/ The Demise of the Mountain Bothy - blog post
Last week I spent a night in Luibmaldruig bothy. Itís situated at the head of Glen Orrin, not too far from my home in inverness. Glen Orrin is a broad glen and the hydroelectric dam has created a loch within it running for several miles. The bothy is to be found on a small area of flat land just at the point the valley narrows and splits in two with one fork continuing and the other running a few miles towards the glen of Strathconnon, which was my route in. Walking in I saw no one and only the deer noticed my passing. They seemed surprised to see a human being at all and the bothy book revealed that only two other people had passed this way since the start of the year three months ago.
The bothy is a splendid place, one of the best bothies Iíve been to, and it could sleep thirty odd folk comfortably. There are two rooms with fire place and there is even a stable where you could leave your horse if you decided to ride in. Sad then, that as I read through the bothy book it became evident that the place had only had around 24 visits last year. The tradition of folk spending New Year in a bothy seems to have died out and, it appears from my visits to a variety of bothies, the large groups of folk from mountaineering clubs who used to invade bothies no longer trouble to make the trek. I wonder how long bothies will survive if the trend in their usage continues to decline. It will be harder and harder to justify spending money on bothies when they are only visited by a trickle of folk every year.
Read more here http://johndburns.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/the-demise-of-the-mountain-bothy/
Lightweight tents and (relative) affluence may be a part of the problem, but bothies can offer a hell of a lot that sleeping alone in your tent can't.
It is after all the estates responsibility to maintain thier own buildings. Yes individuals have fixed things here and there, with or without estate permission. Once they get beyond a needing little DIY its down to the estate, whom may for obvious reasons be reluctant to ask the MBA if they would consider adoption, and may not be willing to spend the cash themselves.
Interesting stuff, a couple of points. Is the signing in the bothy book a reliable witness to actual visits? I rarely sign them.
Most of my use of bothies over the last ten years have been as short stops on a longer journey, usually with a bike. They provide a great place for a rest for an hour or so especially when the weather is less than perfect.
For example on a recent day ride round the back of Lochaber we called in at Meanachan for a "fit the lights faff" before it got dark and then at the Lairig Leachan for a last nibble and general sort out before speeding down to Spean Bridge. Both bothies still look frequently used but admittedly both are perhaps in a more popular area.
Including Staoineag which we also passed on our route, there were 3 bothies and all were on our Plan B as places to make for if things went a bit "tits". That is another benefit and potential use of bothies and as good a reason as any other to hope they continue to be maintained.
One thing that could account for the quietness of this bothy is that no-one is aware that is is open. I certainly wasn't, so thanks for posting - it suddenly makes a northerly approach to the high Strathfarrar hills very appealing.
And regarding New Year, as the author seems a tad reticent I'll plug his rather good blog.
John seams to be on a one man crusade to let the world know where the lesser frequented NW bothies are......
I have to admit, my first thought was that I probably wouldn't go there if only because I couldn't see an obvious advantage over coming in from the road to the north (although I might be missing something).
"Because of over crowding and lack of facilities, large groups (6 or more) should not use a bothy nor camp near a bothy without first seeking permission from the owner."
It's always hard to identify an ongoing trend, incline or decline; but in my experience the 'honeypot' bothies on the throughfares and near the big hills have always been popular, and the quieter and lonelier bothies off the track (literally sometimes), or away from the obvious areas have always been quiet.
You'll struggle to find many days of the year - winter or summer - when there aren't parties in Corrour or Culra, and bothies such as Glengarrisdale and Maol Buidhe will mostly offer the single bothy-visitor a night of glorious solitude. I can remember visiting Coiremor bothy one winter time about fifteen years ago (a night of solitude, unsurprisingly). I returned about six months later and there was probably only about four or five bothy entries in the intervening period.
Long may this continue. It's good to know that company will probably be found if wanted at many bothies, and it's also good to know that a retreat can often be gained (but by no means guaranteed) at many bothies too.
As for revealing the location of non-MBA bothies, maybe not the best thing to do, but a winner for me on this occasion.
Ever thought about how that building is in the state that it is in?
They are a limited and fragile resource and we can all help look after them by following the traditions of bothying.
I do hope you have not done too much damage here. There are places where an article like this can have serious consequences.
