Just as you don’t need to have hitchhiked through the Mid-West to enjoy On The Road, or been shot in the throat to appreciate Homage to Catalonia, so you don’t need to know the first thing about bothies to be inspired by Bothy Culture.
At its heart this is a travel book, a voyage of adventure. The author delights in his discovery of these refuges in the Scottish wilderness, and he’s done the exploring, got wet and freezing, met all the weirdos so that now we can enjoy all his distilled wisdom while snuggling on our sofa.
Bothy Culture is a patchwork narrative, neatly sewn together from stories, reminiscences, tall tales, outrageous opinions, historical facts and touching friendships. It is full of strong viewpoints and is thoroughly refreshing for them. But it is not a polemic. No sooner has Mortimer made a controversial point than he himself offers the counterpoint. A great deal of thought has gone into this book – a lifetime’s perhaps. And where opinions are backed up with such considered observation, surely there must be truth in them.
This book explores the yin/yang, love/hate dynamic that so many of us feel with society: Mortimer can barely wait for Friday to come round so he can get ‘off-grid’ and escape from routines and responsibility into the bare cell of a bothy, yet he also yearns for good company round a roaring fire. He freely admits to being a bit grumpy and anti-social, but he’d rather share his roast lamb, potatoes and wine than watch you eat a packet of noodles and drink Nescafe. He admits his opinions irritate people, but he writes them so entertainingly that you can’t help but read them all the same. He’s a hermit who packs his rucksack ready for a party.
Does that make logical sense? Does your life? Does mine? Exactly.
In many ways Bothy Culture is itself like a night by the flickering flames with good company. Stories are told and ornamented, jokes are thrown in, opinions are debated – there are moments of thoughtfulness, sadness even. But the evening is always entertaining and you are very glad you came. I got the sense that Mortimer’s bothy is in many ways a microcosm of Scotland; indeed, perhaps society itself. We are all entitled to a place at the fire. Just make sure you bring a little coal and have a story to tell.
The author also has a sound ear for dialogue, knows how gleeful and eloquent swearing can enhance a narrative and he can turn a phrase exquisitely. I snorted tea on several occasions.
No sooner had I finished reading my copy than I’d posted it off to Scotty, one of my oldest pals who I’ve shared some beautiful adventures with but who I now don’t see nearly enough. I can’t think of a finer recommendation.