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.
From the centre of Rhynie take the A941 west and look for the sign post to the Tap O Noth car park. The first stage of the path is grassy and boggy then turn west. At the moment the path is now a mud bath thanks to the construction of a man made lake. After a 1/2 mile of this the path turns north and starts to climb and improve. This is on the sheltered side and there still is a lot of snow on the path but as the path goes to the front of the hill the snow lessens.
The summit of the Tap O Noth supposedly an extinct volcano, the 2nd highest hillfort in Scotland, has a rampart surrounding it. On the southern side the rocks are vitrified. The reason for building it is obvious - the all round views. To the north the fort at Durn Hill, to the eastern side various hillforts including Wheedlemont, Cairnmore, Dunnydeer, Hill of Christ's Kirk and Mither Tap can all be seen.
This is a very pleasant climb, steep in bits but the weather is changeable. Today the climb was fine but on the next hill north a blizzard raged as can be seen in some of the pics.
A strange little anecdote, from "'A description of the parioches of Essie and Rhynie' (circa A.D. M.DCC.XXX.)" (ie 1730):
The Top of Noth is a very remarkable hill here. It has a fountain on the very summit, without any current from it on the outside; but if a taper rod be put into the vein of the fountain, it comes forth, in twenty-four hours space, at a large issue at the foot of the hill, called Coul's Burn, after being carried three miles under ground by the force of the current.
Here are monuments in several places, thought to be the remains of heathen superstition, though many other fabulous stories are told of them. [Though not at the moment, because this is where the anecdote cruelly finishes, sadly]
I wonder if this hillside Pooh-sticks is a local story, or sort of a Geologists' story? Quite strange whichever way.
On page 178 of Antiquities of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff. Second Volume.' 1847. Readable online at Google Books.
From the Tap O Noth car park head up the path over the stile and keep going till the old wall. A track of sorts heads east, follow this for about 200 meters and the grass covered cairn can be seen with two or 3 possible kerbs in place. Little is heard of this cairn which stands at approx 8/9 meters in diameter and would be just below 1 meter in height. (I found it by chance on an old map and Canmore doesn't list it tho it appears on their map, sadly with no name)
Sadly this is a very badly damaged cairn with agriculture and the beasts having a fair go at destroying it. Still it remains in prehistoric central surrounded by forts, circles, cairns, standing stones and loads of cup marked rocks in the Brawland/nearby areas.
(Just an observation, the cottage near the car park, what a dump you'd seriously think somebody with some clout might tidy it up. What a shambles for visitors to see)
Half way up the Tap O Noth a massive rock can be seen. It is named after St. Moluag who was a missionary. It is a good 500 yards from the path across boggy heather and many potholes. Nobody would have disturbed him up here and he most certainly would have enjoyed the views. Windy tho!
'A large rock called St Moluag can be seen to east of the path up Tap O Noth. St. Moluag was a famous Celtic missionary and a contemporary of St. Columba. Sent to Pictland in AD562 he founded several churchs in the area including one at the nearby village of Clatt. The great rock Clochmaloo (stone of St. Moluag) was probably used as a retreat whilst he worked in the area.'