...... we can all help look after them ..........>
Yes you can all help look after them ( I am talking about MBA bothies ). 1145 volunteer-days were spent doing just that in 2012.
I am M.O. of a popular one mentioned above - you may see what we did for you last year -
And you can see what we would like to do this year, but may now not do because I do not have sufficient volunteers. Why I do not know. The MBA ( which is a charity ) not only maintains its bothies, but has been improving their standard over the years, within the limits of its finances and now also within the labour available -
See the MBA website for what you can do by donating some of your time or money
More bothies are lost from over-use than from under-use.
Please don't go about publicising non-MBA bothies. And then publicising your publicising.
for dates of my own and many other workparties thoughout the Spring
My email is there.
And if you can't contribute with your labour, then you may donate on
The non MBA places are especially important as they do not tend to suffer the modern MBA practices as fitting dirt trap sleeping platforms and taking stairs out.
> More bothies are lost from over-use than from under-use.
> Please don't go about publicising non-MBA bothies. And then publicising your publicising.
Glad someone said this. Maybe John would consider being a bit more discrete when he publishes his blog.
Couldn't comment on any decline or otherwise as I don't use them that much, but of the two bothies I've used in the past eighteen months on Raasay and Rubha Hunish, both have had other parties staying in them when we've stayed there (bit of a squeeze at Rubha Hunish!) and both have been converted relatively recently (last ten years or so) into bothies.
Neither of these bothies can be said to be on the way to anywhere unlike the more traditional (declining?) mountain bothies. Certainly the one on Raasay takes a hell of an effort to get to. Seems that these hold a certain special attraction as destinations in their own right to 'get away from it all', rather than as a base to access/escape from the hills. Or maybe I was just lucky to find them already occupied.
I am not saying that there is not a place for non-MBA bothies - one of my favourites is such, and it has its own character.
However for a respected national organisation like the MBA to operate, it has to adhere to certain standards. If you have any particular points to make, please take them to your next area meeting.
I'm joint MO for a very popular bothy - Corrour - and am proud of the fact that so many people find it useful. Other bothies such as the Hutchison Hut have had a lot of money spent on them to bring them up to a decent standard and, quite frankly, if lots of people weren't using them, then that would be money down the drain.
So good luck to you John, you'll get no complaints from me. Bothies are there to be used and if they're not, well who's going to bother looking after them and why?
Finally gave up doing this, and my membership about a decade ago. Never comfortable with this organisation and some of the allegations of the 1990s, I left once they started advertising bothy locations online. Last of many straws.
This place is not one of your second class youth hostels... it is a private estate building. The equivalent of an MO is absolutely livid about this - err you know someone who spends his own time, labour and money keeping the building watertight etc. and I also understand that the estate may not be too chuffed either. Absolutely nothing to do with the MBA!
It is not a secret, but nobody has the right to advertise it either. Aggressive promotion may be the MBA's way now and best of luck to them but it is neither wanted nor helpful in this case.
Carry on, but there is a growing list of such buildings that are losing their roofs or gaining locks. It is a dwindling resourse and abusing it in this fashion is a cardinal sin.
By all means blab about bothies - there are about a 100 MBA clones to shout about. Leave the rest alone, so that they can continue to serve.
Remember these buildings are not maintained by a rich charity or the fairies but by hard working individuals and groups of friends. MBA stick to your empire and butt out!
You do seem to be very bitter about the MBA, whose members and MOs work very hard to provide a useful resource open to all. Your private bothy MO might work very hard, but the worth of his work, I would suggest is a lot less than the meanest of MBA bothies, so think twice before you slag off the MBA and the good work it does.
A case of if you can't beat them join them then?
Please don't go down the secrecy red herring route. Of course you can talk about it, but please understand that this is a route to damage and possible loss of the building. There is a difference between secrecy and "not advertising". This article is a misguided attempt to advertise a well looked after place whose maintainance is dependant on it being little used. It is very harmful.
There is no recognition in the article of the hard work and money put in, just an assumption that a building is just there, just there to be used. People who maintain these buildings privately do not have the resources of the MBA behind them and cannot take the work that promotion brings.
