Thursday, 6 September 2018
Checking in at the Tarf Hotel
After a 24 kilometre walk, parts of which were on trackless and difficult ground, it was good to arrive at the "Tarf Hotel". The actual name of the place is Feith Uaine (green channel or marsh) and it's a bothy maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association. One of the most remote and difficult to reach of the hundred or so buildings maintained by the charity, Feith Uaine is some 15 kilometres or 10 miles from any public road and lies at 650 metres/1750 feet altitude among country which can fairly be described as "mamba" (miles and miles of b*gger all).
The alternative name for the building of "Tarf Hotel" comes in part from the Automobile Association (AA) hotel sign which adorns the front door - in fact it seems that at one point there were two of these signs which must have been "liberated" from a hotel somewhere.
Neil Reid has written a very comprehensive history of the place on his excellent Cairngorm Wanderer blog - very well worth a read. The renovation of this bothy has left it in perhaps the best condition since its glory days as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Atholl, and arguably drier than at any time in its existence.
"Checking in" at a bothy is uncomplicated....find a space and unpack. Each time I use a bothy it strikes me what a unique and precious institution they are - simple shelters, free to use, not bookable and open to all who need them - operating on trust and the goodwill of the owners of the estates on which they lie. In a quite remarkable relationship, estate owners make the buildings available and the MBA keep them in good order. I'm a member of the MBA and have been for many years, though this isn't any kind of condition for using bothies; and confers no privileges other than the knowledge that one is helping to keep the institution going.
Unsurprisingly I was the only occupant and so was able to spread out a bit in the west room. Basic though bothies are, you'll notice that there's a smoke detector above the window; there are also a carbon monoxide detectors through the building. I tested all these so that I could include the fact that they were working in the bothy report I would submit. It's helpful for the MBA and particularly the Maintenance Organiser (MO) for each bothy to receive reports from users; it's a simple online process which can be done here on the MBA website.
In comparison to most, the Tarf Hotel is quite a big and well equipped bothy - let's take a tour.......
There are three main rooms in the main building and one attached at the east end. The three internal rooms are accessed via the main door and an internal corridor. The room at the west of the building is the largest, this is the one which would have been occupied by the Duke of Atholl and his wife when visiting the lodge. Originally dry-lined with wooden planking, it now has stone walls which are fee of damp, and a large window. This room and the middle room have had their timber floors re-layed. There's also a substantial multifuel stove - but if you want heat from it you'll need to bring the fuel all the long miles on your back!
The middle room is somewhat smaller and may have been the kitchen. A bit more spartan than the other rooms, it is nevertheless dry and clean.
The eastern internal room has retained the timber lining, paited white to increase the light levels. Tables and chairs plus a small sleeping platform complete the furnishings. This seems to have originally been the room occupied by the Duke's retainers, then refurbished for use by the Duchess with the "hillmen" being moved to an external building.
A metal roof and new chimney pots were installed by the MBA in 2013 - and the bothy is completely dry and weathertight. Perhaps the most significant change is the external room at the east of the building, accessed by a door on the north side. This is shown in old photos as originally being an open porch, though it did have a fireplace. The transformation is quite remarkable.....
The new room is of wood construction above the original stone wall and seems very well insulated - it felt warmer in this room, perhaps partly due to the windows catching sunlight. The last time I visited Feith Uaine it was in fairly poor condition, but all is now changed. The work that's been done here, given the location and the logisitics of getting people and equipment in (there are no roads or tracks for many miles) is nothing short of heroic.
I returned to the west room and prepared dinner whilst reading through the entries in the bothy book. Tales of epic walks and that recurring theme, the navigational difficulty of locating a bothy door in remote country and in challenging weather. Turning in for the night, I considered myself pretty privileged to be in this place.