Bothy crime

The refurbished Hutchison Memorial Hut, Coire Etchachan, Cairngorms

The scene of crime. The Hutchison Memorial Hut

I’ve railed before in this blog about folk who leave litter and unwanted gear in bothies, and all the ‘proper’ hill folk have nodded in agreement. Isn’t it terrible.

It is. But there’s worse.

And it’s been done by ‘proper’ hill folk.

Two MBA volunteers went in to the Hutchison Hut last week, to fix a faulty door handle and latch and stop the door from swinging open in the wind, letting snow into the bothy and damaging the door and hinges.

It was the sort of job that had to be done sooner rather than later, and volunteers have to fit in their trips to bothies with work and other commitments, so the choice of when to go was limited, and it turned out they found themselves heading up Glen Derry in a major thaw.

Deep snow, which had never properly consolidated, softened as the temperature rose and they found themselves sinking deep, falling into holes and streams as the crust gave way under their feet. It took five hours to get from Bob Scott’s up to the Hutchison.

When they got there, they replaced the broken handle. It wasn’t a big job – maybe half an hour or so to complete – but doing it involved going up to Bob Scott’s one afternoon, walking into the Hutchie the next day and doing the job, and walking out again the following day.

And they – or other volunteers – will have to do it all over again. Because when they were out there they found the glass in the door of the stove was broken. So that means another journey once a new pane of special glass has been bought. Sure, it was probably an accident – or carelessness – but if whoever did it had let the MBA know, then both jobs could have been done on one visit. It’s easy to make a bothy report. Just go to this page and fill in the form online. It means that damage can be fixed sooner, and with less time commitment from volunteers.
So if you see damage in a bothy, or if you cause damage yourself – accidents do happen – please take five minutes to let the MBA know about it.

That’s an important point. But it’s not why I started writing this post. That was because of a worse sin.


One of the other discoveries made when the two volunteers went out to the Hutchison Hut was that a small storage compartment at the hut, screwed shut, had been broken into and the contents stolen: some food, drink and fuel, both for stove and for cooking.

Sometime over the last few weeks someone who stayed at the hut has thought themselves pretty damned clever: sussing out that something was hidden there and managing to get it. Wizard wheeze? Good laugh? Celebration of the anarchism of rough, tough mountaineering ethos?

It was none of those. It was theft, pure and simple; vandalism and theft.

It wasn’t enough for that person to make use of a building created and maintained with the money and labour of others: he (or she, I suppose) had to steal from the very people who have ensured his comfort. Those fire logs, that coal, the tins, were all bought with someone’s hard-earned money, and carried in on their backs to make life a wee bit easier for volunteers heading out there for maintenance. It was even worse: most of the stuff that was stolen was bought and carried in by the bothy’s maintenance organiser not even for his own use but for the use of any of the volunteers carrying out work there.

But now it’s been stolen. By someone who may call himself a walker or climber or mountaineer, but who is, in fact, a thief.

Some may argue that bothies are common property and anything left there is fair game. Sorry, but that’s both legally and morally wrong. A bothy is owned by the estate on which it stands and leased to the organisation which looks after it. It is not common property and not an ‘anything goes’ zone. At the Hutchison Hut the MBA has accepted responsibility for maintaining the building and expects that other people – for whose benefit it is maintained – treat it with respect and don’t damage it – or steal from it.

Quite apart from MBA or volunteers’ property, equipment is routinely left in bothies while walkers and climbers are out on the hill.

Theft from a bothy is no joke: it strikes at the very heart of the bothy system, which relies entirely upon honesty. Bothies are traditionally bastions of liberality, with all sorts of behaviours tolerated and even celebrated, but there are surely limits. And a thief in a bothy is a contemptible creature with no honour who deserves to be hounded out. There is no excuse.

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24 Responses to Bothy crime

  1. Very sad to hear that this type of despicable behaviour has occurred in such a unique location. As Braemar Mountain Rescue Team recently extracted two stranded walkers from the Hutchinson, I’m assuming the damage to the stove door must have been recent.

    • Think it probably was, Davie. Can live with the odd bit of damage, but it’s the deliberate theft that really grates.
      However, as I say in the post, it would be really helpful if people who cause the damage let us know about it, otherwise it means delays, multiple trips and maybe damage getting worse in the meantime.

  2. That does indeed strike at the heart of the bothy system itself and I wish those kind of people would think of that before they commit their acts! My friend fell foul of a thief in Coire Fionnaraidh in Glen Carron. He put his stuff on the table downstairs while he went to put his bedding and stuff upstairs. While he was up there he heard a noise downstairs and strolled downstairs to greet his fellow bothier… to find he’d been locked in the bothy and all his kit from downstairs stolen! I’m pretty sure that included his phone! I believe he had to jump out of an upstairs window to get outside too…

  3. Neil having given more thought to damage to the stove door and the wonton vandalism I have come to the conclusion that both acts are probably related. Stove doors “do not just break”. Though non MBA mountaineers frequently use bothies very few would fail to take the time to report damage, particularly as it takes only a short email to inform the MBA.
    As a young man I recall hearing horror stories of wall cladding and floor boards being ripped up for firewood. Thankfully the above incident is to the best of my knowledge an isolated incident.

