Dave and I have had it in out diaries for a while to get a couple of days out on the hill (preferably climbing!) in the Christmas hols. In the absence of anything like ice anywhere, with warm wet fronts blowing through regularly and with lots of storms and rain at all altitudes we quickly made a second plan – a second plan A that would go whatever the weather and conditions.
Biking in to the Tarf Hotel
There’s something about travelling in the mountains and using bothies. Some of my happiest memories and mountain experiences involve a night out somewhere, often in a bothy. Memories of good journeys, interesting places, great craic both with old friends and just made friends, fires, candlelight, warmth, the damp smell of drying gear, whiskey, laughter and generally lots of good times and memories. I love bothy trips – although I do seem to mostly save them for when there’ nothing to climb and conditions are poor……..
So we decided on a bothy trip, with the criteria of not going to far (no climbing so no need to start too early) and of having an adventure. We decided to walk into the bothy affectionately known as the Tarf Hotel near Blairgowrie. I have been meaning to visit this bothy for a while, ever since I read a book called ‘Mountain days and bothy nights’ that shares some memories of great nights and adventures here. It’s a great book written by ‘normal’ Scottish mountaineers – not ‘superhero climber’ types and from memory the books as much about the adventures and craic that most if us in the mountains can easily identify with. Well worth a read.
Dave and I cycled up Glen Tilt as far as possible, and then dragged our bikes for about another kilometre over the snow – just in case the track cleared further up and we could be able to ride again………….. about the time we stashed the bikes (my old black bike just abandoned, Dave’s very new and very red shiny bike carefully camouflaged with heather and rocks) the promised horrendous storm arrived, the wind picked up and the rain started flying horizontally. We began walking up and over the hill towards the bothy with that nagging doubt that often creeps in when visiting a new bothy – like I hope it still has a roof etc
It was hard going, the snow was completely saturated, wasn’t bonded very well and was definitely not attached to the underlying heather. Every step resulted in sinking somewhere between the top of the boot height and mid-thigh and there were many occasions when we resorted to crawling across snow patches after we had fallen in again to make sure we redistributed the weight across more of the snow and didn’t sink again. Truly hard and difficult conditions to be out in the mountains and the occasional laughs and sniggers at ourselves quickly stopped as things became more difficult, the going became harder and steeper and the wind speed increased causing the horizontal rain to sting any exposed skin. We both retreated within as many layers and hoods as we could and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other as we were battered on the hills! It took us an hour to walk one kilometre because of the conditions (and an admittedly steep uphill!). Slow going.
Dave’s still smiling!
Not even slightly frozen!
Eventually we reached the summit of the hill we were heading over, took a bearing from the summit and descended to find the bothy, the ‘Tarf Hotel’ that used to be an old shooing lodge for one of the Dukes of Atholl. We got to the bothy after various other snow sinking moments, one of them that involved me going up to my waist in a bog and after a river crossing that ensured we both definitely had wet feet. There was so much water and saturated snow about that the bothy almost seemed to be floating in a small lochan formed by the bog, half melted snow and the water from the burns. We were thankful that there was a big step up into the bothy – that the water would still have to go up at least another 30 cm before it would creep into the bothy.
The bothy was in good order, some snow had been blown in in the gales and so we moved it back out and then picked the dry room to bed down for the night. As always about this time I became really glad of the extra effort of carrying in coal as the fire sprang into life and gave us some warmth (not really enough to dry clothes, but definitely warmer than it would have been outside….) A wild night outside matched by fairly mellow night inside. Good food, good craic, whiskey, fire and then into bed by 8!
Warm and dry, fire, whiskey and good craic. What else would you need?
Long night of sleep, out of the bag around 9 the next day, leisurely breakfast (really no rush to get out) and then decided on the easiest way out because we were well and truly tired of poor underfoot conditions.
Me thinking about leaving the Tarf hotel
A couple of navigation legs on the way out, back up and over the hill but this time mostly on a track (or the firm verges of the track) and then back to the bikes (Dave’s shiny red bike still there) Back down Glen Tilt and back to the car at a reasonable time and back to Stirling in time to put the children to bed. Great adventure all around!
Rebuilding the bikes for the cycle back to Blairgowrie