The demise of the mountain bothy

Hill walking

LM bothy, complete with arrow slits so you can defend the bothy against Geordies.

There is something special in the stillness of a winter’s night, when frost renders the burns silent and dusts the grass with transient iridescent crystals. On such winter nights it feels as though the land is holding its breath, waiting for the sun and the warmth of the spring to set it free. Few people have my passion for visiting bothies in the teeth of winter when the temperature drops well below the minus sign and ice forms on you water supply. This is understandable and I often wonder myself as I’m walking up some isolated glen burdened by supplies to keep me warm and fed through and artic night why I actually still do this.

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Last week I spent a night in LM bothy. It’s situated at the head of Glen Orrin, not too far from my home in inverness. Glen Orrin is a broad glen and the hydroelectric dam has created a loch within it running for several miles. The bothy is to be found on a small area of flat land just at the point the valley narrows and splits in two with one fork continuing and the other running a few miles towards the glen of Strathconnon, which was my route in. Walking in I saw no one and only the deer noticed my passing. They seemed surprised to see a human being at all and the bothy book revealed that only two other people had passed this way since the start of the year three months ago.

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The bothy is a splendid place, one of the best bothies I’ve been to, and it could sleep thirty odd folk comfortably. There are two rooms with fire place and there is even a stable where you could leave your horse if you decided to ride in. Sad then, that as I read through the bothy book it became evident that the place had only had around 24 visits last year. The tradition of folk spending New Year in a bothy seems to have died out and, it appears from my visits to a variety of bothies, the large groups of folk from mountaineering clubs who used to invade bothies no longer trouble to make the trek. I wonder how long bothies will survive if the trend in their usage continues to decline. It will be harder and harder to justify spending money on bothies when they are only visited by a trickle of folk every year. Of the people who do visit, most come in the summer so the chances are fairly high that my nights, in the remoter bothies, will be solitary ones.



Once the names and locations of bothies were whispered amongst the mountaineering fraternity in case the hordes would hear about them and descend on highland glens in their thousands. Then, bodies like the mountain Bothies Association (MBA) who maintain so many bothies began to get public funding and could no longer keep the location of bothies secret. Now you can find most of these places on the net.

The river Orrin

The river Orrin

Would it matter if Highland bothies died out, surely only the handful of folk who visit them would actually care? Perhaps it’s true that mountain shelters in remote areas are slowly becoming a thing of the past, resigned, like the mass trespasses of the 1930s to the history of the outdoors in the UK. It is a shame that fewer and fewer people choose to visit these lonely places. I think that many of us are alienated from the land, and have little or no relationship with the landscape in which we live. We are cushioned from the cold, even from the seasons themselves, by central heating and air-conditioning. We run from one controlled environment to the next rarely noticing how the sky has changed or that the trees around us are in bud.

I spend time in bothies just looking at the hills, taking time to notice how the river is slowly changing its course or how the frozen bog is beginning to thaw. I have begun to photograph the minutiae of things, I’m slowly learning how to look at the land, how to listen to its heartbeat. This is a thing we have forgotten how to do. The world is viewed through computer screens and or from the other side of a car windscreen as though it were a picture. I can recall meeting other bothy dwellers years ago, we would sit around the fire telling stories, swopping lies and talking of the wild places we had been. This was cementing a brotherhood, a community of the outdoors, yet this rarely happens now and some folk even prefer to camp outside a bothy rather than share the space in side with other humans.

We need to learn again how to feel at ease drinking from a stream or walking alone through the moonlight to a remote place where we must rely on our own resources to keep warm and fed. We need to slow down, to walk at the pace of the earth. Bothies enable us to spend time in wild places, to wake to the silence of a frost covered dawn. We should celebrate them and promote their presence, if we do not we risk losing them forever.

Don’t stand looking at the view, become part of it.


19 responses to “The demise of the mountain bothy

  1. A wonderfully written and thought provoking post. I like finding bothies!. They are a welcome refuge at the end of a storm driven day. Lets hope they stay for a long time.

  2. A big problem is people advertising bothies – just because the MBA likes to broadcast its work, does not mean that this goes for all other bothies.

    You are aware that there are non MBA bothies which will, according to their owners, be locked shoud they ever be subject to publicity like this. That is why it is traditionally word of mouth. It only takes one.

  3. I’ve never understood those people who pitch a tent right outside a bothy when there is plenty of room inside. There’s nothing better than an open fire, a bottle of something nice, and good company in a remote bothy.

