Friday, 20 November 2015

The Bothy Code

Why do people ignore it?
Everyone who goes to the Scottish hills has at least heard of bothies. These free-to-use shelters run by the Mountain Bothies Association are located in some wild and spectacular places and come in very handy when planning a multi-day hillwalking trip.

The route to this bothy passes under the Glenfinnan Viaduct made famous in the ''Harry Potter'' movies
Photograph by the author
Maintained and cared for by the MBA bothies are actually owned by the estate whose land they are on and who graciously allow their use by any and all comers - hillwalkers, ramblers, climbers and those who simply like a good stravaig!

The MBA do their best to keep bothies in a clean and usable condition and to that end they have published a ''bothy code'' - a guide for users. It is not my concern to reiterate that code here; it is available in many other places (anyone who doesn't know it can read it here).

My concern is the number of people who, seemingly, don't know the code or (more likely) simply ignore it for convenience sake. Part of the bothy code is that rubbish should never be left in a bothy yet I have never been to a bothy which didn't have a pile of rubbish either in it or just outside it.

Sometimes this rubbish is in a black plastic bin liner neatly stacked against the bothy wall as if waiting for the refuse wagon to pick it up! A popular item found in bothies is the empty whisky bottle. Apparently a useless empty bottle immediately becomes useful if a candle is stuck into it thereby giving the owner of the bottle a good excuse not carry it out with them!

This bothy is in a lovely position right above the Abhainn Rath not far from Loch Ericht
Photograph by Jim Barton/Geograph UK
Toilet facilities are another big issue with bothies. I once surprised a group of youngsters peeing up against the back wall of the bothy in the above photograph and that is a big no-no! When you have to go you have to go, sure, but right up against the bothy?

Any toilet-related business you need to do should be done well away from any bothy and well away from any source of water which bothiers (or anyone else) might use - especially important when a handy river runs right by the bothy as it does at Staoineag (and many others).

One more problem occasionally encountered in bothies is the presence of a large group who fill the bothy and leave no space for anyone else. It is bad manners at the very least to go to a bothy with a group large enough to fill it.

On one memorable occasion I arrived late in the evening at the bothy at Loch Chiarain only to find it jam-packed with a group of teenage schoolchildren - and I do mean jam-packed. There wasn't room to squeeze in anywhere. When I pointed this out to the group leader he simply shrugged his shoulders and said that the group had permission!

Permission or not, it is bad practice, bad manners and doesn't reflect well on the English public school that particular group were from. The organisers should have known better. On that occasion I had a tent with me so I camped outside and didn't push the point and this practice of large school groups going for a jolly on the Scottish hills only raises its ugly head during the warmer months!
Although remote this bothy is always popular and often full. Get there early and take a tent just in case!
Photograph by Paul Birrell/Geograph UK
So why do many bothiers persistently ignore the bothy code and leave their rubbish behind when they leave? Maybe it's a combination of ignorance and laziness. Maybe it's the attitude that ''it's someone else's rubbish - not mine'' or even ''the MBA will clear up the mess'' (yes, they will, but that's not the point).

Surely if you carry something in to a bothy then you are capable of carrying the leftovers out again! The motto of the hills Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints doesn't seem to apply to bothies!

Ok, I've already included this link but it's worth pressing the point. If you use bothies but don't know the bothy code then here's your chance to read it again.

Sources: Mountain Bothies Association; personal experience.


  1. I agree, you create trash. Use the proper means to dispose of it. Otherwise, take it with you. Do not over flow trash cans or trash sags. Do not leave more sitting by the side of it. Nature will get in and make a mess of the trash left out.

    I have no issues with big groups using them. As it is normal in America for families to have reunions, host religious groups, baptisms and other group related activities in them.

    1. Group use of a bothy is fine with me too but not to the extent that no-one else can find a space for the night.

  2. Do many people share these, say when several couples show up at the same time?

    1. It is common to find yourself sharing a bothy with complete strangers but, usually, they don't stay strangers for long. Conversations are started, information is exchanged about hills and routes etc., stories are told and comments, advice and other snippets are left in the bothy book which all bothies have.