Winter magic can be found in the mountains – but our high places can also be as exposed to risk as they are stunning. In this mid-winter issue, we are pleased to present an ode to bothy life. It may seem contradictory to escape the confines of four walls for four more. But not all walls are made equal. Bothies are not built to keep a person inside. Instead, their function is to keep you safe and sheltered as you venture out further in search of freedom. They can enable solitude, create camaraderie. However you may find them – cold and dark, awaiting your company or already crackling with fire and conversation – bothies signify belonging in wild and lonely places.

Main image: Carey Davies on a winter day in the Lake District | Credit: Benjamin Cannon

But when the lure of staying home is strong in winter, we hope this issue proves comfort and beauty can be found in the great outdoors all year round. You just have to know where to look.

Highlights of this issue:

  • Juls Stodel returns from her Big Bothy Walk to share tales from the hills
  • James Forrest shelters from Storm Babet in a beloved Lakeland bothy
  • David Lintern takes cold comfort in the Cairngorms with a wintery photo essay
  • Ian Battersby and his sons traverse the length of the subtropical island of Madeira
  • The Fell Foodie shares tips on elevating your cooking al fresco on high camps
  • Jim Perrin paints a portrait of Yr Eifl in North Wales
  • 10 mapped walks for history buffs in the UK’s national parks

PLUS: Jon Moses explains why the Right to Roam can benefit all – even farmers; expert gear reviews including the best winter sleeping bags and winter gloves; how to enjoy an adventurous weekend in Malham; and we scale new heights of understanding with Mountain Leader, geographer and artist, Phoebe Sleath.

Read on and make your winter magic

Juls Stodel winter magic bothy

The Stories of Us: When Juls Stodel set out to spend a night in each of the 104 shelters cared for by the Mountain Bothies Association, she sought kinship and adventure. She did not expect to discover the ghosts of who she could have become in another lifetime…

“I spent Christmas cramped in Arenig Fawr with condensation miserably dripping from the ceiling and arrived at palatial Nant Syddion on New Years Day. February found me in the shelters of Northumberland, claiming a bed in Roughside days before it closed for the surrounding forest to be felled. It has opened again now, standing startled on a naked, stump-strewn plain. In the Lake District snow arrived as I approached the Lingy Hut and blew in under the door to cover the floor in the night. Another poor decision, this time concerning the purchase of a child’s sled, was made with the aid of a new hiking companion and the approach to Greg’s Hut took two days longer than it should have. Water was freezing now, rocks required to break a seal of ice…”

shelter from the storm

Shelter from the Storm: With Storm Babet wreaking havoc across the UK, James Forrest heads to Buttermere to spend a night in the Lake District’s best bothy.  

“It feels counter-intuitive. How can I be simultaneously roughing it and living the dream? It doesn’t really make sense, but it works. This is what bothy life is all about: back-to-basics simple living in beautiful places. The Mountain Bothies Association, which maintains a network of about 100 huts across the UK, describes a bothy as “a simple shelter in remote country for the use and benefit of all those who love being in wild and lonely places”. The experience is far from luxurious – it’s more akin to “camping without a tent”, as the MBA puts it – but staying in these historic single-storey crofts, former farmsteads and ex-mining buildings can really enhance your adventures. There are five such bothies in Cumbria and, by most measures, Warnscale Head is considered the very best. I can’t wait to find out why…”

winter magic cairngorms

Cold comfort: Cairngorm resident David Lintern gets the chills when winter comes around. Here, he shares a selection of a decade of images from Britain’s largest and coldest National Park. 

“My name is David, I live in the Cairngorms, and I am a winter-holic. Or is that a Chionophile? Whatever we call it, I am in a relationship with these hills, and relationships need nurturing. I try to keep the unhealthier aspects of my obsession in check, but in winter it can be a bit of a rollercoaster. The Cairngorms are a particularly demanding place to travel because of the scale and relative lack of access involved. In Britain, that scale is unique, as is the climate. The plateaux are our only subarctic environment, and the only places big, high and wild enough to do tundra, and polar weather, with some degree of authenticity. It’s still not uncommon for mountain roads to close for snow and ice, or repair. Rivers flood, bridges collapse and public transport stalls…”

Jungle Island: Ian Battersby and his two sons traverse the length of the subtropical forest paradise of Madeira. It sounds like thirsty work…

“Trade winds ushered in mist overnight. We munched on breakfast bars, then waited out a steady downpour before easing out of inclining forest into a sun drenched, mystical grassland, colonised by giant, primordial laurel trees at Fanal. Now, although the climbing had lessened, all was not well with Ry. An old shoulder injury had returned, and he looked very gloomy. Josh came to the fore and fashioned a chest strap. It didn’t look much, but it allowed my youngest to press on, alongside wooded voids that plunged through v-shaped gorges to the coast 1200m below. And 900m of precipitous descent was where the path was headed…”

Fell Foodie

Cook out: Fuelling backpacking trips with a hot meal doesn’t have to mean waiting for a dusty bolognese to rehydrate. The Fell Foodie, Harrison Ward shares his trade secrets to eating well outdoors and reconnecting with the landscapes from which our food comes. 

“Down jacket? Check. Fleece? Check. Hat and gloves? Check. Food? “I’ll just grab a meal deal from the supermarket on the way.” Sound familiar? Food is often the first thing we sacrifice when planning time out in nature, convenience and weight seemingly more desirable than flavour and nutrition. When it comes to extreme adventures or long-distance endurance the need for lightweight, prepackaged food with a long shelf life is essential to survival and success. Yet the majority of us are amateur outdoor lovers seeking a mental reset, connection and time in the fresh air…”

Winter sleeping bags: Mountain Instructor Kirsty Pallas and wildlife photographer James Roddie keep the cold at bay with the very best in sleeping bags designed for winter. 

“Summer is over, but that doesn’t mean camping has to be, especially with the right kit. Winter sleeping bags extend the camping season year round, allowing you to enjoy a few crisp winter nights in relative comfort. A winter sleeping bag alone be enough – it needs to be paired with a high R-rated sleeping mat and a decent tent – but it does go a long way! Choosing a winter sleeping bag is a game of compromise between weight, price, and warmth…”

Order a single copy of this issue – and get it delivered with free postage – so you can get winter magic ready.