think it was?

People reading this article probably have no fucking clue what: oor Willie or the broons what is "the but and Ben" even means. I don't even know how to parse those random combination of words.

You'd have to have bought the Sunday Post for a while. The Broons (Browns) and Oor (Our) Willie are cartoons in it. Same Scottish firm that gave generations of British kids the Dandy and Beano comics with Desperate Dan and Dennis the Menace etc.

A but n ben is a two roomed stone cottage. The cartoon Broons had one.

The picture of the three friends is brilliant.

Thanks, it was worth reading just for that.

A handy bit of kit is the portable bothy e.g https://rab.equipment/uk/superlite-shelter-2-silbothy

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