This post first appeared in UkHillwalking.com
Bothies would be great if not for the other people you have to share them with. The allure of whisky, mouse droppings and the chance to torch stuff seems to be irresistible to all sorts of oddballs, misanthropes and German students. At the risk of insulting practically everyone, John Burns identifies the main types of bothy goer. The trick is not working out who they are, but knowing which one you are…
There is much more to a bothy than simply a place to rest your head. It would not be a proper bothy night without some random strangers, a shared nip of gutrot and a few jokes. God forbid, there might even be singing. I once asked a friend, a committed hill walker and wild camper, why he never spent a night in a bothy. He turned to me and said, his voice trembling a little, ‘Oh, you never know who you’ll meet.’
There he is right. In these lawless places, there is no way you can govern who your fellow bothy dwellers will be. In this over-civilised and regulated world, the bothy, with its dark, smoke-filled rooms, remains closer to a mediaeval inn than the cloned, corporate hotels of today.
So here are some of the bothy folk I have met in my travels – the good, the bad and the frequently ugly. Long may they all live.
They come from somewhere in Scotland, no one really knows where, their language is incomprehensible to anyone who lives more than five miles from their place of birth. These are the Heavy Goods Vehicles of the bothy world. They carry huge rucksacks crammed with kilos of coal and crates of beer, vast quantities sausages, bacon and pork pies. They are Scottish, vegetables are an irrelevance, apart from chips, which are thought to be some kind of meat. Their aim is to raise the temperature in the bothy to the same level as the surface of the sun, only then can beer and whisky be consumed in sufficient quantities to liberate ‘The Craic.’ The Craic, (pronounced ‘crack’) is a form of alcohol induced ritual where the winner is the person who produces the most creative insults for the assembled company. Despite their ferocious appearance, and the aggressive sounding grunts with which they communicate with each other, they are quite friendly. The only exception to their good nature is if you were to deliberately damage one of their beloved bothies, in which case you better be able to run because they will hunt you down with a terrible vengeance in their hearts.
Back in the 1970s a group of European hikers strolled into the Cairngorms and headed for the Fords of Avon Refuge which they could clearly see on the map. They carried with them nothing but waterproofs and cash, planning to pay for an evening meal and a bed for the night. No doubt they hoped for a cordial welcome from the resident warden and his team of cooks and housemaids, expecting a continental style alpine hut. What greeted them was a small, coffin-like, wooden box in which four people could spend the night, provided they knew each other very well and didn’t mind spending eight sleepless hours with their knees folded under their chins. A long and very uncomfortable night followed.
Such folk still visit bothies, expecting hotel style accommodation and filled with horror when they ask where the bathroom is and are handed a spade. You will find them searching the walls for the electric plug sockets and they always leave, at first light, heading for the nearest place where their credit cards can be used.
The Bothy Ticker
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