Bothies may be out of bounds thanks to Covid-19 but you still enjoy “The Bothy Experience”, as Gayle finds out.
Tucked away in some of Scotland’s most wild and remote places, bothies offer a simple place of refuge when clouds gather, darkness falls or weary limbs demand a rest.
Alas, with the Covid-19 pandemic gripping the world, we’re being advised to avoid visiting or staying in bothies until further notice.
However, if you head to the historic village of Glamis, you can learn all about the history, heritage and culture of “bothying”.
Opened on the site of the former Angus Folk Museum at Kirkwynd in 2018, The Bothy Experience is the brainchild of entrepreneur Kim Cameron.
Back in 2014, Kim, the founder of the Gin Bothy brand, started hand-bottling batches of her artisan gin in a tiny bothy at Peel Farm, Lintrathen.
The gins – infused with seasonal produce from local berry fields and farms – were hugely popular and Kim, swamped with orders and struggling to fulfil them in the cramped space, looked for bigger premises.
She found them – in an old smiddy boasting a forge near Kirriemuir – and opened them up to offer gin tasting sessions in 2017.
But Kim, a keen bothy ballad singer, wanted to tell the world the inspiration behind her journey and that’s when she dreamed up The Bothy Experience.
“We wanted to celebrate the culture and community around bothies – to keep them alive in our hearts and minds,” she says.
“They’re a place where travellers converge as kindred spirits and hip flasks are passed around. They’re a place of stories.”
Kim sees bothying as a way of life that resonates down the decades and says she’s all about “reconnecting with the past”.
Like bothies, The Bothy Experience is free to visit… although you’ll need to sport a face covering as you explore.
The first room is aptly named Bothy Beginnings and it’s here that you’ll learn the story behind the Gin Bothy brand.
Inside, guide Erin Thomson shows me a selection of botanicals used in the gins while a film explains how jam came before gin when Kim initially established the Jam Bothy.
After entering her product into the World Jampionships in Perthshire, her mum suggested adding the by-product of her mass jam-making – an excess of fruit juice – to gin.
The resulting drink, made with the help of a 17th Century recipe favoured by bothy dwellers, outsold Kim’s jam and hence, the Gin Bothy was born.
Ever since then, Kim has described herself as an “accidental gin maker”.
“The journey has been a bit nuts,” she says. “From batching in a bothy to having a visitor experience, I had no idea people would be so interested in what we do or indeed the world of bothies.”
But they are, and the Bothy Tales room at Glamis is absolutely fantastic.
Here you’ll find information on the “guardians of the land” – ghillies, gamekeepers and estate foresters – and the story of bothies in the Angus Glens and north-east farmlands, which provided accommodation for loons who travelled and worked all over the area.
There’s also the story of the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA), a charity formed by a group of enthusiasts who care for and restore bothies across the country.
Throughout the room, there are old photographs and donated items including an accordion, an old pair of wooden skis and a china pig – a ceramic hot water bottle!
At the centre is an old forge where horses would’ve been shod.
To my great joy, there’s a basket full of old horseshoes with a notice inviting you to take one home. They’re thought to bring good luck, so of course I pilfered the biggest one going.
With poems, photographs, books and artwork dedicated to bothies, it’s a feast for the eyes.
Visitors are also treated to Kim’s dulcet tones, via video, as she sings gorgeous, haunting bothy ballads.
Not everyone who heads to The Bothy Experience goes along to learn about rustic shelters and the culture surrounding them; many come along purely to sample the gin.
I was lucky enough to enjoy a private tasting session in the cosy bothy room, heated by a gorgeous open fire. I experimented with two gins and a gin liqueur – all of which were absolutely delicious – and learned via video link how best to pair them and how to make cocktails.
I also enjoyed a sumptuous platter of bothy-style snacks – oatcakes, cheese, olives, grapes and chutneys.
Sadly, the tastings are on hold, but Kim has her fingers crossed they’ll be allowed to reopen soon.
Before you leave, the Bothy Larder is well worth a visit. Boasting food, drink and gifts galore, it’s full of inspiration for (dare I say it) Christmas.
The Bothy Experience is on Kirkwynd, Glamis, in Angus. It’s currently open Thursday to Sunday from 11am to 5pm. ginbothy.co.uk