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Forward

A whiff of smoke on the chilly air is often the first sign. Then a faint glimmer of light floats in the darkness ahead. A hundred yards further through crisp snow and the beam of my headtorch picks out a chimney, stone walls, a single glowing window, thick with condensation. My journey’s end.

Approaching the wooden door, which I know is not locked, is exciting and slightly scary. Who will I meet in this little cottage, far from anywhere? Will I be welcome? Will I find a warm reception, a spot to sit by the fire, a space to roll my sleeping mat and bed down for the night? I hesitate on the cold stone step.

A couple of hours later, my belly is full and a mug of steaming tea is cradled on my lap. Leaning back in a rickety old chair I soak in the atmosphere of this cosy little space. Coal smoke, food cooking over camping gas, the clump of boots on wooden boards. Sleeping bags, socks and mitts hanging on a line, the soft, earthy smell of the building itself. My new friends pass me a bottle of whisky, while around the room candles burn gently in the necks of already empty bottles, each testament to a night like this one past.

Strangers who would be unlikely to exchange the merest greeting on the city street, share talk of politics, tales of mountain epics, and wax lyrical on the wild places of this land. Food that has been carried many country miles is shared around. Later on perhaps a guitar comes out, or maybe a moothie, and the evening passes in a warm fug of song, laughter and chat until the candles finally gutter, the flames fade in the grate and the room is lit only by a red ember glow.

Set in a wonderfully diverse landscape, the bothies of Scotland are something quite unique, a resource to be cherished and shared. And, inhabited by a similarly unique and diverse range of characters, they are sure to offer the traveller an experience that is both stimulating and memorable. Geoff Allan is just the kind of character one might hope to meet in a bothy. I am fortunate to count Geoff as a close friend and together we have shared many unforgettable bothy days and nights. This guidebook is a labour of love, and an engaging and extraordinarily detailed reference work. It is the result of many years of research and travel and is Geoff’s ode to our bothy heritage. It is also a fine testament to some of the most beautiful and life-enriching wild lands of Scotland. I hope this book will inform and inspire, and contribute to the preservation and growth of our incredible bothy network. 

Jamie Andrew OBE is an international mountaineer, quadruple amputee, and motivational speaker 

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Bothy Walks is a natural companion to my first book, the Scottish Bothy Bible. In this volume, I showcase some of the best bothies in the country, setting out a range of short hikes, mountain climbs and multi-day expeditions using these unique shelters as a focal point. Over the last two years I have eagerly retraced my steps around the bothy network, checking out routes for inclusion here, and adding a raft of new images to my photographic archive. My aim has been to tempt you out into Scotland's rugged and beautiful landscape, whatever your level of ability. The walks range from a stroll along the cliffs above Rackwick Bay to the Old Man of Hoy on the Orkney Archipelago, to a challenging traverse of the 'Bad Step' on Skye. As well as including all the essential technical details, each entry offers a taste of what makes the area special, from its unique geology, wildlife and flora, to the intriguing history and culture of its people. And there are a few personal reminiscences along the way...

Much thought has been invested in choosing the walks in this guide. You will find routes that not only range over the whole of Scotland, but are also suitable for a broad spectrum of fitness levels and experience. I have included a mix of day walks and multi-day adventures, and have been conscious not to create itineraries that are too contrived or that replicate suggestions in other Scottish walking books. All the day walks return to the same location, whether circular or there-and-back, so there is no requirement for two cars or an anxious hitch-hike to retrieve a vehicle. It is also important to emphasize that each bothy is a worthy objective in itself, as well as a base from which to climb mountain tops or explore additional places of interest. On a dreich morning or a lazy sunny afternoon I have often set out to visit a bothy just to have a look around. Happiness comes from the satisfaction of having a simple objective combined with the opportunity to venture off the beaten track.

Enjoy the descriptions of the walks and the photographs that accompany them. Hopefully they will inspire you to make your own journeys and build lasting relationships with the bothies and mountains that I know and love.

Introduction

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I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) for their fine work maintaining bothies throughout the UK, and the dedicated volunteers who carry out repair work. They are the unsung heroes. I would encourage anyone interested in putting a little bit back into bothy culture to join the organisation. 

©2021 Geoff Allan.