The MBA is not the only route - just as well given "standards". There is room and a need for both but care needs to be taken. This is not a turf war, some landowners are wary of the MBA for whatever reason, so these are bonus bothies. The fact that the structure and interiors are largely preserved is a big bonus now too and important.
As for bitterness - I personally invested a lot of time and money in a similar place only for it to be closed because the owners were fed up with heavy usage and online advertising. Many non MBA howffs have gone in my lifetime, abuse is a common cause of loss.
There are no secret bothies, this one has even been on the front cover of the Scots Magazine - knowledge has always been passed around by word of mouth and over modern communications. Advertising is another thing altogether.
Did the OP think of the owners when he advertised staying in somebody elses house?
I can certainly see some sense in your arguments, but I think the reaction to John's piece was a bit vehement (and probably ensured that more people read the post). I think there's a big difference between a blogpost such as his and 'advertising', which usually has a pecuniary element. And a statement like your last - "Did the OP think of the owners..." - as I said before, ALL bothies belong to the landowners so, no, John very probably didn't think about that, any more than I would think of the National Trust when recommending to someone that Corrour Bothy is a nice place to visit. It's not like John was inviting all and sundry to turn up at the guy's home with a rucksack and a carry out.
But enough's enough. If you don't want the bothy 'advertised' maybe we should all just drop it. Feel free to have the last word if you like, but I'm off to less contentious hills. Cheers.
and in case of any misconceptions by others
The MBA receives no public funding, and is not "rich"
Which is why I mentioned donations of time or money
The aim of the MBA is
" To maintain simple shelters in remote areas for the use and benefit of all who love wild and lonely places "
Many years ago, I joined the MBA. But discovered that they did not even tell their members what bothies they looked after or where they were. I didn't fancy subsidising other people's holidays so didn't renew my membership.
These days, members are allowed into the secret, so I rejoined and have been a member for a few years. Of course the list is also published on the web for non-members to see, with all the problems this can bring - but perhaps they just recognised that in the internet age, nothing remains secret for long. Googling information about the bothy mentioned in John's blog has 14 pages of results, only a dozen or so entries being links to the blog.
True, but you do have to know the name of the bothy in the first place before you can do the search.
If you google scottish bothy, or NW Bothies you will get loads of MBA offerings, and in amongst them blogs like John's occasionally giving details of others. If it wasn't for such blogs it would be word-of-mouth, which allows the teller to make a judgement if the recipient is likely to look after the place, and the knowledge. Which is impossible on the web.
Its alla far cry from when I saw a pen and ink drawing of a scene round a bothy fire entitled L*******g in a rummage bin of an Highland art shop. Gave me a clue, took another eight years before I both located, and finally got round to going. How times change, not secret, but not accessible either. You had to make an effort.
Like others posting above I know of a bothy close to the road, that if the cat came out of the bag and on to the internet it would probably spell curtains for that bothy. There is very little on the web about it, references so far have been entirely geographically sanitised.
Luckily these days making an effort involves rather less serendipity than seeing a drawing in a random shop!
Even now, checking out a new orange square on a map is usually exciting, will it "go" or not? Although geograph.org.uk has dented that game slightly.
> Glad someone said this. Maybe John would consider being a bit more discrete when he publishes his blog.
Visited luipmaldrig (and hector) a number of times over the years - what is striking is the solitude of the place and how well kept it is.
Please don't advertise non MBA bothies and howffs on the net.
A bit trickier if you're limited to a week each year in the Highlands, as I was then.
These days I use the map+google method, and have come up with several plans as a result - none of which have yet seen fruition :(
I was at the afore mentioned Bothy on millennium eve with 5 mates when a bunch of Students from the local Uni club arrived, they had bigger fireworks than us. Nice Bothy btw - got a picture of the interior hanging in my front room.
I've just checked this, my google results also has about 14pages. 99% of these are a directly the result of two people John and one other. All date from post 2010! I don't think you can claim that this bothy had a widespread net presence.
John and the other individual should reflect, if damage is done the two of them will most likely have been the enabling factor.
Well maybe you should put a notice on the doors of these 'bothies', because I have no wish to go where I'm not welcome.
