Pleasant, but pointless, among the Picts


(Picture: Digitscotland.com)

The impressive Aberdeenshire hillfort at Tap o’ Noth (GM/ES-054) - Scotland’s second-highest fort - is a popular three-mile there-and-back walk enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year, including those keen on paragliding. It is often particularly busy at weekends and at holiday times, but today was the final day of October, a Monday, and all was quiet.

There is evidence of habitation on the site back to 2,000BC but its main occupation seems to have been in Pictish times in the 5th to 6th centuries AD. Recently, archaeologists from Aberdeen University (where the subject formed part of my studies there back in the mid-1970s) discovered that the settlement had up to 4,000 inhabitants living there in more than 800 huts - pretty impressive for a hilltop site that stands 563 metres above sea level. That would make the site a city by standards of the day, rivalling in size to post-Roman settlements found across Europe.

Why it was abandoned remains something of a mystery. Perhaps residents just got tired of delivery delays in receiving milk, mail or Amazon parcels in the bitter winter weather in these parts, but it provides a fine SOTA two-pointer with great 360-degree views. On a very breezy and cool October morning, it seemed a fine place to continue my recent SOTA rehab on the hills.

Tap o’ Noth lies close to the Aberdeenshire village of Rhynie, along the Cabrach road towards Dufftown, which is often one of the first to close in Scotland during heavy snowfall. There is an excellent wee car park at the start, signposted from the road, and well-maintained paths to the summit, backed by a mixture of grant aid and support from local farmers.

It’s a steepish but short climb of about 1.5 miles to the summit but the view improves with every step and it is hard not to be impressed with the scale of the hillfort when you arrive there. We chose to nestle behind the ramparts to the north of the site to escape the southerly wind now gusting to well over 35mph.

There was an incentive to get settled quickly, however. Fraser @MM0EFI, was planning to activate four Aberdeenshire one-pointers today and so there was an opportunity for me to secure some S2S contacts on FM. Before setting up my HF kit, he came up on 2m on my wee Yaesu FT-4xe handie and its Diamond whip, just after 09.00, from Hill of Tillymorgan (GM/ES-079). One S2S completed - especially welcome as it was a Complete for me. The picture shows me during our QSO with his summit just visible to the far right in the distance.

My unfortunate unease at being back on the air and in the hills is still lingering as my road to recovery continues and so it was another day of simply trying for some S2S contacts rather than attempting to deal with a pile of enthusiastic chasers, but the next 45 minutes produced only two S2S contacts on 20metres; @SQ9BQW, Wojciech, in Poland and @DK2UW, Uwe, in Germany. I was using the KX2 with a 44ft end-fed wire with 9:1 UnUn but it was far from easy trying to keep the 6m carbon pole upright in the strengthening wind and the antenna wire drew taught like an archer’s drawstring on his longbow. No matter, signals in and out seemed relatively good, although I was unable to break through the noisy pile-ups on some other potential European S2S contacts.

Thankfully, I had time to survey the countryside while waiting, which is always a joy. In this picture, looking west, can be seen Ben Rinnes (GM/ES-021) and beside it the two smaller hills of Meikle Conval (GM/ES-051) and Little Conval (GM/ES-057).

It was not long before Fraser @MM0EFI popped up again on his second summit of the day (Hill of Foudland GM/ES-071) so I worked him on 2m FM again at 10.45 before deciding enough was enough. It is still early days for me to be back on the hills so there are no prizes for overdoing it. My 90-minute SOTA trip yielded just the four S2S contacts but with two of them being with the same callsign, the one point for the activation eluded me this time. No matter, I enjoyed it. I’ll be back.

When we emerged from behind our shelter on the hillfort ramparts it was now blowing a gale and Sula, our omnipresent SOTA dog, did a fair imitation of a kite as we peered down to the village of Rhynie below us with the prominent whaleback of Bennachie visible to the left.

On our descent, I was intrigued to see sections of disused electrical cable sticking out from the path. My theory is that they were part of a communications link to the former fire-watching station on the summit (you get a great view over Clashindarroch Forest from there) but I could well be wrong.

We were back in the car in no time and soon heading for home, pointless but pleased.

From my home QTH just 9 miles away, I was able to make contact with Fraser on 40metres on his final two summits of the day - a typically fine effort by him. I was grateful to have simply completed one, although how those ancient Picts survived on Tap o’Noth dressed only in animal skins rather than my contemporary hillwalking gear I have no idea. My eyes water just thinking about it. I’ll think twice before complaining about being unable to run the central heating too much this coming winter!

