In search of the elusive Pennines’ Bothy

For anyone who visits a bothy and spends time sheltering or sleeping inside, there is something special about it. It’s a very different experience to staying in a tent or bivy and definitely one you should experience. The MBA (Mountain Bothies Association) maintains the majority of bothies in the UK, there are then many bothies or shelters on privately owned estates and some that fall outside of this too. The MBA has a website (The Mountain Bothies Association) where you can access information on all of the bothies they look after but finding information on bothies outside of their organisation can be a lot more difficult as word of mouth is often the only source of information. We have stayed in some of these other bothies in parts of northern England and in Scotland, it isn’t easy to find out about them, let alone to actually locate them.

There is something particularly exciting about finding a potential ‘secret’ bothy – it’s akin to the feeling of a kid at Christmas (for some of us anyway!). To find these bothies you might have to piece together bits of information from what you’ve heard or seen, sometimes it can simply be a happy find when you are exploring the outdoors. This particular bothy in the North Pennines was visited after a combination of both. After hearing about this bothy and seeing some photos, I then used Google maps, OS maps and went out walking to find it. The first visit was on a weekend walk aimed at finding the exact location for a future overnight stay.

After driving up Weardale to Alston I parked the car at the side of a road and set off on foot with a rough plan. After just an hour or so I happened across what looked like an old farmhouse and had a subtle investigation to see if it was still in use. Bingo! A good-sized place with a couple of rooms on either side of the entrance porch, both with open fireplaces. It was a bit cold, damp, and dusty but nothing you’d be bothered by if you were sheltering from poor weather outside. A few photos and I headed back out as with the droids, this wasn’t the shelter I was looking for. The weather was spectacular and I was unbelievably overdressed for this February day. I was soon walking in just a thin base layer wondering if I’d actually get sunburn. In the following hour or so I’d walked past a number of well maintained and obviously well used small buildings which I presume were shelters for gamekeepers or land managers.

Finally, the path dropped down into a small valley and as I descended, I caught sight of a rooftop. This building was much smaller than the first I’d found but the same feeling of excitement came across wondering whether this was the one and if it was empty to have a look around. Thankfully, the answer to both was yes. In a beautiful, secluded setting this small bothy was part of an idyllic scene. With a large porch filled with a wide assortment of items, a second door opened into the main room which is spacious enough for three but could accommodate more at a squeeze. Seating, large mats for sleeping, shelving, a cooking area, and loads of the little additions that make a bothy unique were all evident. With the weather as glorious as it was, I went back outside for lunch and spent time reading through some of the entries in the bothy book. It was a short visit but I was convinced it was a bothy I wanted to revisit and enjoy an overnight stay next time.  

It was about a year and a half before I was able to revisit this awesome bothy due to time constraints and undertaking my ML, which kept me in more mountainous areas rather than the wild open spaces of the moorlands. However, on a warm July day, I set out again with a friend to find this bothy, aiming at it from a completely different direction heading well off any semblance of path or trail to get there. A bit more adventurous, exactly what you want when heading out for a trip like this. After making our way across the undulating terrain we were treated to a teasing view of the bothy from the opposite side of the small valley this time. Despite the steep descent on the rubble track, we both had a little spring in the step as it became clearer the bothy was deserted.

Another wonderfully (and unlikely) warm day in the North Pennines meant that we were able to enjoy time outside with a few celebratory beers in the stream outside by building a little rock dam like big kids. We sat outside until the sun dipped behind the valley side and the midges came out in force. Once inside the bothy, we started to get set up for the evening and it became clear that the room was a lot more generous in size than I’d remembered. We laid out a couple of the large sleeping mats, which were more like matrasses, and then made ourselves comfortable on the big wooden chairs available. As the evening kicked in, we lit the fire to ward off some of the midges but the mild temperatures meant that we didn’t keep it going for too long.

We ventured out a few times that evening for natural breaks and to try and take in the stars on a mild, clear night but the hordes of hungry midges meant that you were never out there for long. There wasn’t a breath of wind which obviously made it worse in terms of the midges but on another day, without the little terrors keeping us company these conditions would have been perfect for a night out under the stars. It was a similar story first thing in the morning so we hid inside, ate, packed, and ran out, aiming for the hilltop and hoping for a breeze to help us out. The walk out from the bothy was made easier by a really good sleep and a big breakfast from the frying pan.

This is a great little bothy in an idyllic setting where you are unlikely to see anyone unless they too are aiming for a night in this bothy, as there are no paths passing by. The small size means that it certainly isn’t going to suit groups but otherwise it is a sensational little place. It is certainly somewhere I will be heading back to and will be a great spot for a winter stop over.

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