Tinto (NS 953343, 711m)

8.3 kilometres
510 metres of ascent

Tinto route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

I feel vaguely embarrassed to be writing about an ascent of a popular hill by a popular route, but sometimes ingenuity escapes me.

Tinto is the site of a great missed pun opportunity for me. Decades ago, I was invited to climb it along with an acquaintance who was finishing his round of Donalds. It’s customary for a whole bunch of people to accompany these “final” ascents, and on occasion drink is shared on the summit. My plan was to take along a bottle of Spanish red wine in my rucksack, so that we could all sip vino tinto on the summit of Tinto. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the appointed date, so that idea languished unrealized, as a strange inverse of esprit d’escalier.

Tinto’s name probably comes from Gaelic teinnteach, “fiery”, which may refer to an ancient role as a beacon hill—it stands out in isolation from the rest of the Southern Uplands and has long sight-lines in all directions. But there’s another possibility, which is hinted at in the large car-park on the north side of Tinto at Fallburn.

Tinto from Fallburn car park
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The car-park is surfaced, as you see, in strikingly pink gravel. This is an igneous rock called felsite, and it’s often used to produce the sort of gravel that people surface their garden paths with in the UK, but you don’t often see it in a car park. The reason it’s here, at Tinto, is because Tinto is basically a big lump of felsite. It originally formed when magma gathered and cooled in an underground dome called a laccolith. As the overlying strata wore away, eventually this lump of felsite ended up on the surface, and the rock has been quarried all along the southern face of Tinto.

.So the exposed rock of Tinto is pink, particularly strikingly so after rain, and so some people wonder if Gaelic teinnteach may refer to the fiery colour of the screes on Tinto’s southern side, gleaming in the setting sun.

About half a kilometre from the car-park, the path passes a low mound on the left. This is Fallburn Fort, the remains of one of many prehistoric fortifications that dot the landscape in these parts. It’s a moderately impressive double ring of ramparts on the ground, but remarkable difficult to photograph. Here’s a section of the outer rampart, with the broad path ascending Tinto in the background:

Ramparts of fort, Tinto track beyond
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The Tinto path is horribly eroded, with water damage in the central part driving people to walk along the edges, which merely extends the damage outwards:

Muddy scar on Tinto path
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I pressed on upwards to reach the little shoulder of Totherin Hill, and made a brief excursion to visit its neat little cairn and admire the view, which was too hazy to capture usefully with the camera. The path beyond Totherin was less eroded, but buffeted by a damp, chilly westerly wind, which was blowing rags of cloud across the summit above me.

Track up Tinto from Totherin Hill
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I paused to admire the strange pattern of muirburn on neighbouring Scaut Hill. I’ve never seen heather management done in so many tiny patches before:

Muirburn on Scaut Hill
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And shortly after that I was at the summit, which is essentially one big cairn—a broad conic frustum of pink stones piled several metres high, reputedly dating back to the Bronze Age. It’s difficult to appreciate it as a human-made structure, but once you know what it is you can begin to get a feeling for the prehistoric importance of this hill. Tinto Cairn is surmounted by a neat little view indicator, which promised me views as far as the English Lake District and Ireland, but haze and sweeping ranks of low cloud obscured much of the view.

Tinto view indicator, Dungavel Hill beyond
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Tinto is one of those hills with a summit that sits higher than its Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar. I was going to say that the pillar itself sits alone and unloved several metres lower than the view indicator, but I see that someone has actually painted a heart on it. So maybe not unloved, after all:

Trig point, Tinto
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To the south, I could glimpse the River Clyde gleaming silver beyond Dungavel Hill:

Dungavel Hill and the Clyde, from Tinto
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After a bite of lunch in the tiny lee of the view indicator, I headed back the way I had come for a while, but aiming to diverge from my route of ascent and follow a very noticeable track that descends along the southern flank of Totherin Hill.

Totherin Hill from Tinto
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This would not only let me drop out of the wind for a while, but would also let me visit one more prehistoric location before finishing my walk.

It proved to be a pleasant track, flanked by the world’s most dilapidated and least functional electric fence.