For everyone else, though, I extend a very warm welcome to any of the bothies I've ever had a hand in helping at. Corrour, Scottie's, the Hutchie, Feshie, Ryvoan, Faindouran if it ever gets fixed again, Fords of Avon for all its diminutive size, Allt Sheachachan, Sheilin o Mark etc. These bothies are all maintained and kept open for everyone, and all the MBA (or Friends of Bob Scott's) asks is that commercial groups don't use them and that people respect the bothy. This is the bothy culture I'm proud of.
I was about to disagree with you about the search results as that's not what I saw earlier on - but checked just now and get the same as you. The mysteries of google ...
No one has said such bothies are for some and not others, I have never been taken aside by the 'in' crowd. After wandering and climbing around Scotland I have stumbled across some, deduced the location of others, and very occasionally been told of a location. There are no 'guardians' just concerned souls whom hope that no cause will be given for an estate to lock or bulldoze a bothy on their land. just the same as an a MO you hope no malicious damage befalls the bothy you help caretake.
Unfortunately recent history has shown that with popularity comes the risk that a minority will cause such abuse that even the resources, estate contacts, good will and negotiating skill collectively at the disposal of the MBA has not been enough to dissuade estates from closure.
I think we share similar passions, and interests, so it befits neither of us to come to verbal blows.
It is nothing to do with culture or being unfriendly, it is to do with the sustainability of a resource and the wishes of owners. Those of us who work on bothies outwith the MBA want places open for all too. How can we be the bar stewards you accuse us of - there are no locks!
Access to some of these buildings hangs by a thread - no internet advertising is an estate condition for one that I know. You have to chose between the continuing availability of some fine houses or your principles.
We have had too many closed now. No more please. There is an established tradition, kept going for nearly 20 years of not publicising indescriminately online private buildings that are left open as bothies. It developed for a very good reason. The info is out there, just do a wee bit of homework instead of being spoon fed.
Strong words OMR.
I'm not sure I see too much evidence to support this in this thread to be honest. Just a few folk expressing their concern that it might be counter productive to publicise and promote online the details of some non-MBA supported locations which could potentially lead to their closure.
The op's post does not match my experience, having encountered other bothy goers on three out of my last four trips. Only one of these was a popular bothy, and that on a midweek visit. One was to a non MBA bothy. For me the bothy experience is more often marred than enhanced by the presence of others, and I often carry a lightweight tent as insurance.
As a blogger I used to maintain a policy of making only cryptic reference to bothies, but when the MBA published the locations online a few years ago I dropped the pretence of secrecy and started referring to them directly.
I never refer to non MBA bothies and in this instance I wish that John Burns had adopted the same approach.
John a nice post on a bothy you clearly find special. If it makes you feel better then in my expereance the things you mention are not dieing out. I have certainly enjoyed a number of remote bothies, and in my experience bothies are still used and enjoyed by groups including at new years. Perhaps as a 24 year-old I can claim this is not something lost to an older generation?
Some shameful flac you've been given for posting this (perhaps to be expected here though). I can see arguments for and against making information available online (which lets be honest, having something that is there if you go looking for it aint really advertising is it?). I imagine a few people (not hords!) will read your posts and make use of this bothy. I doubt the sort of thugs who go round trashing them will notice...
Again I have to remind you that there are bothies out there which will be *closed* if given this treatment. Please take this seriously and remember the difference in behaviour required if not a mainstream MBA bothy. Please think of the 24 year olds of 2037 and leave them something.
There's a guide book to Scotland published in Germany and listing a small number of bothies, which explains the popularity of certain bothies with Germans.
Maybe the MBA needs to send them the full list?
Thanks to one of you for offering to help at a workparty at a popular bothy, but more workers are required
Although I understand your concerns I wonder what the 'correct' way is of passing (information about) bothies on to the next generation which allows them to be preserved, but also not to be limited to a handful of selected people who know of their existence.
Being of a similar age as Nic DW, when I think of my circle of friends, none of us have joined walking/climbing clubs after leaving university. Very few of us have family members who live in Scotland and enjoy walking or climbing. We know of quite a few bothies, but not many of them are non-MBA ones. What I'm trying to get at, is that I wonder whether my generation increasingly relies on the internet for information and less on 'conventional' channels such as mountaineering clubs or older family members taking them out.
I completely agree that it is a shame that bothies have been closed by landlords because they are over-used, but wouldn't it also be a shame if they are closed in X years time because people don't know of their existence anymore?
