Bothy vandalism – part of the social history of the hills?

Bothy vandalism is a deplorable act, the sort of behaviour that can lead ultimately to the closure of a remote upland refuge. Indeed, before the establishment of the Mountain Bothies Association in the 1960s, many of Scotland’s informal post-war bothies – abandoned estate lodges, uninhabited shepherds’ cottages and the like adopted by walkers and climbers – declined to the point of no return as a result of irresponsible visitors ripping up floor boarding or hauling off wooden paneling to burn on the fire.

Another blight on the bothy was – and still is – the carving of names and initials into timber beams and walls. A bothy book, it seems, is not enough for some who wish to etch evidence of their passage.

All of which leaves me in something of a quandary about sharing the photograph above which I unearthed while sifting through boxes in the hunt for some documentation I had ‘carefully’ filed away. It was taken at Bynack Stable in either 1987 or 1988, if memory serves, and shows a sign attached to the front of the corrugated iron shack.

Erected by Abernethy Estate, it informed passing walkers that while the hut was private property, they were free to shelter within its tin walls if the weather was bad. As seems to be the way, over time, some decided to leave their mark, carving their names or initials into the board rather than heed its advice.

Sadly draughty Bynack Stable is no more. Flattened by a gale in 2004, what remained was removed and the bothy was never replaced. I cannot help but think, however, that with Bynack Stable gone, images like this form an integral part of the social history of such places.

They record the passing of souls through the hills, the adoption of remote buildings as places to shelter from a storm or spend a night in the great outdoors and, ultimately, their importance in the development of outdoor recreation in Scotland.

And I am not alone in this. In April 2020, I wrote an article about Creag-choinnich Lodge, a rather forlorn cottage perched on the western flank of Carn Liath, near Blair Atholl.

In its day, it afforded shelter to the Duke of Atholl and his well-heeled guests, drawn to the coires of Beinn a’Ghlo, one of the most magnificent mountain ranges in Highland Perthshire, by the hunting and shooting. In a tradition not quite as old as the hills, when the estate turned its back on the old cottage, it became a bothy.

Today, the building is in a sorry state, windows and door long gone, the slate roof pocked with holes and great cracks splitting the stonework.

After the piece was published, I was contacted by a chap from Strathtummel who slept regularly in the old lodge, describing it as a ‘good bothy’ up about 30 years ago. Thereafter it fell into disrepair as a result of people burning the woodwork.

With the bothy breathing its last, local farmer John Cameron, of Monzie, rescued the front door, covered in graffiti dating back a century, and installed it at the Country Life Museum where, preserved, it forms an important part of the history of the Atholl hills.