On Tintock Tap by Kirsten Harris, Pencil on Paper
ON TINTOCK TAP – Traditional Rhyme
‘On Tintock Tap there is a mist,
And in that mist there is a kist,
And in the kist there is a caup,
And in that caup there is a drap;
Tak’ up the caup, drink aff the drap
And set up camp on Tintock Tap’
The traditional Lanarkshire rhyme, On Tintock Tap or On Tinto Top is for me less a rhyme and more a riddle. It could be suggesting that there is great wealth buried under the 4 metre high Neolithic/Bronze age cairn which is believed to be the biggest in Scotland and has never been excavated but I like the idea of it being a riddle full of symbolism.
Musings on the Symbolism –
Tintock/Tinto – Red fire hill. Fire symbolises energy, life, the inner spark, passion, sexuality, courage, determination, action and risk taking. Tinto – the divine fire hill. Fire serves as a beacon, seen from afar, especially from the top of a hill. The ancient Beltane festival and the Baal Fire are associated with Tinto – traditionally lit across Britain on May 1st to bring prosperity. Beltane, the time of dancing fires, when cattle were driven out to summer pastures. The simultaneous lighting of fires stretching across the landscape connected people, a giant fire calendar of hope. Many think Tinto looks like a giant breast the cairn being the nipple. Mother Earth herself.
Tintock Tap– climbing a hill or mountain symbolises the will to succeed, ambition, success and reaching your highest potential. The top of a mountain is the closest we can get to ‘heaven’ on earth. We are lifted by mountains. Mountains symbolise eternity, constancy and stillness.
Mist – symbolises a veil, the hidden, the ethereal, the mysterious. What is shrouded in mystery on the top of Tinto? Mist is a slow drizzle that blurs and distorts our vision preventing us from seeing clearly. Mists are like foggy thinking and lack of clarity. What can we find when the mists of perception clear? What visions for the future can we create?
Kist – A treasure chest. Here is a mystery within a mystery, the mist contains a treasure chest. How do we find the treasure and open the chest? Is this the treasures of the heart? Or something bigger than the individual?
Cup – Cups symbolise the spirit, receptivity, the heart, love, emotions, water, the holy grail, suggesting that the top of Tinto is an important spiritual place.
Drop – the mist has turned into a drop of water. Life itself. Is this a drop of blood, holy blood or the millions of drops of water that make a river and humanity. The human body is mainly water. Water is linked to the moon which governs tides. Emotions are symbolised by cups. The ebb and flow of the tides of life are alluded to. Water finds a way, water flows, water finds a course to the sea, to the whole. The mountain has been endured to drink from the cup. Is this to quench a thirst, physical or spiritual?
Set up camp – A steep path represents a journey that requires energy to persevere to reach the goal. To set up camp is an invitation to stop, to meditate, to look and experience a new or different perspective. To contemplate the journey made thus far. To be present to the beauty around us.
The astrological elements are represented in this verse – Fire, air, earth, water. Where better to study the astrological clock, the stars, the moon, the directions of Earth but from the top of a hill.
Tinto Hill is the defining landscape feature of this part of South Lanarkshire. It is in itself a map and marker. The rhyme further suggests Tinto is a place of spiritual importance.
Perhaps there is gold hidden under that cairn on Tinto Top. Wanlockhead, the source of pure Scottish gold, is within sight of Tinto or maybe the treasure referred to, is within.
In my drawing a rider has reached the top of Tinto Hill. She looks over the landscape. She has found great treasure. It is not actual gold that fills her heart it is journey that has made her rich. She knows that true riches are in the experience of loving life itself.
The hardest part of this drawing for me was the script, it took me hours to do and then I realised I had missed out a line from the verse and had to rub it out and start again. Drawings too can be mountains to climb.
Currently on Exhibition at The Tolbooth Lanark alongside photographs of Lanark Closes and other pencil drawings based on local history.