Thursday, November 24, 2011

Welsh Bothies

Nant Rhys

There are eight mountain bothies in Wales. All but one is maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association, which has care of over 100 across the UK - the majority in Scotland.  Bothies are simple shelters, located in wild places, most usually at a distance from other accommodation - typically, they are old farm buildings, shepherds huts, occasionally purpose built emergency shelters like the one on Cheviot.

One of my favourites in Wales is Nant Rhys, about an eight mile walk from Devil's Bridge but accessible by a shorter route if you prefer - it's possible to cycle there too. The old farmhouse has two rooms, each with a wood burning stove, there are some basic sleeping platforms, a few pots and pans, a room upstairs for more to sleep if needed.  Then it gets a bit posh - there's a wood store at the back, a tank for washing water (drinking water from the stream) and a long drop earth toilet with perhaps the finest view of any loo I know.

I went there with my son Daniel. I remember us looking at stars in the blackest sky - the area around Nant Rhys has some of the lowest light pollution south of the Highlands. I keep suggesting we return, take Dylan perhaps, but he's not been so keen since girlfriends came on the scene. I reckon he'll be up for trip next year though, especially now he wants to learn to drive - that feels like an excellent bargaining chip!

Jane can't see the attraction - they're dirty and smelly she says, and I'm not sitting on one of those loos! More than that, she's worried an axe-man will murder us in our sleeping bags. In reality, there is more chance of being assaulted in the city and exactly the same loos have been installed at Skomer Island, by the Wildlife Trust - somehow they're more acceptable.  I'm not suggesting we should disregard safety, and if you're a nervous type I'd not recommend going alone, but there are reasons why volunteers maintain these shelters.

And the chief one is that they are fabulous places to escape to - to get away from all the stuff we accumulate, to seek freedom in the very opposite of what normally ties us down; to connect with things that are simpler and more profound. For me, half the fun is the getting there, the other half is simply being there.

Bothies are free to use, you don't have to be a member of the MBA - all that's asked is that you follow the bothy code and leave it much the same as you found it. You'll need a sleeping bag, a thermal mat, a stove and basic food - don't rely on pans being there - and some sort of lighting, LED's are best and head torches are useful. Personally, I like to take some scotch too, but I guess it's not essential.

For years the precise locations were not generally publicised, but the policy changed a few years ago and grid references are available on the MBA's website. In Wales, there is one in the Brecon Beacons, four in the Elenydd and three in Snowdonia. For those in the North of England, there are ten in the Pennines and Lake District.

If the idea of a bothy is appealing but a bit too basic, you could try the 'five star' version at Claerddu near the Teifi Pools (this bothy is run by a separate trust)  - it has a flush loo, gaslighting and even a stove. A step up again is Black Sail Hostel in the Ennerdale Valley, where they serve meals and good beer - it's the nearest thing to an alpine hut in the UK, but obviously, it's not free. There are plenty of bunkhouses too.

But there's something special about the real thing. When I was last at Nant Rhys I read a comment in the logbook from a chap who went there regularly - he'd written,  I love this place. And I thought, enough said.

Black Sail, Lake District

Penrhos Isaf, North Wales

 The path from Penros Isaf -  only half a mile to the road

 Moel Prysgau, Mid Wales

Mad axe man


  1. Your bothies sound wonderful. Never heard that term before. We just call them tramping huts. I have one I like to visit every year or two. No power, no hot water, cold water from a tank, no shower/bath facilities, long drop toilet. Take your own everything. It always amazes me that I always come away refreshed!

  2. Such a good idea. I read an article on them in one of the Sundays a couple of years ago which described the appeal of them very well. You're obviously hooked, Mark.

  3. According to the code is there a limit on how many nights you can stay in one Bothy?

  4. Steve - not as such and I know in some areas people do use them as a base for few days. In practice, if you're sensible staying a few nights is not a problem. The Dulyn Bothy in Snowdonia is a good base for walking in the hills

  5. On our first holiday together we stayed in something similar on Cader Idris, not knowing what it would lead to i.e. getting married!

  6. We walked into Torridon intending to sleep in the bothie by the loch (name currently eluding me, you will probably know) but found it full. That didn't take much as it was tiny. We slept in a tent outside and the next day Ian walked and I swam with seals. Magic places.

  7. Hiya Mark. I finally got round to reading your blog after chatting with JP last week. Another place you may like to go to is Cefn garw above Ysbyty Ifan....reputed to be the most isolated farmstead in Wales. The building is in such a state though these days I'm afraid you'd have to camp. You can't fail to feel the remoteness in the middle of the Migneint. There is a hut circle nearby too ....though this I have yet to explore. By the time I get there I just have to lie down LOL. Luke

  8. Hi Mark,

    Enjoyed reading about Nant Rhys, I'm yet to enjoy it.

    I've been to a few of the others in the area last Easter, my mate was a bothy virgin but we both had the time of our lives.

    I thought some of your readers might like to have a look at some of the other bothies that deserve a mention.