Hill Culture Contemplation

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The Hutchison Memorial Hut, colloquially called the Hutchie Hut, illuminated by moonlight in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park. Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times

How did Stephen Hiltner know? I was just looking through photos from the 2009 edition of the Patagonia Expedition Race, and remembering the huts along the way. They were perfect places to escape the realities of the rest of the world, in order to contemplate more clearly. With perspective. They could come in handy for plenty of folks these days, I am sure. Seems certain to me now that those huts at the southern tip of the South American continent were built by folks from the hills sampled in the story below:

In Britain, Enraptured by the Wild, Lonely and Remote

Rustic shelters called bothies — more than 100 of which are scattered throughout England, Wales and Scotland — are an indispensable, if little-known, element of British hill culture.

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Warnscale Head at night. Since bothies are often built with local stones, they’re easily camouflaged in their surrounding landscapes. Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times

 

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Shenavall Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times

By the time the tiny hut came into view, nestled high in a corrie in Scotland’s 1,748-square-mile Cairngorms National Park, I’d trekked for nearly nine miles, three of which, regrettably, I’d had to navigate after nightfall. The hike, through a broad valley in the Eastern Highlands called Glen Derry, carried me past groves of Scots pines and over a series of streams, some of which, lined with slick steppingstones, made for precarious crossings. All the while, two rows of smooth, eroded mountain peaks enclosed me in an amphitheater of muted colors: hazel-hued heather, golden grasses. Though much of my walk was solitary, the flickering glow in the hut’s main window, I knew, meant I’d have some company for the night and the warmth of a fire to greet me.

My overnight home, the Hutchison Memorial Hut, colloquially called the Hutchie Hut, which I visited in late October, is one of more than 100 rustic shelters scattered throughout England, Wales and Scotland that are frequented by a motley assortment of outdoor adventurers. Left unlocked, free to use and with most offering little more than a roof, four walls and perhaps a small wood-burning stove, the buildings, called bothies (rhymes with “frothy”), are an indispensable — if for many years underground — element of British hill culture.

A vast majority of bothies are repurposed structures — crofters’ homes, shepherds’ huts, mining outbuildings — that have been salvaged from various states of disrepair by the Mountain Bothies Association, a charitable organization founded in 1965 whose aim is “to maintain simple shelters in remote country for the use and benefit of all who love wild and lonely places.” Some, like Warnscale Head in England’s Lake District, date to the 1700s. Collectively, since they came into recreational use in the 1930s as weekend getaways (sometimes used clandestinely) for working-class laborers, bothies have given rise to a unique culture that values communal respect for fellow visitors, for the bothies themselves and for the land on which they’re situated.

But bothy culture, some longtime proponents fear, is imperiled by a generation unaccustomed to shrewdly guarded secrets. Map coordinates for the often hard-to-find dwellings, once dispersed only among hiking insiders, are now available openly on the internet. Popular hashtags have helped create something of a buzz on Instagram, where bothies are sometimes presented, misguidedly, as an alternative to Airbnb rentals. (The bothy code unequivocally prohibits the use of bothies for commercial purposes, and discourages their use by large groups.) A hugely popular and impressively researched guide, “The Scottish Bothy Bible,” published in 2017, lines shelves in stores throughout the U.K., the first of many bothy guides to achieve a kind of mainstream success. It, too, has increased foot traffic…

Read the whole story here.

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