A SPOT OF bothy

Bobby Niven of the Bothy Project reveals his ingredients for the perfect retreat…

In Issue 05


Can you explain how the Bothy Project came about?
The name bothy or bothan means ‘shelter’ in Gaelic. The Mountain Bothy Association manages over 100 bothies in Scotland, England and Wales and works with an open-door policy, maintaining the buildings, keeping them windproof and watertight. As an artist I visited many of these bothies, taking my sketchbook, drawing ideas for new sculptures, enjoying the fresh air and simplicity of the experience. The location and lack of facilities means you have to walk everything in, and as a consequence you end up just being able to carry enough supplies for a night or two. With The Bothy Project, the idea was to develop a network of cabins that are designed and equipped specifically to facilitate creative residencies. With a set stay of a week we hope that creatives, no matter their medium or subject, will have a productive, inspiring experience.

What makes the perfect bothy?
An amazing site is the first and most important ingredient. One that involves an exciting journey to get to and a friendly host to welcome you and show you the ropes. Then a modern, simple design that has character but does not impose too much upon its guests, creating a shelter that provides all the basics you need for a productive week of thinking and making. The perfect interior would be full of handmade objects and furniture commissioned specifically for the particular bothy. The central piece being a comfortable working chair at a desk by a window that looks out over a changing view. But perhaps the most ‘perfect’ ingredient is no phone reception.

Are there certain rules you have to stick
to in a bothy’s construction?

There are rules we set ourselves in that it must be small-scale, off-grid and where possible made using natural and locally sourced materials. Then there are rules laid out through planning permission and building control, which vary depending on council area and the permanence and function of the building in question. 

What’s your favourite part of the process?
Wood working outside on a sunny, windless day, when you’re not problem-solving, but just making without thinking. Timber cladding is a good job for day like this. It’s amazing how quickly the building changes when the cladding goes on, it comes to life and at the same time the form softens somehow, and the bothy begins to sit more gently against its surroundings.

Where are you happiest?
Travelling on the train en route to recce a potential bothy site,
facing forward at a table seat with the sketchbook and camera at the ready. I really enjoy the excitement of the journey and the anticipation of what’s to come.

What’s your favourite view?
The view from Sweeney’s Bothy looking out over Rum is spectacular and ever-changing. But the view I know best and enjoy most often is the view from The Bothy Project workshop at my dad’s farm in Fife, which is a broad panorama looking out over the Firth of Forth to the silhouette of Edinburgh and the Pentland Hills in behind.

Is a bothy for you a place for ‘doing’ or for quiet reflection?
It depends really on whoever is in residence and what their practice involves. Largely it is a space for thinking and writing, but people do all sorts of things at the bothies: recording music, making stop-motion animation, digging clay and throwing pots on site – and the bothy blogs tell the stories of what people have been up to. Often emerging artists go in groups; sometimes four art students will travel together to work on a collaborative project for a week. I can’t imagine it’s quiet at any point: even at night the chances are one of them snores!