MITHER TAP HILLFORT

A substantial fortification that evolved over many centuries, Mither Tap Hillfort may have been founded as early as 1000 BC. Consisting of inner and outer defences, at least ten round houses and possibly also a hall are believed to have occupied the interior. The Battle of Mons Graupius (AD 83) may have been fought on the lower slopes under the fort.

History

 

Mither Tap Hillfort was built upon one of the four summits of Bennachie. Possibly occupied as early as 1000 BC, it was over 500 metres above sea level and would doubtless have been a fairly bleak residence for most of the year. The defences, which evolved over time, consisted of inner and outer stone ramparts. Both were over 7 metres thick with evidence of a parapet walkway on the lower/outer wall which may have been replicated on the inner defences. The entrance consisted of a hornwork - an Iron Age version of the medieval barbican. A number of roundhouses seemingly existed between the inner and outer ramparts and a square structure, perhaps some form of hall, was built in the centre. A well was dug into the lowest point of the hillfort.

 

The only reliable dating of the structure comes from analysis of charcoal remains which suggest occupation between AD 340-540 and AD 640-780 respectively. It is uncertain therefore whether the fort existed at the time of the Battle of Mons Graupius (AD 83), where the Roman army defeated the  Caledonian tribes, which was most probably fought on the lower slopes of Bennachie.

 

A local legend suggests the hillfort was used as a hiding place by Alexander Forbes, Lord Forbes of Pitsligo. He had fought with the Jacobite forces at the Battle of Culloden (1745) and after their defeat went on the run. Following a visit to his friend General Horn at Logie-Elphinstone, he justified a bout of heavy drinking on the harsh conditions he had to endure on Bennachie.

 

At some point in the nineteenth century the Maiden Causeway was built connecting the fort with the lower slopes probably to enable the stone to be removed to support other building projects. This work may have been conducted by the squatters who started to live on Bennachie around 1801 attracted by the rent free land. This changed in 1859 when the three landlords whose respective properties converged at Mither Tap imposed tarriffs. The granite block on the summit of the fort is marked with the initials of the three estates; Balquhain, Pittodrie and Logie Elphinstone.

 

Bibliography

 

Birley, A.R (1999).  Tacitus, Agricola and Germany. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Campbell, D, B (2010).  Mons Graupius AD 83. Osprey, Oxford.

CANMORE (2016). Mither Tap of Bennachie. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

Feachem, R (1963). A guide to prehistoric Scotland. London.

Konstam, A (2010). Strongholds of the Picts; the Fortifications of Dark Age Scotland. Osprey, Oxford.

Maxwell, G.S (1990). A Battle Lost: Romans and Caledonians at Mons Graupius. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.

McConnochie, A.I (1890). Bennachie. Aberdeenshire.

Pryor, F (2010). The Making of the British Landscape. Penguin Books, London.

Shepherd, I.A.G and Ralston, I.B.M (1979). Early Grampian: a guide to the archaeology. Aberdeen.

St Joseph, J.K (1978).  The Camp at Durno, Aberdeenshire, and the site of Mons Graupius. Britannia Journal.

Whiteley, A.W.M (1976). The Book of Bennachie: The Bailies of Bennachie. Aberdeen.

What's There?

Although the ramparts of this once mighty fortification have been reduced to tumbled stone, the remains of Mither Tap hillfort are hugely impressive. The barbican entrance is a rare survivor whilst the views from the summit are breathtaking.

Bennachie. Mither Tap Hillfort was situated on the distinctive Bennachie mountain range. The name Bennachie derives from a Gaelic term - either Beinn na Ciche (Hill of the Beast - perhaps a reference to the hillfort) or Beinn a Chath (Hill of Battle - a reference to the Battle of Mons Graupius which was probably fought on the lower slopes of the mountain).

Ramparts. The ramparts of the fort have largely been reduced to vast piles of stones but the general layout of the defences - as well as their scale - can still be appreciated.

Hornwork. The hornwork entrance to the hillfort acted as the equivalent of a medieval barbican.

View from Mither Tap Hillfort.

Getting There

Bennachie is a popular destination with walkers and has its own visitor centre complete with facilities. The walk to Mither Tap is well sign-posted with a clear path to the summit.

Bennachie Car Park / Centre

AB51 5HY

57.284492N 2.500337W

Mither Tap Hillfort

No Postcode

57.290873N 2.528603W