|Dawn arrives, bringing sunshine to Garrol Wood (or is it Mulloch Wood?), a welcome occurrence following yesterday's torrential downpour. Consequently I decide it's about time I took a closer look at the legendary Bennachie and see if I can determine whether it lives up to the not inconsiderable hype surrounding it. I mean, rising to just 1,733ft at Oxen Craig, yet it has its own visitor centre? Yeah, 'there's only one way to find out', as the appropriately named Harry Hill might say. The drive north, through excellent, rolling countryside, is worth the effort in its own right with the name on almost every signpost seemingly familiar, thanks to Drewbhoy's comprehensive posts. It's therefore somewhat comical to note an apparently brand new cairn sited above an estate at Kemnay... what is that all about?
Initially I head for the 'Bennachie Centre', then reckon The Maiden Causeway will be a better bet, what with all the excavations opened nearby to take the new pipeline. The path from Rowantree (plenty of parking, public toilets... small hillfort, the usual) to Mither Tap is well maintained, the initial, rocky stages through woodland, then crossing the heather-clad northern ridge of the mountain to eventually ascend to the great hillfort towering above. Hmm. I reckon Bennachie's converted me already.... but I must remain subjective. Admirable intentions, perhaps, but nonetheless blown to the four winds as soon as I see the magnificent main entrance passage and the sheer volume of collapsed rampart which encircles this mighty tor.
The preservation of the entrance, 'barbican' outwork aside, is breathtaking. OK, Mither Tap may not be truly 'ancient', at least not in the form we see it today - this view is supported by calibrated carbon dates of AD 640-780 and AD 340-540 obtained from charcoal found beneath cobbles near the entrance - but the remaining structure is still unprecedented, in my experience. Incidentally, according to Canmore, the standing stone incorporated within the northern flank of the passage may be a gatepost.... The ramparts have unfortunately been reduced to masses of tumbled stone, particularly the upper, located approx half way up the crag. Nevertheless it is abundantly clear that this was once some fortress - consider that the outer rampart is apparently 15 feet thick.
Steps assist the visitor to the summit, whereby the exquisite views immediately take centre stage. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, an exceedingly violent hail shower batters the fort , albeit for no more than a couple of minutes. People run for cover - where none exists - and are soaked to the skin. To be honest such a fate serves them right for taking such a flippant attitude to Bennachie. As the front recedes into the distance the light is simply exquisite, the atmosphere literally 'washed' clear of impurities. I sit awestruck, the wind speed beginning to build to extreme levels. Moving around the summit takes all my strength simply to avoid being blow over the edge. I gaze across to Oxen Craig, the summit of Bennachie and wonder if the battle of Mons Graupius actually did occur upon the flanks of this mountain in 84 AD? Yeah, Agricola might have annihilated the local tribal army with his Roman automatons, but he did not break their resistance... their will, if you like. Perhaps people really do reflect the landscape they inhabit... and - judging by Bennachie today - if the battle did take place here after all, Agricola really had no choice but to 'jog on'.
A middle aged punter arrives and proceeds to try and take his young son to the summit. Wisely, I think, he heeds my warning not to if he ever wants to see him again! As for myself, a round of the ramparts is required. Then Oxen Craig calls.... Ooer. Do you think that's wise, sir?
Posted by GLADMAN
20th June 2011ce
Edited 21st June 2011ce