  4. I know plenty who do pitch a tent right outside a bothy – I can’t understand it either – I’ve not done a huge amount of bothying but the folks I’ve met so far have been great and i wouldn’t have preferred to spend the evening/night skulking in a tent nearby. Also, I couldn’t resist the fireside of a bothy (I have to admit I wouldn’t visit a fireless bothy unless it was the middle of summer).

    I couldn’t do a bothying trip in such wintry cold as you’re doing though John – I don’t mind autumn/early winter or spring but would draw the line at water freezing indoors if I spilt it!

  5. Spent a great 2 nights in this bothy last year,took a RM trolley with a couple bags of coal,until the path narrowed:-) we were like the Pompey field gun crew:-) ,met a group on the 2nd night and had a great night.bothies gotta love them:-)

  6. You Sir, are part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Non-MBA bothies such as LM exist on the back of a tradition for word of mouth publicity where admittedly some judging of the person being told about the bothy may occur. Specifically their likelyhood is judged by the teller to be a contributor rather than a taker. A contributer might be someone who leaves the place tidy, or might be someone who ends up attending workparties; a taker might be someone who burns all available fuel, vandalises, or subsequently publicises the bothy on the internet.

    Several years ago LM had some serious fire damage in the main room. I rang Angus Cameron (Keeper on the Strathconon Estate) as I knew and could rally a few folk with the resources to fix this problem. He was quite clear on two things first “no thanks we have the resources to fix it”, and “please do not publicise our bothy”. This bothy exists as a way of managing outdoors folks visiting a busy deer forest, it isn’t a climbing club hut.

    Some years prior to the fire damage a group of bothy enthusiasts (“the Invermallie Mob”) painted and generally improved the place. I can’t speak for them with authority, but knowing several of them I doubt very much they would appreciate your blog.

    Ultimately, I think it is okay to publicise a non MBA bothy when firstly the owner, secondly the maintainers, and thirdly the regular users think it is okay to do so. I am confident this is not the case. Internet publicity is rolling the dice regarding what sort of folk will read the web page. It’s not a matter of attracting vandals to the bothy – wear and tear occurs with all use, and resources to maintain are limited.

    If my viewpoint is hard for you to digest I suggest you volunteer within the MBA for a few years, or even contribute to the maintenance of LM – I think your viewpoint will shift in my direction.

  7. “The world is viewed through computer screens and or from the other side of a car windscreen as though it were a picture.” I love this. Nice piece I enjoyed it!

  8. hi John,
    I am very concerned re. your article. I and many of my friends/acquaintances have been using bothies for decades and in our opinion publicity of non-MBA places is to be discouraged, as the more people who find out about such places and use them, the more chance that a group who will cause serious problems for the place, perhaps leading to it’s loss, will find it and pay a visit. This has happened several times in the past (to both non-MBA and MBA places) eg. to White Cottage in Glen Affric, which was closed and subsequently demolished by the estate after one too many drinking sessions, a similar story for Inchmore and for several former bothies in S Scotland/ N of England, and another (MBA) place which the estate decided to close after one too many drug-fueled sessions but by a miracle is still open. And some were accidentally lost due to heavy use and the subsequent wear and tear eg. Blackburn of Pattack which burnt down due to one too many fires.
    Like you we live local to LM and we keep and eye on the place c. 3 times a year (probably we’re the ones you’re refering to as the previous visitors), keeping the place/outside area clean and spending a bit of money on the place. Non-MBA places are a precious resource mainly looked after by people like us often with a quiet word with the local keeper, and we don’t have the huge resources of the MBA so we couldn’t cope with these places becoming like some of the MBA ones which have hundreds of visitors per year and all the wear and tear and problems this brings like litter.
    And let’s not forget that all these places are the private property of someone else and it’s by their good will and the fact that these places are little used and little abused that they continue to make them available and indeed do major maintenance work themselves in some cases. They certainly wouldn’t want their bothies publicised all over the Net.
    In general some bothies seem to have become quieter since a peak of use maybe in the 90s and I guess it’s down to changing society and attitudes eg. a generation ago hotels mostly weren’t en suite and people are so “dependent” on a mobile phone signal.
    Finally, could you pls. change the name of the bothy in your article to “LM” as you’ve created another link to it.
    Hopefully we’ll meet you at LM soon if you go regularly. G Moore 🙂

  9. Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond, I’ve had computer problems. i don’t agree with Mr Moore’s comment as I think it very unlikley that publicity will bring hordes of vandals to LM bothy. However, I do respect the fact that he, and not I, have put time and effort into maintaining this bothy and in view of this have carried out his request, as far as I can, and removed the name of the place.

