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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 Scotlandmarker, northern England and Walesmarker. They are particularly common in the Scottish Highlands. A bothy was also a semi-legal drinking den in the Isle of Lewis. These, such as Bothan Eoropaidh, were used until recent years as gathering points for local men, and were often situated in an old hut or caravan.


"Bothy" may be a corruption of the Gaelic bothan, meaning small hut, or possibly the Welsh term bwthyn, also meaning small cottage. It could also be 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.

Most bothies have a fireplace, and are near a natural source of water. A spade may be provided to bury excrement.


There are thousands of examples from which to draw. A typical Scottishmarker bothy is the Salmon Fisherman's Bothy, Newtonhillmarker, which is perched above the Burn of Elsick near its mouth at the North Seamarker. 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 Muchallsmarker.

Estate examples

The best-known estate bothy is the one in the Royal Gardens at Windsor Castlemarker, 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 Housemarker, which held just five men.

Bothy etiquette

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.
  • The fire is to be used for warmth, not cooking, and a stove should be brought.
  • Candles are usually to be found; as with fuel, these should be replaced if used.
  • All rubbish (except excrement, which should be buried) should be carried out.
  • 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. Some are maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA), who look after 97 bothies in Scotland, the north of England and Wales.

The location of bothies is not publicised widely – prior knowledge and word of mouth are often the only way of finding a bothy.


Similar shelters can also be found in remote areas of the Alps (known in German as Biwakschachtel). In order to complete some tours, it is necessary to spend the night in such shelters. Even though Biwakschachteln are also tended to by the Alpine Clubs, they differ markedly from the more accessible mountain huts, which are actual houses suitable for permanent use. Unlike mountain huts, they do not have a permanent resident who tends to the building and sells food to mountaineers.

See also

  • Ben-and-but - a simple two room cottage structure
  • Wilderness hut – rent-free, open dwelling place for temporary accommodation, usually located in wilderness areas, national parks and along backpacking routes
  • Mountain hut – building located in the mountains intended to provide food and shelter to mountaineers, climbers and hikers
  • Backcountry hut – huts which serve overnight hiking and trekking needs
  • Bothy ballad


  1. Brian H. Watt, Old Newtonhill and Muchalls, Stenlake Publishing, Glasgow (2005)
  2. C.M. Hogan, History of Muchalls Castle, Lumina Tech Press, Aberdeen (2005)
  3. Archibald Watt, Highways and Byways around Kincardineshire, Stonehaven Heritage Society (1985)
  4. MBA Website, "Mountain Bothies Association Website", (16 Sept 2009)

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