What better way to kick off entering a new year than by ticking off another item on the bucket list. Bothy living. For those not in the know, a bothy is a Scottish mountain hut or cottage. Normally used by hikers and mountaineers during expeditions to hike near by munros or try new climbing routes. Bothy life is far from a luxury hotel but offers a simpler way of life to enjoy.
Mountain Bothy Association
The Mountain Bothy Association is a voluntary association and registered charity in Scotland that helps to maintain the bothy network. For a small yearly fee you can subscribe to find out where and when you can meet to work on restoring one of these fantastic shelters in the hills. Every day people get involved in repairing both the interior and exterior of these buildings to ensure they can remain open to all. Check them out online to get involved.
There are a huge variety of bothies all across Scotland and Wales to enjoy. From larger newly refurbished double story out buildings, through to more basic stone structures roofed with corrugated iron. With so many options to choose from it can be a little daunting at first but the key is just to pick one and give it a try. A step up from camping, you will be more protected from the elements and enjoy the company of others visiting. Don’t be afraid to give it a go.
Glenfeshie bound on Hogmanay
2019 was closing in fast requiring quick decisions to be made. You’d think visiting a remote mountain bothy would attract relatively few people during a Scottish winter. A little research however uncovered that those close to more populated places like Loch Lomond could be busy all year round. With this in mind I selected a location in the more remote Cairngorm mountains of Glenfeshie for my first experience. Hoping to be eased in gently into the unknown.
Ruigh Aiteachain sits deep in the bounds of Glenfeshie. Surrounded by a number of neighbouring munros and fast flowing rivers, there is plenty to see and explore. By the time I had travelled up the A9 however due to work commitments it was pitch dark. Following the coordinates for the shelter provided by the recommended Bothy Bible it was fortunately straight forward to navigate.
Leaving the car around 3 miles away from the shelter an hour of walking was required carrying full gear. Time was marching closer to midnight and the start of a new year so speed was essential. Luckily the terrain was excellent and a well laid estate track led the way across a few streams to the final destination. Arriving just on time I was in awe of the crystal clear skies and the huge amount of stars dancing before me. Orion’s Belt and The Plough all clearly visible way up high. What a way to start 2019.
Having never visited a bothy it was hard to know what to expect. Turning up at a strange place late at night is even more daunting. Sometimes you just need to push your boundaries. The building at Ruigh Aiteachain looked very recently refurbished. The strong wooden door opened easily to reveal scenes of rooms packed with smiling faces of all different ages and gender. All were incredibly welcoming and keen to hear about my adventures, before sharing their own stories.
Do this many mad mountain people exist I wondered? Well when you visit the asylum you meet like minded insane people. I was impressed with the effort some in their 70s had made to come out far into the outdoors to bring in the new year with strangers. Listening to tales of mountain biking and scrambling days out reminded me of my own memories of past trips. A great way to learn from and interact with like minded outdoor people.
Enjoying some R&R
Hours of interesting conversation lasted long into the night. Making new friends and hearing about places still to be explored and seen. Bothy life turned out to be very different from what I had expected or was use to. The pace of life was much slower and more relaxing than a usual munro outing. There was no urgency to be any where at a set time or rely on what the weather was doing. If it rained and you wanted to go outside, you waited until it went off. If you felt hungry you made some food on the stove and just hung out.
The lack of phone reception was a true blessing and the usual updates from the outside world meant no disruption. A relaxing drama free few days is the best way to describe my first bothy visit. I slept on a wooden floor in my sleeping bag but was happier than had I been in a 5 star hotel in Dubai. It’s at these moments you have time to think about what really matters to you and just enjoy existing.
The more I spoke to people the more I realised I was among family. I was surrounded by people who owned property portfolios, had multiple degrees and investment funds but who all realised one thing. They’d rather be living a simpler life with less complication in the wilderness. To be served morning coffee by an elderly man well into his pensionable age was truly a humbling experience. One that will make sure I continue to explore and experience as much of the world as I can without regrets.
Lasting bothy memories
Did I conquer any new summits or tick off another mountain from my bucket list? No, but I still had an amazing time bringing in the new year at Ruigh Aiteachain. I learned it’s not always necessary to charge about the countryside with an objective. Sometimes you can get just as much out of taking a slower place and admiring the beauty around you.
Going into 2019 I have a new love affair with bothy life. I intend on visiting more of these mountain retreats during my munro expeditions. Not just to use them as a means to an end but to enjoy them for what they are. An oasis of peace that can bring different generations and nationalities together to enjoy a common interest. A love of the outdoors. If I see you at one be sure to say hello, I will.