This week’s dream
From hut to hut in the Scottish Highlands
I was hiking after nightfall, exhausted and cold, when in the near distance appeared the flickering glow of a window, said Stephen Hiltner in The New York Times. The light, I knew, “meant I’d have some company for the night,” as well as the warmth of a fire to greet me. The hut, which sits in a mountainside hollow in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park, is one of more than 100 such rustic shelters scattered throughout Scotland, England, and Wales. Known as bothies, they are free to use for any adventurer—at least any willing to share. At the Cairngorms hut, three fellow travelers greeted me at the door, and when I offered them my firewood, they offered me whiskey. “Within minutes, buoyed by tales of our sundry mishaps on the way up the mountain, the four of us were strangers no more.”
Bothies (pronounced with a short o) “have given rise to a unique culture,” a culture built on respect for the land they stand on. Most of the structures are old shepherd’s huts and mining outbuildings that have been repurposed and are now maintained by the nonprofit Mountain Bothies Association. They offer casual explorers a way to see Britain’s “perpetually awe-inspiring” hills, lakes, and heaths—places that are often impractical to reach on day hikes. Across two weeks in Scotland, I visited 20 bothies and slept in 12. On the nights that didn’t involve communal revelry by a fireplace, I often found and read one of the notebooks that other lodgers had filled with advice. That’s how I learned, for example, that peat burns best in palm-size bits.
Some caretakers worry that bothy culture is imperiled by the age of GPS and Instagram. Fortunately, the bothy lifestyle is “not for everyone.” I trekked 200 miles across two weeks and “battled squally winds, dispiriting cold, blinding rain, and seemingly impenetrable bogs”—sometimes only to reach dwellings that, by most modern standards, are “ill-suited for human occupancy.” I loved the experience, but I came to believe that I belong to a very small fraternity. As one endearing log entry put it: “Last here 50 years ago. Nothing much has changed.”
The Bothies Association (mountainbothies.org.uk) provides maps and other helpful resources.
Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times/Redux, Guntû