As you may already know, bothies are little stone buildings scattered across the vast and remote wilds of Scotland, left empty and unlocked for any walkers wishing to stay overnight. There’s no fee and no booking. All you need is an appetite to get there with all the belongings you need on your back – bothies are often positioned far from roads and car access – and to expect to share with whichever strangers have chosen to do the same. Many of these building are maintained by The Mountain Bothies Association and are basic but charming, with fires for cooking and bunk beds for sleeping in. Their remoteness also means the locations of bothies tend to be absolutely stunning. For those of you thinking, ‘I like the idea, but the strangers….’ we’ve found some alternative, bookable beauties for you to start planning your own personal winter escapes. Admittedly, they have a few more mod cons thrown in too.
Shepherd’s Cottage, Eilean Shona
Eilean Shona is a magical island owned by Vanessa Branson, in the rugged and remote Moidart region of the west coast of Scotland. A place where J M Barrie once holidayed and is rumoured to have provided the inspiration for Neverland. To get there, you have to be collected from the mainland by boat, then escorted to one of the eight cottages dotted around in hidden corners. Included, is the recently refurbished and off-grid Shepherd’s Cottage (pictured). Here, water comes from the spring and the fridge, lighting and cooking is all run off gas. There are no cars allowed anywhere on the island – or indeed can access it – and a small village hall, 45 minutes’ walk from Shepherd’s cottage, acts as a games room and communal space for all guests. It’s the only place on the island with wi-fi, which helps to make it feel like you’re having a true escape from life. If you’re lucky you might spot otters, seals and pine martens. You’ll definitely see a stag, either wondering past your cottage window (as your writer has experienced) or galloping in a pack across the hills. It’s a pretty authentic bothy experience, give or take the chi-chi bathroom and kitchen, and far comfier bed.
Images by B Cox, Eilean Shona.
Sweeney’s Bothy, Eigg
A bothy in name and nature in all but the sharing-with-strangers part. Sweeney’s Bothy on the Isle of Eigg was designed by architect Iain MacLeod, artist Bobby Niven and artist Alec Finlay as part of Creative Scotland’s Year of Natural Scotland 2013. Cute and cosy on the inside, it’s surrounded by Scotland’s best wilderness in all shades of rust and positioned to take in the views over to Rum. The bed is essentially a grown up bunk built over the living space with its tiny kitchen, library, stove and table. The outdoor shower uses water heated by solar panels on the roof, but don’t worry, there’s also a back boiler in the stove for when the sun isn’t up to it (this is Scotland after all!). Instead of a fridge there’s a cool box filled with ice, so at Sweeney’s you’ll get a proper bothy experience, albeit a very nicely designed one.
Images by Allan Pollok-Morris
The Crofter’s House, Isle of Skye
The one with the most mod cons, The Crofter’s House is located next to Camustianavaig Bay on the Isle of Skye. An original 1830’s crofter’s cottage, it has been lovingly reworked by owner Sarah Chesworth into a cosy Highland retreat complete with a wood burning stove, WiFi, TV and sound system, plus a library of DVDs and design books. This is a place where you can hole up in easy comfort, but with seals, otters and sea eagles as your neighbours on the nearby beach, you may choose not to. The house is also positioned at the foot of Ben Tianavaig, just one of many walking opportunities on the island. With the village of Portree five miles away, you can also hit the shops and restaurants if you want to step outside the peace and quiet for a moment.
Images by @haarkon