Places to Visit in Scotland
- Hill of Tarvit Mansionhouse and Scotstarvit Tower, Cupar, Fife
Hill of Tarvit Mansionhouse
In the early 20th century the Scotstarvit estate, south of Cupar in Fife, was bought by Frederick Bower Sharp. The Sharp family had made their fortune in Dundee, where they manufactured jute products (including selling sackcloth for sandbagging to both sides during the American Civil War). Frederick, however, trained as a financier and became chairman of one of the earliest investment trusts and became involved in the Victorian railway boom as a director of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway.
Sharp considered the 17th century Wemyss Hall on the estate to be totally unsuitable as a family home and for showing off his large collection of Flemish tapestries, Chinese porcelain and bronzes, French and English Furniture and European paintings. So he commissioned Hugh Lorimer (who had worked on the restoration of Kellie Castle ten miles away). Lorimer's design largely demolished the original structure to create a new building, which was given the the name of Hill of Tarvit Mansionhouse.
Sharp's only son died tragically in a railway disaster and his daughter (born in 1909) did not marry. When she died in 1948, she left the mansion and its contents and the estate to the National Trust for Scotland.
Inside the Mansionhouse
Most of the visitors to Hill of Tarvit Mansionhouse go there to be overwhelmed by the furniture (mostly 17th and 18th century), tapestries, paintings, porcelain, plasterwork ceilings and general sumptuous surroundings. Unfortunately, the National Trust for Scotland has a policy of prohibiting the public from taking photographs inside their property. So visitors have to buy the lavishly illustrated (but modestly priced) guide book if they want a record of their visit.
After touring the house, the kitchen in Hill of Tarvit Mansionhouse is well worth a visit. No priceless furniture or artefacts, but as in so many National Trust properties, delicious home baking is available! They all seem to use the same great recipe for scones!
The design of the gardens was a mixture of the efforts of Lorimer the architect, Sharp himself (a keen horticulturalist), and Sharp's son who brought plants back from his foreign travels. Parkland rolls right up to the gardens and there is a sunken rose garden near the front of the house, which is invisible as you come up the driveway. The National Trust has a lot of experience of gardens so the flowers and shrubs we see today owe much to their expertise.
During a visit in late summer, I was particularly struck by the number of plants which are known to be particularly attractive to butterflies. The Peacocks and Red Admirals were certainly appreciating what had been planted for them! The graphic here is of two Red Admirals, showing off their beautiful markings on both the upper wing and the underside.
The Hill, Monument and Estate
The Hill of Tarvit itself is part of the estate and visitors can make the one-mile journey to the top to obtain views of the Fife countryside. The area is largely uncultivated, with conifers, wild plants and animals in abundance. There are lots of birds around and, if you are very lucky, you may spot a red squirrel.
The monument at the top of the Hill was put up to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. Of course, it served the dual purpose of allowing the ancient market cross in Cupar to be returned to its rightful location. The Earl of Wemyss won the monument in the early 19th century from the provost (mayor) of Cupar in a card game! The Earl moved the ancient monument to Hill of Tarvit where it remained until the town offered the monument to Queen Victoria to take its place on the prominent vantage point!
Frederick Bower Sharp was a keen golfer and although he moved to Hill of Tarvit because of the train service from Cupar to Dundee and to the south, the proximity of St Andrews was also an attraction to him. Not that he really had to travel the eight miles to the home of golf - he built a private golf course on his own estate. The National Trust for Scotland - with an eye on increasing the income earned by the property - has created a golf course in the fields close to the Hill of Tarvit Mansionhouse.
Other Things to See and Do
You may have gathered by now that there are plenty of things to see and do at Hill of Tarvit Mansionshouse. In addition to those already covered above, there is a laundry building which has been left as it was nearly 100 years ago. Information notices in the building describe how the laundry maids worked six days on laundry duties (starting at 6am) and another half day cleaning and drying the laundry building and equipment. Mangles were used to get rid of water after washing and then the clothes that couldn't be hung outside were put in drying cupboards beside the boiler. There are examples of the irons used to remove creases - one was heated with hot charcoal, which had a funnel to let out the smoke which sometimes made the clothes dirty again!
A new addition to the facilities is a croquet lawn, where visitors can get lessons on how to play the game and then try their hand (and mallet) on a course that is marked out on the grass. Great fun!
In 1475, a tower house near Craigrothie, south of Ceres in Fife, was known as Inglis-Tarvit. The land at that time was owned by the Inglis family and "Tarvit" came from the Gaelic "tarbhait" or bull place. Much of the neighbouring land was owned by the Scotts of Balwearie. Although "Scott" is the name of the powerful Border family, now headed by the Duke of Buccleuch, the first known use of the surname was Uchtredus filius Scotti, who lived around 1130. In addition to a branch of his family being established in the Borders, another settled in Fife, near Kircaldy).
In 1611, the Tarvit estate was bought by a Perthshire lawyer Sir John Scot. He improved the tower and it was renamed Scotstarvit Tower. Scot became Lord Scot in 1632 and soon afterwards rescued the maps of Timothy Pont. These were the first detailed maps of Scotland and had been created from 1583-1596.
The tower is well preserved and rises to six storeys plus an attic. The tower originally had a magnificent carved fireplace in the hall with the date 1627 and the initials of Scot and his wife. But this was removed when Hill of Tarvit Mansionhouse was being created in 1904.
Where to Find Hill of Tarvit
Hill of Tarvit is a few miles south of Cupar, on the A916 - just take care to fork left from the A914 shortly after leaving Cupar. The entrance to Hill of Tarvit Mansionhouse is on the left hand side of the road. There is a narrow lane on the other side of the road leading to Scotstarvit Tower. As the road is quite narrow, it is recommended to park in the lay-by on the main road.
Details on opening times and entry costs are available from the National Trust for Scotland's on Web site on Hill of Tarvit Mansionhouse.
See also the Location Map (you can enlarge the scale of this map, if required).
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