Dotted throughout remote mountainous areas of the Scottish Highlands, as well as rugged wilderness regions of Northern England, Ulster and Wales are what are usually referred to as “bothies.” A bothy is basically a small secluded hut, lodge, or cottage, ussually out in the middle of nowhere, that is usually left unlocked and freely available for anyone to use as a refuge free of charge. Originally mostly used for laborers and gardeners on estates, they have become increasingly popular with mountaineers, hikers, and adventurers looking for a place to hole up for the night. The state of these bothies can really run the range of all shapes and sizes, from abandoned lodges to tumbled down weed choked feral ruins, sheds, decrepit rundown basic shelters with leaking roof to some that are remarkably well kept and more or less like staying in a hotel, fully furnished and regularly cleaned and everything in between. On occasion, one can even find a bothy that has its own ghosts, and here we will look at some of the most haunted of these.
Perhaps one of the most infamous of these haunted bothies is located right at the very heart of Scotland, in a remote area in the shadow of the mountain Ben Alder. Located miles from the nearest road on the north-western shore of Loch Ericht, the Ben Alder Bothy began as a cottage for a deer forester by the name of Joseph McCook in the late 19th century, but when McCook died and his family moved away the abandoned structure fell into a state of disrepair and served as a place to stay for mountaineers passing through. In the 1920s, a Finlay McIntosh fixed it up and it continued to serve as a refuge for various travelers, hunters, poachers, and fishermen, and over the years it would gain a reputation for being intensely haunted.
Stories of the haunting of the Ben Alder Bothy go back to at least the 1930s, with one early report coming from 1938, when a Bob Grieve, then an apprentice civil engineer but later Sir Robert Grieve, Chairman of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, went into Ben Alder with his friend Tom Robertson to go fishing at the loch there. While they were there they stayed at the bothy and on the last night of their stay they were disturbed by strange sounds during the night for which they could find no explanation, and on one occasion they found a mysterious note that seems to have appeared from nowhere. An excerpt on the case from the booklet Strange Happenings at Ben Alder Cottage reads:
They stayed at Ben Alder Cottage for almost a week, found the famous loch, and fished it to their hearts’ content. On the last night of their stay they were disturbed by strange sounds at midnight for which they could find no explanation. Similar uncanny noises were heard on another visit, years later, and three groups of friends also reported happenings that could not be explained. I spoke to Bob on 5 December 1987 at the SMC Dinner and asked him about his visits to Ben Alder Cottage. That one trip in 1939, almost 50 years ago, was still etched in his memory. Some additional information came up during our conversation. A note which Tom had found on Bob’s rucksack, had been kept by Tom. It said, ‘You must leave this house immediately – you are not permitted to stay here’.
In the years since, the Ben Alder Cottage has seen visitors report all manner of strange occurrences, and the mysterious note that was found may be onto something, because whatever seems to inhabit this place apparently does not enjoy visitors. People who have stayed here have reported objects smashing to the floor or hurled across the room, doors flung open or closed violently, loud, ominous thuds or bangs on the walls, and menacing shadow figures lurking about, as well as the sound of disembodied footsteps, loud, old-fashioned music playing in the next room, or whispering in the dark. Even more frightening and sinister are stories of people being driven insane here and even committing suicide, and there is even one tale of a woman who took refuge here with her baby, went mad, and ate the child, although there seems to be no record of this ever happening and is considered to be more of a traveler’s tale than anything else. There is even the tale that the original owner, McCook had hanged himself there, although it has been found that he in fact died peacefully in bed at the age of 85. What is going on here?
Another rather well-known such haunting apparently went down in the 1970s at the bothy called Luibeilt Lodge, a former deer stalking lodge located in the remote Lochaber hills and mountains around Ben Nevis, the highest mountain of the British Isles. In the winter of 1973, 18-year-old Phil Macneill and his friend Jimmy Dunn were enjoying a hiking trip through the area and one evening decided to spend a night at the lodge. When they arrived, the abandoned structure, which was supposed to be open, was locked for some reason so they let themselves in through a window and were immediately struck by how odd the place was. Phil would say:
Things immediately didn't feel right. It was much colder inside than outside. It felt odd. It just didn't feel right. The table was set for Christmas. There were Christmas crackers on the table, but Christmas hadn't happened. The place looked as if people had upped and left all of a sudden. We made our way around the house and it became immediately obvious that the place had been vacated very rapidly. It was extremely cold, and the silence was palpable. It enveloped you.
