Experience the life of a wealthy jute mill owner at this Edwardian-era home. Play billiards. Admire Rococco plaster work. Discover beautiful antiques. Explore the gardens. A combined train trip and short cycle make it possible to visit this on a day trip from Edinburgh, or take a short detour from National Cycle Route 1.
From Cupar station it is only a 2.5 mile cycle to the house (map at bottom of this page). Having a bicycle makes it convenient and easy to reach the house using public transport. Edinburgh to Cupar by rail takes just under 1 hour. Cupar is 20 minutes from Dundee.
How to make your tearoom stand out from the competition? Put a Model T Ford van on the roof. You will pass the Fisher and Donaldson bakery on the way to the house.
The A916 curves up towards the house. A word of warning- this is a tough hill that will give your legs a workout, but the reward is the superb views of rolling countryside. On the way back the freewheel to the bottom of the hill will pump you full of adrenaline.
House of Fun
The motto of Hill of Tarvit Mansion is "a grand day out" and you will see this on the sign at the start of the driveway leading to the house.
There is an emphasis on having fun and trying out some of the games that were a major part of the Edwardian household. I love the fact that you can try out the billiard table. I cannot think of any other stately homes that let you touch the billiard table, ever mind play on it.
In the parlour you can play card games, tiddly winks and snakes and ladders. There is a hickory golf course on the lawn and you can rent clubs and collect a score card.
The score card is on the back of the visitor map. This looks really enticing with the quality drawings and use of colour to highlight the green lawns, rose garden and woods. It made me excited about exploring the site.
The Sharp family made their money in the Dundee jute industry. This versatile material was used to make items like ropes, sailcloth, aprons, carpets and tents. At one time there were around 60 jute mills in Dundee, employing more than 50,000 people.
The family wealth is evident throughout the house. I was particularly impressed by the plaster wreath around the cupola on the first floor. It portrays corn in the cob, sunflowers, grapes, marrow and pineapple with incredible precision.
The bathroom in this house is enormous. There is a serious looking shower with taps marked "spray", "plunge" and "ascending spray". This is the type of gear I would expect to find in a a modern luxury hotel, but the Sharps had it in the 1920s.
Above the toilet there is a strange ornament of toads fighting with swords, with one stabbing the other.
You are not permitted to take photographs in the house, but I was able to take a photo of the visitor toilets. It was nice to discover that there is an original Edwardian WC with porcelain bowl, wooden seat and high level cistern.
Nothing but the best
In the dining room there was a very enthusiastic guide who pointed out the silver galleon table decoration. "Look at the detail, even has men on it." There is a sailor climbing the rigging, one in the crow's nest and one at the wheel. There is a dragon on the prow of the ship and the decking even has the wood grain showing.
The room also had a silver rabbit, pheasant and squirrel. "Their heads come off and there are glasses inside for drinking liqueurs, " the guided told me. "Isn't that marvelous?"
With so much silver in the house it must have been a job keeping it clean. The sink in the kitchen has three taps, one of which deposited rain water, "ideal for cleaning silver," the guide told me.
She was keen to draw my attention to the door from the dining room to the kitchen, "just look at the quality. Mahogany. Nothing but the best."
Sir Hugh Sharp was a collector of first editions and his library included a rare Alice in Wonderland of which only 22 copies were produced. This was because Lewis Carrol did not like the illustrations and pulled the print run.
Sir Hugh loved climbing and in his bedroom here are black and white photographs of him scaling the Alps in the 1920s. He pioneered skiing in the Scottish Highlands. He received many medals for his courage in World War One and in the bedroom there is an interesting portable gramophone from that time. It was nicknamed 'The Trench' and designed for front line service. It is thought that over 100,000 of these gramophones were sent to the trenches to help raise the morale of the troops.
Despite the obvious wealth in the house I felt that it was cosy and not intimidating. It is not a huge house and on a much smaller scale than many of Scotland's stately homes.
Time for tea
There is an elegant tea room with chequerboard tiles, wooden tables and an extensive selection of home baking displayed on a sideboard. You can also get soup and sandwiches. It is a nice spot to relax with a coffee and they also have seating outside for when the sun is out.
A walk in the gardens
The gardens are small, but full of colourful and sweet smelling flowers.
There is an Edwardian laundry house in the grounds. Inside there is an incredible collection of items, including sinks, mangles and washboards. An information panel describes the life of a laundry maid which involved starting work at 5:00 am and only getting half a day off per week.
The most fascinating part of the laundry room is the drying racks that are pulled in and out on rails. Laundry could be hung on these and then the racks pushed back in where the items would dry from the heat of the boiler. The quality and craftsmanship of these racks is impressive, with chunky brass handles and wood panelling with iron surround. It gives a very visible indication of the industrial scale of keeping a wealthy household crisp and clean.
Up on the hill
The hilltop walk is the highlight of the grounds of Hill of Tarvit Mansion. At the top of the garden there is an iron gate topped with a flourishing decoration that features two little birds. You pass through this gate to start the hilltop walk
You walk through a small wood, a peaceful spot of gently rustling branches and shafts of sunlight on the grass. One of the trees had a swing attached to a branch and I could not resist having a go on it.
At the top of the hill sheep graze and the view is incredible. There are parcels of farmland interspersed with trees as far as the eye can see. It must have been a joy living in this house and being able to admire the surrounding landscape from this vantage whenever you wanted.
There is a 19th century doocot in the grounds, which is in the form of a mini castle. The pigeons kept here would have provided the estate with eggs and meat.
Whilst you are at Hill of Tarvit Mansion you should also visit Scotstarvit Tower. It is located across the road from the main entrance to the Mansion. My next blog has information about this.
Hill of Tarvit Mansion makes for a great day out and is really easy to reach using train and bicycle. At 2.5 miles it is not much of a bike ride, but you will get exercise exploring the grounds on foot, particularly if you do the hilltop walk. If you are cycling on National Cycle Route 1 the house is only a one mile diversion from the route.
Cycle to the Secret Bunker. From Cupar you can cycle to a secret nuclear war bunker, a fascinating visitor attraction. Read my feature about cycling to Scotland's Secret Bunker
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.