Feith Uaine Bothy, at NN 926 789, better known as the Tarf Hotel, is in real mamba country (miles and miles of bugger all), sitting at 1750ft in Glen Tarf, south of Carn an Fhidleir and An Sgarsoch and to the northwest of Carn a Chlamain, fully 15 miles’ walk from Blair Atholl and almost the same from Linn o’ Dee.
The bothy has four main rooms, three gained through the main door and one – the easternmost, which used to be an open porch – via a door at the back, or northern side. There’s also a locked storeroom on the north side.
The original functions of the three main rooms can be guessed at, with a left turn at the front door taking you to a ‘living room’, with a bedroom leading off that. By turning right as you enter the front door you come to a smaller room with a concrete floor, which could well have been the kitchen. All three of the main rooms have a fireplace, as does the end room entered by the separate door.
This, when the MBA took over the running of the bothy, was open to the elements in the form of a walled porch, although it had a fireplace. A work party of some years ago enclosed this space to form a good, concrete floored room which, for a time, was the driest in the whole building. More recently its appearance and weatherproofing was improved by lapped wooden planking fixed over the upper half. At that time the problem of dampness from the ground up was lessened by clearing out the drainage ditch that surrounds the building.
Recent work parties (in 2013) have done much to improve the state of the building, with much-needed pointing to the exterior walls and fireplaces rebuilt to use up less fuel and throw out more heat – important since all the fuel you burn will have been carried in on your back. Chimney pots have also been installed, improving the draught and reducing the amount of water ingress. The two increasingly frail wooden floors have been ripped up and replaced and lots more smaller jobs done to improve the state of the bothy.
It is understood that the first building at Feith Uaine was a blackhouse, occupied by the ancestors of present-day Blair Atholl farmer John Burns as far back as the 1680s.
It is first mentioned in the Atholl Estate’s records in 1794, when a John Forbes of Auchgobhal was paid to take baggage there. But whatever state it was at in at that time, in 1799 the estate factor noted that it was in need of repair, part of the side having fallen in, leaving the roof in danger of collapse.
In 1806 the dilapidated drystone structure was replaced with a stone and lime building with a slated roof, containing two rooms, each with a fire. This was occasionally occupied by a deer watcher for the estate but, because it ended up being used even more regularly by poachers, it was eventually burnt down in 1826.
It remained a ruin until 1870, when Mr Ashley Dodd, tenant of Forest Lodge in Glen Tilt, had the walls repaired and a thatched roof put on.
Three years later the 7th Duke of Atholl took it over and the building was improved. A slate roof was once more installed, wooden floors laid and the interior wood-lined. A stable was added on at the east gable and a fuel store at the west.
A sketch of 1874 seems to show the west room occupied by the 7th Duke and his wife, Lady Louisa, while the ‘hillmen’ occupied the east room. However, in 1881 this east room was converted into an apartment for Louisa and the old stable converted for use by the hillmen. A new three-stall stable was built and a dog kennel. It was at this time, too, that the passage was built on the south wall. At the same time the course of the Feith Uaine was altered to avoid flooding.
There was an odd incident in December 1883 when a man escaped from the Murthly Asylum (Murthly is about 5 miles south-east of Dunkeld) and went on the run. He found his way to Feith Uaine and stayed there for several days before being found and taken back.
A more regular resident, though, was the 7th Duke himself. Between 1872 and 1906 he stayed 124 nights at Feith Uaine and he was said to prefer the peace and solitude of this most remote of his shooting lodges to the bustle of the more accessible Forest Lodge.
But don’t picture an entirely Spartan solitude for the duke. In October 1906 he wrote a letter from Feith Uaine bemoaning the fact it would be his last there as ‘bad times’ meant he was going to have to let out Forest Lodge. In the letter, pointing out his location nine miles beyond Forest Lodge (itself a good distance from the public road) and at 1750 feet in elevation, he casually mentioned being accompanied by “Donald Gow, stalker, Neil McBeath with my pony, Neil Irvine with a dog, Sandy McDonald as ghillie, and John McNaughton, a woodman.” He also had “Donald McDougall as my butler, valet, cook and housemaid.” However, he did note that, among the lot of them, he didn’t hear much English.
In 1909 the building was burnt down, the blaze possibly caused by a fire left smouldering and it wasn’t until 1914 that work took place to rebuild it.
I’m not aware of when it fell into disuse but it’s not too unreasonable to guess that it happened in the wake of the Great War, as at other remote shooting lodges. An era ended with the war and, as the 20th century wore on improvements in transport meant it was easier for shooting parties to base themselves in more civilised parts and still travel out to enjoy a day’s shooting.
Certainly by the 1960s, and almost certainly before that, it was being used as a bothy by hill climbers visiting this remote area below Carn an Fhidleir and An Sgarsoch, and it was in 1966 that the Feith Uaine Bothy’s alter ego of the Tarf Hotel was born. It’s said (and I would love to have this confirmed or otherwise) that the noted Scottish climber Graeme Hunter acquired an AA hotel sign and hung it on the bothy.
That sign remains there, on the door of the bothy, even today. In fact at some point there appear to have been two signs, both visible in an old photograph on the corrugated iron covering of the ‘porch’ at the east end.
However Ian Mitchell, in his and Dave Brown’s classic book ‘Mountain Days and Bothy Nights’ (1987), notes that whatever delights the building once offered, it had fallen on hard times. He noted the remains of plumbing and a hot water system, with an old boiler rotting away at the back, but all the rooms bar one were missing their wood lining and ceilings and floors and lath had, in the way of neglected bothies, disappeared ‘up the lum’.
The one remaining habitable room, said Mitchell, had a fireplace and two spring beds, as well as a table and chairs, but the ceiling oozed water from the damaged roof.
Ian Mitchell doesn’t say when this was but it sounds like it was probably sometime in the 1970s and he foresaw an end to the bothy in just a few years.
It hung on though and, in 1992, was saved when the MBA came to an agreement with the estate. MBA volunteers installed a new roof and floors. Much work was carried out over the years but the problem of damp never seemed far away, whether rising from the ground, penetrating the walls or coming in at the roof and chimneys.
The last couple of years, from 2011, have seen a power of effective work done to tackle the problem of water and make the bothy a far more pleasant place to stay than it has been for almost a century.
(Historical information and photos used on this page were collated by Ricky Marshall, maintenance organiser for Feith Uaine Bothy.)