A room and a view

A HARD and bare floor, wooden beds without mattresses and no electricity.

It's not every traveller's idea of restful holiday accommodation.

But for a group of walkers hiking through the Cairngorms in the eastern highlands of Scotland in 1932, the rudimentary amenities of Ryvoan Bothy seemed like bliss.

"Never was 'home' in the hills more appreciated!" wrote walker Jim Henderson in his diary on July 26, 1932. "Better still! Two 'kilties' from Nethy were there with a huge pine fire in the grate to welcome us ... We've had another hard day ... but I wouldn't have missed the experiences for all the comforts and luxuries to be had elsewhere."

The 18th-century Ryvoan Bothy still stands today, a one-room stone building with a corrugated-iron roof, open fireplace, rudimentary furniture and a concrete floor (pictured below). But look out through the bothy's deep-set windows and the views of the Meall a' Bhuachaille (Gaelic for "Hill of the Shepherd"), the most eastern of four peaks north of Glenmore Forest Park, are breathtaking.

Once the dwelling of a crofter (or tenant farmer), Ryvoan Bothy remains a popular walker's shelter, left unlocked and available for anyone tackling the tracks starting at the park's visitor centre beside Loch Morlich.

About 100 bothies are maintained (but not owned) by the Mountain Bothies Association, founded by volunteers in 1965 to preserve and restore "simple shelters in remote country for ... all who love wild and lonely places".

The bothies are free to use but visitors are encouraged to join the association for £20 ($33) a year.

Some bothies are the size of small sheds, others are two-storey cottages, having been accommodation for workers and shepherds in isolated locations.

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After hill farming started to decline in the 1920s and areas of Britain came under the control of the forestry commission, the buildings fell into disuse.

Walkers began using them. By the 1960s, their increasing popularity was not matched by upkeep. Since rescuing its first bothy, Tunskeen farmhouse in Galloway, the Mountain Bothies Association has renovated 65 of the 100 bothies it maintains.

Some have been upgraded with stoves but in all, the bothy code remains. Those using a bothy must bring their own fuel for the fire, leave the building clean and remove rubbish. Water comes from nearby streams. There are rarely toilet facilities and, unless you fancy sleeping on a wooden platform or hard floor, it's best to bring a mat and sleeping bag.

The pay-off for roughing it is unfettered views and access to areas of beautiful wilderness for barely a cent.

See mountainbothies.org.uk.

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