    • Hi Davie, the sad fact is that this wasn’t the first time that compartment had been broken into. One of my fellow MOs commented on Facebook that this was about the third time! The break in and the damage could still have been by the same people, of course but I do think that the reason for not reporting damage to any bothy can be ignorance rather than badness: we forget that not everyone has been knocking about the hills for a lifetime and I’ve met a good few folk using bothies who don’t know anything about them or how they come to be there.
      As for the horror stories about cladding etc going up the lum, that was all too common at one time and we can only hope that ewven thieves and neds draw the line there.

  4. John Bygate says:

    Disgraceful Neil, makes you wonder why we bother, far play to Piper and the boys lesser mortals would have thrown in the towel.

  5. piper says:

    Hi Neil ,
    Approx 4 months past I noted that someone else (or the same person..s?)had broken into the tool cabinet. I repaired it then. Thanks to Neil Finlay and Wattie for the temporary fix they did last week. At the end of the day, I will have to leave the tools outdoors somewhere, and remove the cupboard. This I would have done this coming weekend but, weather permitting, it’s a journey to Corrour to change the toilet bag.

    • Hi Ian, weather forecast looks pretty rubbish for the weekend, so leave it be if it’s too bad.
      For blog readers who don’t know, Ian ‘Piper’ Shand is the MO for the Hutchison Hut and has put a colossal amount of time and effort into keeping it in good condition – and still finds time to help out at Corrour by changing the toilet bag even in the demanding conditions of winter. At the risk of embarrassing him, that’s the sort of guy he is. And that’s who these thieves have stolen from.

  6. heavywhalley says:

    A real tragedy the world is full of the odd waster who does such stupid things! Yet there are many who behave and enjoy the bothies and wild places !

    Keep up the great iWork of the MBA do not let a minority win!

    • A timely reminder, Heavy. It can be hard to remember that when the effect of the minority is in your face so much, but you’re right – most folk are good. I’ve met some tremendous folk up the hills.

  7. Rory McGuire says:

    40 odd years ago, myself and other members of my unit carried boxes of Army rations up to this hut. Message left was please use but please don’t abuse. On going back the following year, most of the boxes had not been touched but thank you noted aplenty.

    I do not believe that this would be the case now which is sad. So many individuals give up their free time to maintain these bothies and wilful damage and poor hygiene abound. It must be soul destroying after a hard day trekking in.

    • Don’t know whether that says more about people’s honesty 40 years ago or about the quality of army rations!
      Seriously though, I did wonder once about having an ‘honesty box’ of coal/tins of food for people who really did need it, but I don’t believe it would last past the first weekend.
      Still, as Heavy says above, most people are good, and that’s what we have to keep remembering.

      • There were some quite nice ‘compo rations’. The only thing which was really bad was the processed cheese – I remember spending hours trying to toast some one day – it went black but it sure wouldn’t melt! The tubes of ‘Nestles’ type condensed milk were really nice though…

      • I loved the tins of oatmeal blocks too. I could go some of them now.

  8. Dave says:

    Neil, it is the principle of the matter here at stake, that and the unique remotemness of the Hutchy. Piper – Dinna give up loon. Yer doing a ‘grate’ job

  9. Calum Munro says:

    The refurbishment of the Hutchison is a wonderful job. My daughter and I skied into it last season and it was a trip that we shall cherish. I had used it in its previous form and whilst being grateful for it then really appreciate the new format! Theft is theft. There is no valid excuse for breaking into a locked cabinet short of life threatening emergency and if that had genuinely occurred folk would have heard of it. The work of the MBA volunteers is an amazing gift to the Scottish hill going community. It is appreciated by the vast majority of folk and long may it continue.

  10. Alec Keith says:

    Well done on highlighting this, and it’s good to see it reach the BBC website.

    I suffered a similar episode with the theft of my winter sleeping bag from the Corrour Bothy in early March a few years ago while out climbing. Sub-zero temperatures at the time, and a deeply unpleasant night ensued. It still makes my blood boil just thinking about it.

    • I used to think there were very very few instances of theft in the hills – in bothies or from tents – but I’ve certainly heard of a few on the back of this article. They do so much more harm than just the loss of what they steal too. The whole air of trust is endangered.

  11. Stephen M says:

    It’s really sad that the scum element ventures into the hill, always has been. Abusing, littering & vandalising of Bothies is one sure way of getting them shut down for good. Look how many have disappeared in the last 20 years due to vandalism and carelessness, not only spoiling the fun for users but putting lives at risk as well. Well done for to MBA volunteers for the door handle job and admiration to the guys that will sort out he stove glass. I’m so disgusted with the perpetrators that I’m going to donate some of my hard earned cash to the MBA now as a minor contribution towards the repair. Not a very Christian thought, but I hope the thieving barstools that abused the Hutchie have a really nasty accident.

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