It also came about because of depopulation in rural areas. Hill farming declined from the 1920s and soon the Forestry Commission had spread its mantle over the hills of Wales, the Pennines, Cheviots and great swathes of Southern Scotland, swallowing abandoned farmsteads. In the late 1940s the ubiquitous ‘jeep’ allowed people and machinery to be easily transported to remote locations and estates were able to rationalise and centralise their staff. This, coupled with the desire of returning servicemen to achieve better living conditions than they could expect in the hills, meant that within a short span many more remote farmsteads were abandoned. Exploring walkers and cyclists used these deserted farms for overnight accommodation, sometimes secretly but increasingly with the owner’s knowledge; ‘bothying’ became the term for this activity. By the 1960s the numbers of walkers had greatly increased and the condition of many bothies was deteriorating. A few were maintained by climbing clubs but the rest received only random attention.
A remark in Backhill of Bush bothy book suggested the setting up of a club to save the bothies from ruin and this led to the forming of the MBA in 1965. During the summer of that year Bernard Heath and a group of his friends turned the ruins of Tunskeen farmhouse, in Galloway, into a basic shelter. (A copy of Bernard’s report of that renovation is reproduced in the “Archive” section of this website.) At the end of the year a meeting in Dalmellington of like-minded individuals endorsed Bernard’s lead and aspirations and the Association was born. The minutes of this inaugural meeting were published in the first ever Journal, a copy of which is reproduced here. During the late 1960s and early 70s the MBA extended its work from Galloway to the Cairngorms, Grampians, Knoydart, and elsewhere. The growth of the organisation meant changes. This resulted in responsibility for the maintenance of each individual bothy being vested in one nominated person, the Maintenance Organiser or MO, and the jobs on the committee being properly defined. In 1974 the quarterly Newsletter came into being and in 1975 the MBA, with a stock of 32 bothies, became a registered charity. In the 1980s membership doubled to over 2000.
Back in 1972 Bernard and Betty Heath summed up the spirit of the MBA. They wrote “Members’ only reward will be the knowledge that their efforts have helped save a bothy from ruin”. However time proved them wrong when, on 5th October 1991, they were presented with British Empire Medals for service to outdoor recreation.
The continuing increase and the complexity of projects being undertaken led to another organisational review and in the early 1990s, by which time the Association was maintaining 87 bothies, a new area-based framework was introduced to cope better with bothy maintenance and to allow a streamlining of the administration. At the same time the old constitution was replaced with a more robust and up-to-date one, approved in September 1994. MBA members are strong minded individuals not naturally given to following rules. However, the introduction, in 1992, of regulations to govern the activities of Scottish charities forced the association to reconsider its financial procedures. The changes we introduced in 1994 included new robust procedures to control both the approval and the payment of expenditure, new auditors were appointed, the Annual Report was published and distributed to members for the first time, and a Complaints and Disciplinary procedure instituted.
Meantime, our maintenance activities continued to expand. From Wales to the north of Scotland new bothies were established and many existing bothies were refurbished. We also started the on-going process of bringing our maintenance activities in line with the growing body of Health and Safety legislation.
In 1997, after a year of consultation and debate we held a conference ‘MBA 2000’ which reaffirmed our traditional policies but recognised the need to react to changing circumstances by a process of evolution rather than revolution. In 1998 we changed our status to that of a company limited by guarantee. Our charity status and maintenance organisation were unaffected, but the volunteer directors (trustees) were protected from unlimited legal and financial liabilities.
In 2015, we celebrated 50 years of hard work, with just over 100 bothies in our care. To mark the occasion, we published an anniversary book. It tells the history of some of these buildings and of the folk that lived in them. It includes tales of work parties, some of which have found their way into MBA folklore, and shows that although materials and methods of working may have changed, the enthusiasm of volunteers has not. It is a celebration of 50 years of activity by our volunteers. Copies can be obtained through our on-line shop. We also received the accolade of the award of the Queens Award for Voluntary Service, the “MBE for voluntary groups”.
Looking forward, there are a number of new projects in the pipeline, the membership figures and finances are in a healthy state, and we anticipate many more years of working to preserve and restore open shelters for the use and enjoyment of all who love wild and lonely places.
During its 50 plus year existence, the Association has renovated and looked after a total of 123 bothies. Sadly, a few have been lost, but the number maintained has remained around the 100 mark over the last few years. New projects continue to come forward.
Here is a chronological list of the bothies that the MBA has maintained over the years.
The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service is the highest award given to volunteer groups across the UK to recognise outstanding work in their communities. The awards were created in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and winners are announced each year on 2 June- the anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation. Many different types of organisation have won the award since it was launched, including groups working to improve the environment, running community centres, managing play schemes and supporting families. It is the equivalent of the MBE for individuals. The MBA was one of 187 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups across the UK to receive the prestigious award in 2015.
© Copyright Mountain Bothies Association, Edenbank House, 22 Crossgate, Cupar, Fife, KY15 5HW
Mountain Bothies Association is a charity registered in Scotland, no. SC008685 and a company limited by guarantee and registered in Scotland, no. SC191425