The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Tap o' Noth



I awake to a promising dawn; dry, with high, broken cloud, albeit the wind having escalated quite considerably once again. The second of Aberdeenshire's 'legendary' hillforts it is, then.... Tap O' Noth. Yeah, as with the nearby Mither Tap, the 'breast' analogy is only too obvious upon arrival at - in fact well before - the spacious car park. Welcoming, too, since surely there is nothing so natural and wondrous for a man to behold. So long as we aren't talking 'man boobs', of course. Cope waxes lyrical (in the paper TMA) concerning the relationship these 'mother hills' had - still have, in fact - with the myriad RSCs, in various states of preservation, within visual proximity. I must admit I read this with a certain degree of cynicism at the time .... before I came and saw for myself. There really is no substitute for seeing with thine own eyes.

Drewbhoy's notes have nailed the directions, so I won't labour the point further.... except to say that upon the final approach the traveller has a choice of keeping to the main track, or taking a narrow 'sheep track' which ascends the mountainside to the right, towards the prominent ramparts crowning the summit. Note that a new 'deer fence' was being erected at the time of my visit - assume there will be a gate? Anyway, being impatient I took the latter route, and to be honest struggled a little in the fierce wind; however bear in mind that this conical hill, at 1,851 ft (564m), is more like a minature mountain in terms of terrain/vibe - so dress accordingly... for the worst. Yeah, after 20 odd years of walking Britain's uplands I was certain I had all bases covered. Wrong! Suffice to say you never have everything completely sussed upon Britain's hills.

Walking through the entrance, sited at the south-eastern corner of the great drystone ramparts, I suddenly leave the safety of the lee of the mountain and realise that, not to be outdone by Bennachie a few days earlier, Tap O'Noth is about to give me a serious 'kicking'. With great big hob-nailed boots on! A group of youths, engaged upon some expedition or other, sit huddled below the OS triangulation pillar which crowns a section of vitrified rampart to the west. If this is their first taste of the hills, some introduction, lads! I check they are OK and proceed to take in the stunning view east to Dunnideer, the fragment of medieval tower crowning the much smaller 'mother hill-cum-vitrified-hillfort' clearly visible. Not to mention the iconic skyline of Bennachie itself to the approx south east. The view to the south-west is just as exquisite, ditto the other points of the compass (with a more woodland vibe), albeit into the teeth of the gale. And herein lies the problem... it is very, very difficult to stand, and impossible to move without bracing every step with trekking pole fore and aft. However I cannot leave Tap O' Noth without traversing the mighty ramparts, the volume of stone contained within which is seriously impressive. Canmore records state that the defences consist of 'a single wall... which may have originally been more than 20ft (6.1m) thick and encloses an area about 335ft (102m) by 105ft (32m)'. It is thus not the largest of enclosures, yet it takes me about 45 minutes to complete a circuit in, all things considered, the most extreme wind I've every encountered. In a way the titanic struggle I have today is appropriate... everything about Tap O' Noth is extreme. Siting, defences, vitrification, views... and, last but not least, surely symbolism? To ensure I get the point Nature hammers it home with a very violent hail front which fair hurtles past. Strewth. I won't forget my visit here in a hurry. Which is how it should be.
25th June 2011ce
Edited 26th June 2011ce

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