I can’t even imagine how the Picts at this amazing hillfort site survived without having access to VHF or HF. Where’s the fun in that?

Here’s to my next proper activation soon. 73 Mike

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Thanks for your report. Nice fotos and an interesting background story!

73 Heinz

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I really like photo 5. That watery light is like a 17 century oil on canvas. Well done.
David
G0EVV

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I very much appreciate the historical background and pictures. Tnx es 73
Brad N1VWD

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Great work Mike. Thank you for the two Summit to Summit contacts, the Complete and for chasing me from your QTH for my last two activations.

Your stunning aerial shot shows the Tap o’Noth hill fort really well. Goodness knows how folk survied up there. The first time Mo and I climbed it the weather was brutal.


January 2012. Mo has my Himalayas spec duvet jacket on, it was so cold

I loved the history lesson. In Aberdeenshire we are surrounded by pre-history. Only one omission - the summit rocks are vitrified. :+1:

I’m looking forward to your next one…

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Interesting report - I wonder what the original inhabitants would have made of our radios ??

:slightly_smiling_face:

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Thanks Fraser. Was great to work you yesterday on your excellent four-summit trip. Well impressed! Thanks for the S2S contacts.
As for vitrification, that’s a fascinating subject that was trialled in 1980 in an amazing two-day experiment at Aberdeen which raised many questions about its actual feasibility. The test certainly kept everyone warm, though.

Love your picture which shows Tap o’ Noth in its winter coat. Our trip up there in March ‘21, see below, involved negotiating 6ft snow drifts on the path. Happy days :grinning:

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Hi David. Life would certainly have been very different, :grinning: There is an ancient legend of a giant on nearby Bennachie (GM/ES-061), Jock o’ Bennachie, falling out with the giant on Tap o’ Noth, Jock o’ Noth, after the latter stole his girlfriend, Lady Anne. He was so incensed he hurled a great rock at his love rival and, inevitably, struck Lady Anne in error and killed her, leaving him distraught.
The rock must have been thrown about 12 miles. I suppose it represents one of the earliest recorded VHF (very hostile fight) summit-to-summit contacts, although no points were awarded on either side! Today’s S2S comms are somewhat less traumatic, thankfully…. :rofl:

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Many thanks for an excellent report and some brilliant photos Mike. Looks to be a crackin’ wee hill. I think a visit up your way is required at some point. :grinning:

All the best for your continued recovery. Bit by bit… you will get there!

73, Gerald

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Thanks Gerald and the good wishes are much appreciated. There are plenty of us here certain to give you a warm welcome on your next trip north so do give us a shout if you plan to come to the hills of GM/ES.
Good dx on Ben Chonzie on Saturday.
73 Mike

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Nice report Mike. I heard you work Fraser on Tillymorgan, just before I called him. You were stronger than he was, so we could have had a QSO as well. Next time!

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This report again proves that G/GM/GW are the perfect entities for a SOTA activation. Outstanding views, tnx fer fb pics!

Ahoi
Pom

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Dammit. Sorry to have missed you Simon. I switched off the handie after I spoke to him in order to get my HF rig set up. Lesson learned! Hope to catch you again soon. 73 Mike

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I think Chonzie will have to wait for another day. I will most likely be going elsewhere… GM/ES currently tooks better, but who knows? The forecast changes every few hours. What is certain is that this will be a one day visit. I will get up for a few more days hopefully next month.

73, Gerald

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Hello Mike,
thank you for your report and for taking the time to illustrate your activation.
Your pictures and the flair of this landscape is amazingly beautiful. Surely not pointless! Great illustration of what SOTA brings to our hobby.

73, Fred HB3XBA

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Great report, Mike, fine pictures and a cracking good read - thanks! More please!

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Great write-up!
I’m not sure my tiny brain understands the logic behind why your two S2S contacts with Fraser don’t qualify as two of the four required QSO’s… I mean, yes, it’s the same person but he was on two different summits!
Anyway, onwards and upwards.

Ronan
MM0IVR

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There’s no way of knowing that so the same call /P or /M is only counted once.

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I could have used my intermediate callsign I suppose. Anyway, sounds like Mike likes/needs the exercise, so sure he’ll be back up there soon. 2+3=5 come 30th November!

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Impressive pictures and interesting reading. Thanks for posting this.
Without knowing the the reason of your “unfortunate unease at being back on the air” I do not understand why you refrained from calling CQ to get the required 4th callsign in the log.
I always enjoy calling CQ and working chasers.

73 de Michael, DB7MM

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