Bothies lock their doors and charge for stays amid surge in visitors, stag parties and publicity

For those in the know, bothies have provided shetler and often a warm glow of company in some of Scotland’s wildest spots.

Now it would appear bothy culture is at risk as the simple shelters – often disused shepherd’s hut without running water or electricity – become “destinations” for those seeking a free night in the wild.

A rise in bothy visitors has led to reports of stag parties, vandalism and tree-chopping with their popularity being pushed, in part, by books such as The Bothy Bible, and a rash of articles on these long off-radar places.

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Two bothies - An Cladach on Islay and Peanmeanach at Ardnish - have withdrawn from the Mountain Bothies Association, a charity which maintains the buildings and an open-door ethos.

An Cladach bothy on Islay is now closed and will re-open next year with a booking system after several issues caused by rising visitor numbers. PIC: Contributed.
An Cladach bothy on Islay is now closed and will re-open next year with a booking system after several issues caused by rising visitor numbers. PIC: Contributed.

Both bothies will now be accessed by key and will charge for overnight stays.

Peter Stewart –Sandeman, owner of the Ardnish Estate, said: “Visitor numbers at Peanmeanach got unsustainable. Sometimes there would be 30 people there and it would be used as a free stag party venue.

“Traditionally, the location of bothies would be passed down word-of-mouth to someone you trusted.

“There are now lists of bothies out there on the internet and books such as The Bothy Bible, which generated a lot of articles. Unfortunately, it just sucked in the wrong sort of person.”

Peanmeanach Bothy at Ardnish, which will now only be accessed by key after reports of stag parties and vandalism. PIC: Getty/Beth Bellamy.

Peanmeanach Bothy will now charge £50 a night for six people at the weekend and £40 for week nights.

Mr Stewart-Sandeman said: “I know who is there and I have their bank details, should there be a problem.”

David Gillies, manager of Dunlossit Estates on Islay, said a booking system would be introduced at An Cladach from next year, with 50 per cent of proceeds going to MBA.

He added: “The publication of The Bothy Bible came almost at the same time as bothies were appearing in the press as great places to go that didn’t cost anything.

“Instead of them being used as a shetler if people were out walking, they started to become more like destinations.

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"Sometimes people would arrive, it would be full, and they would have to walk out again. It’s a three-hour journey on foot. Now we’ll know who is there.”

A list of guests would now be available for emergency services, he added.

Geoff Allan, author of The Bothy Bible, said it was “very, very sad” the bothies had withdrawn from the MBA.

He said: "I have been bothying since the 1980s and I just wanted to share my knowledge - the book was very much written from the heart."

“There are numerous articles about bothies but really I have become a lightning rod for all the negatives, all the anti-social behaviour, all the littering.

"The key element is there is a bothy code. Respect the bothy, respect the landowner, respect the other people you meet.

"Bothies have always been a destination and now this has caught the imagination of more people, not just the Munroists or the hardcore adventurer."

A spokesman for the MBA said it was grateful for the generosity of the two bothy owners and “fully accepted” their decision.

He said a key task of the organisation was to promote responsible use of bothies amid the increased publicity.

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