Track on Totherin Hill, Tinto
Click to enlarge

It took me down to a little lochan flanked by wild-fowling hides, and an unexpectedly padlocked gate. But I walked a short distance north-west along the barbed-wire fence, and found a spot where I could slip through between the strands and then climb up on to the little lump of Park Knowe, where the Ordnance Survey had marked a circular antiquity they called an “enclosure”. The Canmore entry for this feature describes it as possibly of “funerary or ritual origin” and reports that its double row of low circular banks is unusual “in that many of the stones are angular slabs set on edge”.

These stones protrude a short distance above the soil, and my photograph gives an inadequate impression of this double rank of low stones sweeping around in a wide circle on the rounded summit of this little hill. It’s a remarkable place.

Enclosure on Park Knowe, Tinto
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And then it was just a matter of finding a line of descent across rough ground to reach the car-park. Along the way, the sun came out behind me.

Rainbow from Park Knowe, Tinto
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11 thoughts on “Tinto”

  1. Very interesting about the rock. Any thoughts on any linguistic correlation between Gaelic teinnteach and tinto/tinctus?

    1. I had a look into that at the time of writing, and there seems to be no etymological connection, tempting though they look.
      Teinnteach comes from teine, “fire”, which has relatives right across the Celtic languages, going back to a reconstructed teɸnets, “fire”, in Proto-Celtic, and then to tépos, “heat”, in Proto-Indo-European.
      But Latin tinctus comes from tingere, “to dye”, traced back to a Proto-Indo-European root teng-, related to the act of soaking.

    1. Ah, The Hill o’ Many Stanes. Once memorably described by the Boon Companion as “the world’s least attractive Visitor Attraction”. Admittedly we were there on a foggy day, but it’s not exactly Callanish!

      Yes, a similar feel to the place. The Canmore website, my usual go-to resource for prehistoric sites in Scotland, is down for maintenance at present (creating an outbreak of broken links here at Oikofuge), so I don’t know to what extent, if any, the archaeology of the two sites is similar.

      1. Here, a few miles south of the Ord of Caithness, we have to celebrate what hummocks we can. And rainbows. Broken links abound on writingpresence.com and I have just been on a Zoom when I was suspended upside down, an inverted University Challenger, above my therapeutic host … The tides turn, the light returns…

  2. the ‘muirburn’ has a rounded cellular pattern suggesting mowing, now common where ground smooth enough – whether emissions are less, who knows.
    an approach from the south – in days long before ‘right to roam’ and hence some dodging to avoid farms and being nabbed – takes in the jaunty little outlier, and on the final bare slopes there were then some beautiful if miniature periglacial stone stripes (freeze-thaw surface sorting, in the fairly homogenous weathering layer)

    1. Thanks for that. We need a new word, but I’m not sure I’m happy with “muirmow”, which looks like it might be a Pokémon character.

      If memory serves, Tinto was notorious back in the Before Times, as a place where walkers often ran into conflict with landowners.

  3. Hi Don:
    Seems to be working for me at present. (It was certainly glitchy last year, but I tweaked a few things that seemed to fix it.)

    Maybe just try again?

  4. My machine was overheating due to dust intrusion. All sorts of peculiar errors started occurring until I corrected it.
    I was going to ask about the hill fort’s water source. Most important aspect of one after walls you know.

  5. There’s a lot of argument among archaeologists about the function(s) of these sites, since many are not located in positions that are readily defensible. So you’ll see people saying that “hill fort” is the wrong name, and we should move to something like “fortified enclosure”. Some of them may have been defensive, but others make more sense as ritual / prestige / communal storage sites. My local hill fort at Dunsinane (“Macbeth’s Castle”) for instance, is above the local spring line, with the nearest water, at “Macbeth’s Well”, a considerable distance downhill and outside the ramparts—so it doesn’t really make sense as a defensive fort. The hill fort on Tinto similarly looks to have water readily available close by, but not within in its footprint, and it’s a bit rubbish defensively anyway, since you can trot up the hill a ways and look down on it.

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