    • I agree. My concern is not over use of bothies but the fact that they will become disused and forgotten. Perhaps 20 years ago talking about a bothy might have increased its use, now, I really don’t think so. Look at the age of most people you meet in bothies, in 20 years time no one will go there.

  10. As one of the “official” maintainers of this building (a punishment inherited from Forbie M of the Invermallie Mob), and as someone who has spent some considerable time and funds there over the last 20 years, I really have to commend G Moore on his restraint, above. Why did johndburns reply with the rather fatuous remark about hordes of vandals? G Moore didn’t say that. As a veteran bothier, he is aware that publicity leads to increased usage, and then the levels of abuse, wear and tear and just damnfool behaviour also rise. The things we have to deal with at the bothies we maintain would make for an entertaining and bizarre blog, but you will notice that none of us witter and blether-on about our self-funded bothy repairs on the internet. Why not?

    Do you want the non-MBA bothies to be locked or demolished? They are not “secret and exclusive” (boring and predictable remarks from Alastair Humphreys, which we have been hearing for years- still waiting for the evidence that we have ever locked a bothy…) as they are all waiting patiently for you to make some effort and go check that building on the map. Isn’t it a pain how clubs lock their huts and make you pay for access? Elitism, eh? Spend yer ain cash on a bothy and we will see how long you leave it open, once the dafties descend and break a window or five, and you have to clear rubbish and/or fix petty damage/vandalism ALMOST EVERY TIME YOU GO THERE TO ENJOY SOME QUIET TIME! I have had this nonsense for 25 years at one particular place- and I pay for the privilege of being castigated by cretins whose mess I clear up! Confrontations, dealings with angry owners, making statements to the Polis- all these joys may await you when you finally get round to actually DOING SOMETHING to help maintain a bothy, johndburns! Pick one of the non-MBA bothies, do some repairs, get involved, speak with the keeper,discover the reality. And then we will see how charitably you react to someone with a keyboard and an incontinent finger, who thinks, well, what DID you think of G Moore and Jeff, Jim C, and me when you decided to publicise LM?
    Did you even consider us at all, or are we just blog-fodder on the road to greater glory?

    • That post continues to be controversial. I did remove the name of the bothy from the post at the request of the folk who maintain the place. I’m not convinced that information on non – MBA bothies can be restricted given the amount of information swilling around on the Internet. Nor am I convinced that there would be any averse consequences to my mentioning the place. In my defence I’m a member of the MBA and spent a couple of days replacing the doors on Sheneval earlier this year.

  11. hello again John,
    thx for changing it to LM, however the full name is still in 3 places on your site that I can see: click on audiocast. But it seems that the cat is out of the bag; when I google the full name, it (the full name) still comes up with your reference; maybe google’s algorithm recognises abbreviations connected with previous full versions.

  12. oops, forgot to mention you’re still giving the location of the place (“head of Glen Orrin”).
    Re. your response of May 12: ” i don’t agree with Mr Moore’s comment as I think it very unlikley that publicity will bring hordes of vandals to LM ” (a copy and paste), if you think I’m overreacting then how about this. There used to be a great multi-roomed bothy a similar length of drive from Inverness, took a similar effort to walk in, I used it several times. Alas in the 90s I arrived to find every window smashed, I cringe to think what the estate thought after all their effort to provide this haven for walkers. Now it’s a locked holiday home. So it doesn’t need “hordes of vandals”, just the wrong group once, and the bothy’s lost forever. These people don’t do what I, SD, J and RW do (buy scores of OS maps, pore over them, wonder what lies there, drive 100 miles and walk 10 to find out). These undesirables found out about the bothy because of some publicity, either a mate told them or they read about it.

    • I’ll edit the posts again and see if I can remove the references to the bothy name and location. Might be difficult. I understand your position but I think the key phrase in the points you make is “in the 90s” my whole point is that times have changed and, although you can never rule out the isolated act of vandalism, such instances are rare these days as the use of bothies declines.

      The MBA have information on their bothies openly on the net and, as far as I know, apart from some bothies near population centres, abuse is not an issue. In deference to the effort you have put in to maintain LM I will, however, see if I can remove identifying information.

  13. I came upon this bothy some years ago with friends as we walked coast to coast from East to West. We don’t choose to stay in bothies as I generally think our tents are preferable in almost every way. However this place nearly changed my mind as the location and size and quality of this place was outstanding. I think you would have to be pretty determined to walk in with a pallet of lager. I really hope that these places can continue to remain used by those who respect these wild places.

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