Fire regulations hit mountain retreats

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By Cara Sulieman

GETTING away in the great outdoors remains one of life’s great escapes.

But it seems even the mountain fresh air of Scotland can’t get away from the red tape of officialdom.

The nation’s network of remote bothies – basic mountain shelters – are being stalked by health and safety experts who are making their guardians close off parts of the buildings if deemed a potential hazard.

The Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) say they have been advised to shut off or remove the upper floors of several bothies across the Highlands thanks to the fire regulations.

Major concern

The Association has carried out a survey of the fire risk in bothies with loft sleeping space and poor access. As a result, alterations have been made at a number of bothies.

John Arnott, chairman of the MBA, said that while safety is a major concern, even improvements have meant that some of Scotland’s favourite huts have still been declared out of bounds.

He said: “Our first priority is the safety of the people who use the bothies. Over the last 5 years we have surveyed all the bothies we maintain in order to identify any fire risks.

“We have then discussed this with our volunteers and worked out actions necessary to reduce any risk to a low level.

Bunk beds

“For example, at Lairig Leacach bothy there has always been a very restricted loft sleeping space, with access to it being by a vertical ladder in the middle of the small one room bothy – if there ever was an outbreak of fire below then escape would have been difficult.

“We have removed the loft floor and ladder and relined the roof, thus making the building seem much more spacious, and we have built bunk beds and tables that enable more people to overnight in the bothy, more comfortably, and more safely.”

In Scotland, the legislation in place is the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, which states that emergency exits must be provided in places that provide accommodation.

But keen walkers are upset that urban life is intruding on their rural escape, although they understand that the changes are needed to make bothies safe.

“Lovely places”

A regular user of bothies, who doesn’t want to be named, said: “I have gone hiking in the Highlands since I was a kid. My parents took me and my brother along with them and although we mainly camped, sometimes we stayed in bothies.

“Now I go out a lot with my friends whenever we can get away and we always stay in bothies. They are always lovely places to stay with a great atmosphere – you never know who you are going to meet.

“Health and Safety regulations aren’t the sort of thing you expect to affect these places – what can be unsafe about a stone room, unless it’s falling down?

“But I guess I would change my tune if the roof caught fire and I couldn’t get out.

“As long as they maintain a feeling of remoteness then I’m happy.

“Huge costs”

Tourism bosses have found that the regulations have a huge effect on smaller businesses as it can cost a lot of money to change the building to conform to the rules.

A spokesman from VisitScotland said: “The Scottish Government set the fire regulations and it can be hard for some businesses to adapt to them without incurring huge costs.”

But the MBA deny that the regulations are stopping them from operating the bothies – saying that they can make alterations to the buildings, even if sometimes it means reducing the amount of space available to visitors.

John Arnott said: “We are careful to follow the fire regulations and welcome the guidance, and are pleased that this backs up our desire to ensure that bothies are safe for our volunteers and for the bothy users.”

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