Hope you enjoyed the roughly 20kgs of coal we left due to a breakdown in communication! Perhaps it was already gone but as you say it was months between our visit and the previous one The bothy book there is a classic particularly Forbie's entries.
As for the old 'I could tell you but I'd have to kill you' crowd you might as well give up and save your blood pressure.
For the non-MBA bothies, word of mouth is often enough to ensure the balance between overuse and no maintenance at all. However, I fully understand the MBA's decision to put the grid refs of their bothies on their website, as people were going to these anyway and it is better to have an authoritative source with the bothy code prominent along with the details of the location, than to have people thinking that it's a free cottage and someone else will clean up after them. Bear in mind that maybe a dozen Scottish MBA bothies are used every weekend while the 90-odd others may only see one or two visitors a month.
I have been let into the secrets of a handful of private bothies and howffs over the years, and one reason that these are preserved is because those who use and maintain them are careful to inculcate their respect for the places in their initiates.
Having said that, a blog post which will only be stumbled across by a handful of folk, most of them sensible and respectful anyway is a bit different to holding up a placard in the middle of Inverness inviting all the local neds to a party in the bothy.
The most famously secret of the howffs in the cairngorms has a bloody obvious path leading right to its door from the estate track, and can be clearly seen from the neighbouring corbett. That it remains so immaculate is testament to the respect that the vast majority of hillgoers have for the efforts of the builders, as I'm sure it has been discovered many times by folk who weren't invited in on the secret.
At this rate it's not going to be secret for long...
It's OK, the decoy howff round the corner will entice and disappoint most...
Instead of having silly arguments, could those of you who use the popular MBA bothies like to explain why they do not volunteer to help in their maintainance
because I live several hundred miles away and would rather spend what little spare time I have in using the bothies rather than maintaining them. I am also crap at any sort of manual work, as you'd tell from one look at my house :-)
so the MBA get my money instead.
Are those of us who usually use the unpopular MBA bothies excluded from answering this? If so, why the separation?
I don't volunteer to help in the maintainance because of myriad reasons, chief of which are crap labour skills.
I've been a paid-up MBA member for over fifteen years. I became a member because I occasionally use them, so I felt I should contribute for such use, and the memberhsip fees asked are more than acceptable to me. If the bothies weren't there I would miss them, but not to the extent that I'd want to spend the time necessary to be out there in the field helping to maintain them.
If the bothies weren't there anymore then I'd be sorry, but I'd adjust quite easily. And I'd do just what I used to do when sleeping out in the wilds before I knew of many of the locations of the bothies or was a member.
And your tone just invites the "silly arguments" you ask against. If you don't like the idea of bothy-users not contributing manually to their upkeep, why not do something positive and productive about it? Membership swipe-cards, turnstiles and MBA-cum-CIC huts on every other hillside might be the things you might want to raise at AGMs? Or maybe you'd rather just trollingly post on internet forums?
I wasn't mocking anyone. I was taking umbrage at a message that asks users of bothies to "explain" why they use them, but don't assist with maintainance. The money I pay as a member, and the encouragement I have given to others to become members, is, of course, partly from gratitude to those who do have the skills and put the time in to maintain the bothies. The tone I perceived in the post was that individuals such as myself who do so, are not putting in what they should.
As I mentioned at the end of my reply, if one believes (perhaps quite reasonably) that only those who assist with the maintainance of bothies should then use them, there are more constructive ways of achieving that end.
I'm willing to bet that a great many people in the walking/climbing community (for we are all fine minded people) do some sort of community/voluntary service/giving up their own time type thing.
I don't help maintain bothies (although i have tidied them and carried out other people's rubbish) but I have stayed in them. I could see why someone might reasonably say why should you stay in one if you don't help out. my answer would be that i do other things in my life in my spare time to help others for no renumeration and one day you might benefit from that.
A bit 'big societyish' for my own liking maybe but thats how the world goes round.
Incidentally, for anyone who is put off solely by the fact they can't hammer nails straight, (and I know there are many other reasons people don't come - I'm not having a go) work parties can make use of unskilled people too, whether it's helping to dig out a drainage channel or making cups of tea. All the ones I've been on have been great fun events.
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