Bothy adventure in Argyll

Fraser Smith lives in Dunoon and spends most of his free time enjoying the great outdoors exploring the hills, lochs and shoreline of Cowal. He’s been known to make a summit and return in time for work at 9am. He writes about it all in his blog In his posts he’ll share his knowledge about cycling, walking, kayaking and wild camping in Cowal.

Fraser Smith

A bothy is a simple shelter or mountain refuge and they offer a great alternative to camping. The Mountain Bothy Association (MBA) maintain many bothies throughout the UK, primarily in Scotland. There are two bothies within Cowal.

Historically the MBA kept the locations of bothies at close guard, with information on their location only to be released to subscribed members. More recently they have chosen to publicise their bothies in the hope more members will sign up and attend work parties to carry out tasks from general maintenance to full refurbishments.

In most cases, while the bothies remain the property of the landowner the MBA maintains them. Most MBA bothies are open all year although can be subject to restriction during stalking season and other times.

Cowal, Mid Argyll, Islay, Jura, Mull and Lorn all have at least one bothy each. Cowal has the latest addition to the MBA portfolio, a bothy located in Glen Kinglas named Abyssinia. Abyssinia has recently undergone extensive refurbishment, transforming it from a shell to a habitable building. In addition, Cowal is also home Mark Cottage on the shore of Loch Long.

As bothies are open to all, you could be the only one visiting or you may be one of many. You never know who you'll meet at a bothy! Depending on how you feel this could be a good or a bad thing; an open mind is probably the best attitude. Over the years I’ve visited lots of bothies and have made some firm friends, met the Dutch army on exercise and shared a room with a vigilante from Channel 4's Hunted and his film crew!

Every bothy is different. Some have open fires, some have stoves and some have no heating at all. Some have raised sleeping platforms or even bunk beds, book cases, rustic tables, benches and random chairs – every bothy is unique. There is no running water or electricity (just like camping), so the usual water and stove should be carried as well as the standard provisions. If the bothy is equipped with a fire or stove it's usually advantageous to take in some fuel, as trying to scavenge suitable wood can be problematic if scarce or wet. Bothies are generally furnished with a saw but these tend to be in a 'used' condition.

The remote locations of the bothies are a huge attraction. Reaching bothies is all part of the adventure. Some are easily reached and some can be similar to an expedition as terrain has to be negotiated and rivers crossed. Travel by foot, bike or even boat! No matter how you get there the feeling of achievement is the same.

When you are approaching a bothy, you can normally see if someone is in residence by the plume of smoke from the chimney. The noise of the latch as the door swings open. The shelter from the elements. The lighting of the fire. Dinner cooked on your stove. Light supplied by various candles. A dram around the fire – an Argyll bothy is the perfect place to be.

The bothy code it to leave the bothy as good as you found it if not better, removing all rubbish and leaving any surplus fuel for the next visitor.