A night at Over Phawhope bothy in Scotland
I do love a bothy. These snug little mountain huts are found in hilly country across Britain, and are free for hikers and cyclists to shelter and sleep in. Bothies range from very basic stone huts to positively palatial former cottages – and I reckon bothies don’t get much better than Over Phawhope in the Scottish Highlands.
I didn’t have lots of time to plan a multi-day adventure this time I was in Scotland, but really wanted a night in a bothy after a few years of opting for wild camping instead, as most bothies were closed to the public during lockdown. Over Phawhope, which is managed by the Mountain Bothy Association, is a lot more accessible than many bothies miles from the madding crowds – you can hike just a mile from a road to reach it. Despite its easy access, though, I found this charming stone house had been carefully looked after by its previous visitors – as evidenced by a fat log book full of notes from happy hikers who had spent the night there.
Unlike some purpose-built mountain shelters, this roomy bothy was once a home – to William Laidlaw and his wife Bessie Scott in the early 18th century. William apparently smuggled a bit of brandy and could chat to fairies (two traits that I think must be related…). These days, it’s a snug and simple spot to sleep, kept in good nick by the good people of the Mountain Bothy Association.
Inside is a delight. There’s a large sitting room complete with – praise be – a sofa, plus a sturdy little wood-burning stove. Lovely souls had left candles, tinned food and even some hiking guidebooks there, as well as chopping up extra wood for the fire. I added to the wood pile and left some firelighters. There are two simple but snug wood-planned bunkrooms at Over Phawhope – I took the dinkier one, which fits a single person. I spent the afternoon sawing logs into manageable chunks that I could feed to the fire, reading my book by the light of the flames, and making a cup of tea over the stove.
I also discovered the one thing Over Phawhope didn’t have – a corkscrew. Reader, I had brought a bottle of wine with a cork in it. I spent half an hour carving the cork out with a knife, and ended up triumphantly drinking a nice Pinot Noir with cork bits floating in it from a cracked china mug. Like most things consumed after a day in the wild, it tasted wonderful.
As the light was fading, another hiker turned up the bothy. Unlike the last time I was joined by a stranger in a bothy, I didn’t think this one was a ghost. Alan was a lovely man hiking the Southern Upland Way, and he joined me for a glass of cork-flavoured wine and a chat and then we went off to sleep in the two bunkrooms. I often get raised eyebrows when I say that I’ll happily sleep in a bothy alone, but I’ve never felt scared when solo bothying. I reckon I’m much more likely to end up in danger on a city street late at night than in a snug little bothy frequented only by fellow hikers.
Please bothy responsibly by following the bothy code – leave bothies clean and tidy, leave no trace of your visit and be respectful of other users.