A bothy is a basic shelter, usually left unlocked and available for anyone to use free of charge. It was also a term for basic accommodation, usually for gardeners or other workers on an estate. Bothies are to be found in remote, mountainous areas of Scotland, northern England, Ireland, and Wales. They are particularly common in the Scottish Highlands but related buildings can be found around the world (e.g., in the Nordic countries, there are wilderness huts). A bothy was also a semi-legal drinking den in the Isle of Lewis. These, such as Bothan Eòrapaidh, were used until recent years as gathering points for local men, and were often situated in an old hut or caravan.
The etymology of the word bothy is uncertain. Suggestions include a relation to both "hut" as in Irish bothan and Scottish Gaelic bothan or bothag.; a corruption of the Welsh term bwthyn, also meaning small cottage; and a derivation from Norse būð, cognate with English booth with a diminutive ending.
Most bothies are formerly ruined buildings which have been restored to a basic standard, providing a windproof and watertight shelter. They vary in size from little more than a large box up to two-storey cottages. They usually have designated sleeping areas, which commonly are either an upstairs room or a raised platform, thus allowing one to keep clear of cold air and draughts at floor height. No bedding, mattresses, or blankets are provided. Public access to bothies is either on foot, by bicycle, or boat.
There are thousands of examples to draw from. A typical Scottish bothy is the Salmon Fisherman's Bothy, Newtonhill, which is perched above the Burn of Elsick near its mouth at the North Sea. Another Scottish example from the peak of the salmon fishing in the 1890s is the fisherman's bothy at the mouth of the Burn of Muchalls.
The best-known estate bothy is the one in the Royal Gardens at Windsor Castle, which could house about 25 people. It was used by the improver gardeners and disabled ex-servicemen who worked on the estate. Most reasonably sized estates had a bothy, which housed single men only; in fact, if they got married, they had to give up the accommodation in the bothy. The most famous person to live in a bothy of this type was Percy Thrower when he worked in the Royal gardens. Another example of an estate bothy is the one at Horwood House, which held just five men. There is also one at Attingham Park which is being restored along with the walled gardens.
Although free, use of bothies is to some extent governed by the bothy etiquette:
- Fuel for the fire should be brought, or if fuel stored in the bothy is used, more should be gathered to replace what is used. Many bothies are located far from any trees, though peat may provide an alternative fuel. However, peat digging is likely to be discouraged, to protect the local landscape and ecology.
- Candles are usually to be found; as with fuel, these should be replaced if used.
- All rubbish should be carried out. Excrement should be buried.
- When defecating, ensure that a location well away from the bothy and away from any watercourse is used.
- Large groups and long stays are to be discouraged – bothies are intended for small groups on the move in the mountains.
Bothies are usually owned by the landowner of the estate on which they stand, although the actual owner is rarely involved in any way, other than by permitting their continued existence, and by helping with transport of materials. Many are maintained by volunteers from the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA), a charity who look after 97 bothies in Scotland, the north of England, and Wales.
The location of these bothies can be found on the MBA website, along with information on how you can help.
In popular culture
- Bothy ballad
- But and ben – a simple two room cottage structure
- Mountain hut – building located in the mountains intended to provide food and shelter to mountaineers, climbers, and hikers
- Wilderness hut – rent-free, open dwelling place for temporary accommodation, usually located in wilderness areas, national parks, and along backpacking routes
- Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0) © Oxford University Press 2009. Bothy.
- Brian H. Watt, Old Newtonhill and Muchalls, Stenlake Publishing, Glasgow (2005)
- C.M. Hogan, History of Muchalls Castle, Lumina Tech Press, Aberdeen (2005)
- Archibald Watt, Highways and Byways around Kincardineshire, Stonehaven Heritage Society (1985)
- MBA Website, "Mountain Bothies Association Website", (16 Sept 2009)
- Lyr Req: Fionnghula (Bothy Band), The Mudcat Café