And more photos from the past
The Tarf Hotel is remote – a good couple of miles past the back of beyond, and in the wrong direction too – but it’s a bothy that seems to make an impression on folk.
For a couple of blogposts about the series of work parties this year to renovate it, and the bothy page I wrote containing much of its history, attracted a lot of attention and comment.
Recently Ian Mitchell (author of the classic Mountain Days and Bothy Nights and other great books) got in touch to fill in more detail about his visits there over the course of more than 20 years, showing how the state of the bothy changed with time, thankfully giving the lie to his gloomy forecast in Mountain Days & Bothy Nights that it would go the way of too many other lost bothies.
If I was giving advice to a young mountaineer it would be to take lots of photographs and keep a log; I regret I didn’t have a camera till I was 30 or keep a log till I was 40. So I have to rely a lot on memory, or seek corroboration from others’ memories, for anything before 1988.
My first visit to the Tarf – the one described in Mountain Days and Bothy Nights – was in 1977 or 1978 – or even 1979 – and I walked in from Linn o Dee, overnighted and walked back out; that was when the heating pipes and the old boiler were there. But none of the furniture Ashie Brebner mentions as being there 25 years previously – never mind the crockery! [Comment by Ashie on the Feith Uaine bothy page, referring to a visit he made there in the 1950s.] Clearly the estate had ceased to use the bothy by the 1970s. There wasn’t much evidence of use by walkers, either.
I revisited, walking in from Blair Atholl in 1983, which I can date from the location of Tarf images in my photo album, otherwise I would struggle to be so precise. The two images here [At head of post and below] were taken in March of that year. As you can see then there were definitely two AA signs, and the photos also indicate what the situation was with the side and front porches then.
On both these occasions I visited the bothy alone and found no one there, and there was no sign of any bothy book, or even any official maintenance. And still little sign of usage by walkers, such as abandoned bottles or tins. Most frustratingly, I cannot recall what I did on this occasion, or on the first trip either, though it must have been the three local Munros.
Nor did I see evidence of maintenance on the third visit, this time by bike from Blair Atholl, and this trip is one of the first entries in my log in 1988. Re-reading this account I see I saw signs of increasing use: candles, bottles tins, and the appearance of a bothy book. This was the first time I met someone in the Tarf, a lad from Blackburn. The Munro bagging phenomenon had taken off and the bothy book noted 55 ‘bed nights’ in the previous seven weeks. Sadly this had resulted in more of the doss going ‘up the lum’. One contributor to the bothy book had noted he had “collapsed the unsafe porch” – disguising an act of pyrolatry as being in the bonum publicum. Climbed Carn an Fhidleir and An Scarsoch this time.
In 1994 I visited again, on a walk through from Blair Atholl to Gaick, overnighting at the Tarf, by which time I think the MBA was working on the bothy, although once again I had it to myself. I noted that there was evidence of a walked path for the first time along the Tarf Water, from the pony shed to the bothy and evidence of much increased usage in the bothy book; this was at the height the great 1990s Munroing frenzy. The bothy was slightly flooded and a tale in the book told of a lad who had spent a couple of nights sleeping on the table as the floor was flooded, and he claimed the Feith Uaine Mor and the Tarf Water had combined to form a loch several feet deep with flood melt, and that he was marooned in the bothy for a couple of days. Whether this is more credible than the collapsed porch story, I would hesitate to say.
The last time I was there was the first time I went accompanied, in 2000 with Dave Brown, he to do his first Munro round of An Sgarsoch and Carn an Fhidleir, me my second, or possibly third. We cycled and walked in and met someone I had encountered a couple of years previously at the restoration of Melgarve bothy, and whose name I had forgotten. He was (no kidding) Hugh Munro, along with his wife. Not a name you might think you would forget. [Hugh and Marlene Munro are Maintenance Organisers for Faindouran Bothy in Glen Avon].
By this time it was a three star doss, thanks to the MBA.
Looking at the image of the bothy now, it bears no resemblance to what I dossed in 30 years ago – is that a sauna on the old porch? I will have to go back a sixth time, as I have the local duo of Munros still to do for my third round, just to be certain. Maybe I will see if I can filch a 5-star AA sign from somewhere and carry it in.
Anyway I am so pleased that my gloomy predictions from 30 years ago that the Tarf would go the way of the Geldie, Bynack, Altanour, Lochend and so many other dosses that were still in use in the 1960s, has proven unfounded.
All the best,
(Besides Mountain Days and Bothy Nights, Ian Mitchell has written a number of books on various topics. Of interest to the hill fraternity are the MDBN follow-ups ‘A View From The Ridge’ and ‘Second Man on the Rope’, and the excellent history book, ‘Scotland’s Mountains Before The Mountaineers’, which has a great deal of fascinating information about the early walkers and climbers in the Cairngorms as well as other areas.)
I’ve also heard from Bert Barnett, noted folk singer and producer of technical drawings for bothy renovations, about the legend that the well known climber Graeme Hunter had taken up the AA hotel sign.
Bert spoke to Graeme recently and confirms that it was indeed he who brought the first sign to the at that time dilapidated bothy. Bert added that it was also Graeme who placed the 30mph speed limit sign in the classic winter gully ‘Look C’ in Glen Clova. Now long gone, it was a fixture in the gully for a number of years.
And, because you’re worth it, here’s some photos…