Taking a look around turned up more oddities, such as the fact that all of the rooms were furnished except for the one directly above the living room, which held nothing but a disassembled bedframe piled up in the corner. As eerie as this all was, it was so late that they decided to stay there for the night anyway, setting up their sleeping bags on the floor of the living room and as soon as they put out their candles they could hear noises from the unfurnished room upstairs that sounded like footsteps and the metal frame being dragged across the floor, followed by what sounded like a rock rolling around. As frightening as this was, it was so late and they were so tired that they managed to fall asleep, although this didn’t last long. At around 4 a.m. the two were woken by noises in the living room, after which the room “erupted” into a cacophony of noise and objects “flying around all over the place.” Phil tried to light a candle in the pitch darkness but it was sent “flying across the room” by an unseen force. The two frightened men ran outside and that’s when they noticed that the curtains to the empty bedroom above the living room were closed shut, even though they had been open when they went to bed. With the chaotic noise still going on within the lodge, the two decided to get out of there and head back to the closest town. Phil would go back some time later to find the words “This house is haunted; this house is evil” painted on the wall. What was going on here? Who knows? Another case from 1973 revolves around a bothy called Coirenalairig, a semi-derelict estate cottage located near the village of Braemar. In March of that year, then 25-year-old Ian MacDonald made his way through the area and stayed at the cottage for the night, he describes the place:
There was plaster off the walls and other debris on the floor, so every door made a crunching noise as I went in. First the outer door into the small porch, then the door into the hall, and finally the door to the room. The right hand side of the building was completely derelict, as the roof had collapsed, taking the upstairs floor with it. The left side, on the other hand, was completely intact- wind and water tight, even glass in the windows! Not only that, but there was a table, a chair and a single bed-frame to give a bit of comfort rather than having to lie on the stone floor. As I was on my own there would also not be any argument or doubt as to who would get it. In bothy terms, this was the height of luxury.
He made himself at home and began going over his map by flickering candlelight and that’s when the noises started. He says of it:
It was around this point I became aware of noises coming from the room upstairs. Short, bumping sounds. A single "boomph" and a double "badoof". It sounded to me like there were two climbers up there, throwing down their rucksacks and boots. I thought this a bit strange for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there was nothing in the upstairs room- all the perks were in with me. Also, the one window had no glass and the door at the other end of the room was missing, gaping into the fresh air of the ruins. Secondly, there weren't many walkers and climbers in those days and the few around were very gregarious, always wanting to know who you were, who you knew, where you were going, how many Munros you had done, and the likes. They must have heard me come in, yet weren't bothered to see who it was. Odd. The slightly unsettling thing for me was that the noises continued. You only take off your rucksack an throw it down once. Likewise your boots. I also began to think it was too dull a sound for the boots and too heavy a sound for a rucksack. After a while I decided that if they weren't going to come down to me, I was going to go up and see them. It was all too intriguing, and I wanted to find out exactly what was going on.
He then searched the stairway and the upstairs rooms, but there was no one there. He searched every inch of the place and was not only certain that he was alone, but that there was nothing big or heavy enough to have been able to produce all of that noise. Once he was satisfied that there were no other people in the bothy with him, he chalked it all up to the wind and nerves, and says of what happened next:
I was the only person here, I was quite happy with it there, so that was that. I lay for some time, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the isolation. I had lived all my life in a city and this escapism was one of the attractions of going to the hills in the first place. I got about half-an-hour of this quiet, with only the gentle sighing of the breeze for company, when, completely out of the blue, directly above my head, in the middle of the upstairs room, the noises started again.
