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    Scotland’s Great Bothies

    Once a refuge for shepherds and fishermen, “bothies” now provide haven for travelers in some of Scotland’s most remote terrain. Ben Mervis discovers their rustic allure.

    Travel through Scotland’s ranging, magisterial landscapes and you’ll inevitably come across the rustic cottages and historic crofts known to locals as “bothies.” They’re typically the most basic of shelters—offering a roof overhead and a hearth to keep warm by. Traditionally, they’re available free of charge or by reservation, but require skill and a keen eye to find.

    In centuries past, bothies were home to gamekeepers, shepherds, farmers, and fishermen. Now they provide a welcome refuge to intrepid hikers and travelers enjoying the Scottish “right to roam” and seeking a measure of tranquillity amid remote glens, on craggy cliffs, or by beautiful lakes.

    Credit: Mountain Bothy Association.


    In Cape Wrath, at Scotland’s northwesterly edge, cormorants, puffins, and kittiwakes breed on the same cliffs that Vikings used for navigation more than a thousand years ago. A short walk from there is a secluded cove with its own whitewashed bothy and pristine beach. This is Kearvaig bothy, a former hunting lodge built in the late 1800s when the area was home to crofting communities, shepherds, and fishermen—now all long gone.

    The living quarters of the cottage are generous, with an old parlor, adjoining apartment, and attic rooms. Seasonal visits offer vastly different experiences: rise early in summer to let the waves slowly lap at your feet, or venture here in autumn to find solitude by the granite hearth.

    Credit: Peter Aylmer, & Mountain Bothy Association.


    Not many vistas compare with the one enjoyed from rocky Glencoul, where a bothy sits at the heart of a dramatic geological thrust and on the banks of its own private glacier-carved loch. To reach it you’ll follow faint trails or sidle up to a river crossing, but venture north with a kayak or canoe and you might opt to paddle across the quiet loch instead.

    The bothy itself is a simple two-room cottage built in the 1880s as a family home for the Duke of Westminster’s estate keeper, John Elliot. Here and on the surrounding green pastures John’s wife Margaret tended a flock of sheep and a sty of pigs for meat, churned the family’s butter, and prepared cheese from cow’s milk; meanwhile John, a deer stalker, roamed the path leading to Glendhu (“Black Glen”) which was—and still is—abundant with red deer and roe deer.

    Credit: Andrew Ridley.


    This tiny, well-appointed bothy is tucked away on Inshriach, a quirky woodland farm with its own gin distillery and general store. The Artist Bothy was built in 2012 as a retreat for creatives in the heart of Cairngorms National Park, and can now be rented by the public during parts of the year.

    After you arrive on the property, Inshriach farm attendees drive you across several sheep paddocks before reaching the remote edge of this 200-acre woodland estate. The bothy is the picture of rustic calm with tall windows, a wood-fired stove, a curated bookcase, and a cozy lofted bed dressed with fresh linen.

    A necessary outing from Inshriach is the Potting Shed, a storybook tea-and-cake retreat set like a treehouse among tall pines. A panoramic row of windows at the café’s rear peer out on colorful gatherings of birds and red squirrels.

    Credit: Ben Mervis.


    A modern take on the bothy, these new-build cottages are the overnight accommodation for guests at one of Scotland’s most impressive restaurants, Inver, on the shores of Loch Fyne. In addition to running water and electricity each bothy boasts a bookcase full of classic paperback reads and vinyl records, with large floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the mossy ruin of Old Castle Lachlan.

    Early each morning breakfast is delivered to the bothy in picnic baskets: sweet Scottish pastries and homemade sourdough bread, farm eggs, fresh squeezed juices, along with Inver’s own butter and seasonal preserves.

    A well-trodden loch-side path offers an idyllic walking trail for a sunny day, past an eighteenth century castle and towards a shoreline that teems with life. Back at the restaurant, chef Pamela Brunton and partner Rob Latimer offer a relaxed take on progressive dining. Here they serve the best ingredients in Scotland’s larder—particularly its seafood and shellfish, fresh from the loch just outside—and work hard to invigorate the traditional comforts of Scottish dining.

    Credit: Far Closer, Flickr.


    Eagle’s Nest is hidden on a craggy perch of the faraway Isle of Lewis; a humble undertaking of wood and stacked stone with peerless views of the Atlantic Ocean.

    The hut is a cozy fit. Remote and elemental in its furnishings, Eagle’s Nest features a raised platform for sleeping and a wood fireplace underneath small skylights. Here, alone at the end of the world, you’ll drift off to the rush of waves crashing against cliff walls and the call of seabirds—your nearest westward neighbor for 4,000 miles.

    Ben studied medieval history in Glasgow and London before going on to work at world-renowned restaurant noma in Copenhagen. He is the editor of Fare, a bi-annual print publication exploring city culture through the intersection of food, history, and community. Ben works as a food writer, and a researcher and industry expert, most notably with the Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table.

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