What is a bothy?

bothy (pronounced both-ee) — A small hut or cottage in the wilderness that’s usually unlocked and open for anyone to use for free.

You might have wondered what that is after recent news headlines featured a family rescued by the “Hogwarts Express” steam train of Harry Potter movies after they were stranded at a remote bothy in the Scottish Highlands.

The Scottish Bothy Bible book

Jon and Helen Cluett and their four children were staying at the Essan bothy on Loch (Lake) Eilt, about 130 miles northwest of Glasgow. After their canoe was swept away by a swollen river, the Cluetts called the police, which arranged for the train to pick them up, according to a BBC news report.

A bothy — also called a byre, or cowshed — is a rustic place to rest tired feet or sleep, sheltered from the wind and rain that pummels much of Scotland. The Mountain Bothies Association maintains about 100 of these basic shelters in remote areas across Great Britain.

For Americans, bothies are similar to the Appalachian Mountain Club huts available for rests or overnight lodging along part of the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail.

Similarly in Scotland, it’s popular to sleep or rest at bothies along multi-day walks and hikes. Each bothy differs slightly, but they usually do not have water or a toilet. Most bothies have a fireplace or stove, but no fuel; some have a sleeping platform or a table.

Doune bothy, Scotland, GoogleMaps
The location of Doune bothy, or byre, where I rested tired feet. (GoogleMaps)

A new book, The Scottish Bothy Bible, reveals the location of 80 bothies across the country’s boggy, forested and mountainous terrain.

On a recent trip to Scotland, Doune bothy on the northeast shore of Loch Lomond in the Central Highlands (see photo at top) was a welcome respite after a tough stretch of a 17-mile hike on a rainy day. My traveling companion and I shared the one-room stone cottage with a fireplace, table and sleeping platform with three men from Germany.  Four other people stopped by as we were leaving.

The Bothy Code simply requests that users respect the shelter, other visitors, the surroundings, agreements with private estates and restrictions on numbers.

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