Cyclist’s four-year quest to chart all of Scotland’s 81 bothies

Glen Garrisdale bothy
Glen Garrisdale bothy
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HE HAS spent four years ­venturing into Scotland’s ­wilderness areas to chart all 81 of its official bothies.

Now Edinburgh-based artist Geoff Allan, 45, is about to complete a mammoth project for which he has taken more than 10,000 pictures, which have been documented on a blog and which he hopes to publish as a book.

Geoff Allan at the Ben Alder bothy

Geoff Allan at the Ben Alder bothy

Allan, whose “Bothies on a Bike” challenge comes to an end next month at Eskdalemuir Forest, in Dumfriesshire, makes a point of only using public transport and his bike to visit the bothies.

The epic odyssey was inspired after the former surveyor, who has been venturing into the Highlands since moving to Edinburgh from Suffolk to study geography, had to sell off his car four years ago.

Allan, who specialises in collage art, dreamt up the idea of creating work out of Scotland’s most remote landscapes, then realised that no-one had properly chronicled the network of bothies before.

He has been determined to complete his challenge this year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA), which maintains and promotes all 81 shelters.

Sourlies bothy

Sourlies bothy

Largely built originally for farm labourers and estate workers, all MBA bothies are kept unlocked and are available for anyone to use.

The MBA describes staying in a bothy as “camping without a tent”, with little more than a sleeping platform provided, and has a code of conduct to limit environmental damage and disruption to the work of estates or farms.

Allan admits his project has been a lengthy labour of love, but says this is down to his determination to capture each location at its best.

He told Scotland on Sunday: “The reason I’ve now got such a good archive of photos is that every time I have gone out in good weather. I usually just look at the Met Office website and wait for a window.

“I feel like I’ve rediscovered Scotland by bike. It’s been a necessity as I don’t have a car.

“There’s something about the peculiar combination of things that Scotland has. The beauty of the place, the light, the access to the hills and the fact that it’s not dangerous in terms of wildlife.”

Despite some reductions in public transport, including the loss of several postbus services in the Highlands, Allan has noticed a marked increase in the use of bothies, particular in the summer months.

He added: “Some bothies get fewer than 500 visitors a year, and in the winter some of them can go for months without an entry in the bothy book.

“The condition of bothies is getting better and there has actually been a surge in renovations and refurbishments in recent years. Some are a bit more rough and ready than others, but each one has a maintenance officer, and they are all guaranteed to be wind and watertight.

“There are other non-MBA bothies which are out there, which may be run privately, or are not maintained at all.

“Some of them are like little secrets. There is probably the same number again. I am always hearing about new ones.”