Tappoch Broch (sometimes known as Torwood Broch) stands hidden in a forest about two miles north-east of the town of Denny. The forest is not as impenetrable as it used to be, following the felling of areas of trees en route to the broch (along either of the two paths) and the addition of some direction signs.
There are two ways of approaching Tappoch Broch. A track from Denovan near Denny skirts the southern edge of the forest and a nice woodland walk is signposted from it, following a ridge to the broch from the south. Alternatively you can take a minor road that turns off the A9 in the village of Torwood, which you then follow for a third of a mile before encountering a track on your left signposted as a public right of way to Denovan. A hundred yards or so along this track, a signposted path heads off to the right towards the broch. It's worth noting that if you walk half a mile further along the track towards Denovan, you come to Torwood Castle. Another half mile takes you to Torwood Blue Pool, a mysterious shaft filled with improbably blue water that serves as a reminder of the area's coal mining history.
When we first visited in 2015, it was possible to park in an open area opposite the start of the path to Tappoch Broch from the track. A visit in 2018 found locked gates blocking access to what had been the parking area. It is possible to leave your car beside the road near the start of the track: and it also seems the norm to park on the road opposite the start of the track. (Continues below image...)
The path to Tappoch Broch from the track is just over a third of a mile long, and climbs gently as it twists and turns though cleared areas and the remaining dense growth of conifers. In places, despite the waymarking, the path is so indistinct that a little care is needed to follow it on the ground, while in other places its course is only too obvious as the passage of boots and cycle tyres have churned it into a surface that can be very muddy after rain.
Tappoch Broch occupies the summit of the hill you climb to reach it, and your first glimpse of it through the trees is as a heather and bracken-clad mound. How much of the mound you can actually see will depend on the time of year you are visting. If the bracken is in full growth, then it takes over the exterior nearly completely, seriously obscuring details that might otherwise be visible. As you come a little closer, the path leads you between banks (or through a forest of bracken) to what initially appears to be a very odd structure, a bridge of stone laying across the path with a gap beneath. The "bridge" is in fact the lintel over the start of the entrance passage into the broch itself. The structure would once have been many metres higher than it is now.
Following the path through the entrance passage brings you into the interior of the broch, which is lined by dry stone stone walls up to sufficient height to be impressive. In many ways, however, the best way to appreciate the broch is by walking up the obvious paths either side of the entrance passage, which lead to a path running round what is now the upper surface of the wall of the broch.
From here the broch appears to have been constructed by someone digging out the summit of the hill and lining their excavation with stones. This is a misleading impression. The broch was excavated in 1864 by digging into what had previously simply been a mound on top of the hill. What emerged was an unusual lowland example of a structure found much more frequently in the north and north-west of Scotland: the best preserved example is Mousa Broch, on Shetland. Their exact role is debatable, but brochs combined features of fortified house and status symbol, and must have taken a lot of skill and labour to construct.
When originally built, in the last century or two BC or the first century or two AD, Tappoch Broch would have formed a truncated tapering cylinder (think "power station cooling tower" and you are not far wrong) of anything up to 10m or more in height. The walls are massively thick (nearly 7m thick at the site of the entrance passage) and built from two thicknesses of dry stone walling with the inner and outer faces linked together at frequent intervals to ensure strength and stability. Air circulated between the outer and inner walls. The sheer scale of Tappoch Broch when it was built is hard to imagine when looking at its remains today, but there are some features still in evidence which help build a mental picture. The length of the entrance passage is one. Another can be found on the right hand side of the broch when looked at from the entrance. Here you can find a large circular cavity created within the thickness of the wall which would have provided the residents with storage or accommodation.
Perhaps the most striking feature of Tappoch Broch today is the incredibly well preserved "intramural staircase". Brochs usually allowed access between different levels by means of staircases set within the gap between the inner and outer layers of the walls. A double lintel on the left side of the broch when viewed from the entrance leads through to the base of a set of steps up between the walls. Today this simply brings you out onto the top of the mound which still surrounds the broch: it would once have continued upwards to the upper part of the broch, perhaps to the walltop as at Mousa Broch.
Other features of interest at Tappoch Broch are the signs of a possible ditch and embankment around it, perhaps an indication of a surrounding settlement as found at a number of brochs including Broch of Gurness on Orkney. Visitors in the mid-1900s also reported seeing two carved stones, but we've failed to find any trace of the carvings on our visits. In 1953 a visitor saw a carving of three concentric rings on a small slab "five stones into the stair lobby from the inner face of the broch". Another visitor in 1964 reported a carving of a bar and a figure of eight on a recumbent stone slab "at the end of the entrance passage, immediately inside the broch."
Visitor InformationView Location on Map
Grid Ref: NS 833 850
What3Words Location: ///trespass.glaze.branch
Tappoch Broch In Fiction
The House With 46 Chimneys by Ken Lussey (10 November 2020).
Life changes dramatically for Kaleb, Jude and Sequoia when they move to live with their aunt in a rural corner
of central Scotland. It’s the beginning of April 2020, the early days of the coronavirus lockdown.
This adventure novel for young adults is set in central Scotland and the children visit Tappoch Broch.