A cold shiver made it's way down my spine. This was impossible. Nothing/nobody had come in the door. I would have heard it. Similarly, nobody/nothing had gone up the stairs. Nothing had crossed the floor to get to the middle. I had heard no footsteps, paws or claws. Just a heavy thump, badump. Every few seconds, continuously. All thoughts of going to sleep had gone. Some serious thinking had to be done. There was no point in going back up the stairs, as the same thing would happen again. So I had to reason it out where I was. I didn't think it was human doing. I had heard tell of people playing tricks on others in bothys, but that was usually in a big crowd, with the perpetrator then having a good laugh at those who were caught out by their spooky prank. I had now been in the house for a few hours- nobody would spend so long keeping the charade up. If it wasn't human, then what? I now started to go through every animal or bird to be found in the area to see if I could come up with a likely culprit. For every one, there was a perfectly good reason why not. They could not enter the building, as far as I knew, but probably wouldn't if they could. And I had heard no scratching or other sounds of hooves, etc. I was stumped. My nerve was beginning to be tested.
After mulling over what to do, Phil decided that it was too late and the village too far off for him to leave, so when the noises finally died down he decided to stay for the night. He was so exhausted from the day that he did finally managed to get some sleep, but it seems his ordeal was not over yet. He concludes his tale:
Morning broke. It was daylight, but obviously still quite early. Half-awake, I vaguely wondered what the time might be. CRASH!! I was on my feet in an instant. It was as if a large breeze block had crashed to the floor just a foot or so from my head. If this side of the House was about to collapse, I didn't want to be here when it did. Looking around, there was nothing out of place. Everything was exactly as it had been last night. Impossible. I got dressed and took a better look round. Nothing. I even tried looking outside and in the ruined part of the house. Still nothing.
Since that adventure, I heard from one of the old crew I used to go to the mountains with that they, too, had a weird night at Coirenalairig. Several of them were there on a somewhat windy night and couldn't get to sleep for the noise of rubbish being blown about upstairs. A delegation went up and tossed all the offending tin cans, bottles, etc, into the ruins of next door. After making sure that everything had been disposed of, they went back downstairs. Once they were in bed and all was quiet, a single tin can rolled the entire length of the upstairs room.
Would I go back? I returned to Coirenalairig 2 years and 3 months later, again on my own, to do some hills up by Coire Kander, on the other side of the A93. This time all was quiet. No sounds other than that of the wind gently sighing on the way past. It was as if whatever I had defied last time decided it was not worth the effort of trying to scare me this time. I often think about that night, and ponder on what actually happened, but I have come to accept that I will never know for certain.
Another spooky allegedly haunted bothy is the Stanaig bothy, which is not far from where Phil had his terrifying experience. Here there have long been reports of a ghostly gamekeeper who wanders the hills near the bothy and on particularly scary occasions appears within the bothy itself. The phantom gamekeeper is said to look very solid and real, and could be mistaken for a real person if it were not for his habit of vanishing into thin air. One report of the specter of Stanaig bothy comes from a witness on the site UK Climbing, who says:
It was a late Dec afternoon and myself and two friend had walked from the Lairig Leagach bothy to Stanaig bothy. We set ourselves up in the right hand room. The other two went to get water from the burn whilst I laid the fire. Looking back across the room towards the window I noticed something moving left to right across the hillside above the bothy. Casually I went over to the window to get a better look. What I saw was a man in tweeds traversing the heathery slopes. To my eye he looked like a gamekeeper. I could see that he was slowly dropping down the hillside but away from the bothy. Thinking he'd probably drop down a couple of hundred yards west of the bothy and then he'd call in, they often do in my experience. Thinking nothing of it I turned away and got on with the fire. A few seconds later the other two came back from the burn. I asked if they seen the game keeper on the hillside. They looked at me blankly and said they seen no one. This surprised me. They must have been looking at the same bit of hillside as me and at the same time. I went outside to look. No sign of anyone. To this day I'm unsure as to what went on that day.
Tales like this from Scotland's bothies and others like them throughout the British Isles have persisted to this day. What is going on here and why should these secluded, remote places be so haunted? What sort of terrible things could have happened here to draw these paranormal forces to them? For now, the bothies keep their secrets, and maybe the only way to find out what is really happening is to dare to stay at one yourself.