Bennachie is a the highest point in the rural part of Aberdeenshire and dominates the skyline from all over the North East. Several paths lead up it. The Lords Throat, Bennachie vistor centre, the Rowantree (Maiden Castle and Mither Tap hillfort) and the Back O Bennachie at Oyne. The Garioch walk also meanders over the several peaks of the hill. There are also two Gouk Stones, ancient settlements, cairns and Archeolink. More famously the battle of Mons Graupius, from which the region gets its name, was supposedly fought between the Picts and Romans. It is easy to see why the "ancients" held the place in reverence. Also the legendary Jock O Bennachie giant stories are still well known up here. The hills at Barra, Dunnydeer and Tap O Noth all faced his wrath. Truly magical and always will be.
Most of the paths are well worn but the climb is steeper nearer the top. The Rowantree path leads straight to the Mither Tap hillfort, with Maiden Castle fort being located near the car park. On a clear day the views stretch all the way to the coast.
The maiden of Drumdurno was the belle of five parishes, and as good as beautiful. She was young and light-hearted, and suitors came round her in plenty. One was fortunate in gaining her hand, and was received as her acknowledged lover. Her unsuccessful wooers retired disappointed, but all, with one exception, wishing long life and happiness to the "Maiden of Drumdurno," in the new relationship on which she was about to enter. But in that heart there brooded thoughts of vengeance. A rejected suitor, wandering, one evening in the dark woods of Pittrodrie, thinking bitterly of his successful rival, exclaimed aloud -- "Oh that my eternal destruction could plague their earthly peace, how soon and sure the bargain would be mine!"
Scarcely had he uttered the rash words than a voice replied - "Capital wish! I'll do the thing for you on your own terms!" Thus a compact, ruinous to the luckless lover of Drumdurno, and entailing "perpetual vassalage on the heedless avenger," was entered into that night in the lone Pittrodie woods.
On the day before the wedding the maiden was busy baking cakes for the bridal feast. Her heart was light with joyful anticipations, and as she baked she gaily lilted one of the love songs of her native land.
"It sets ye well to bake, lass, gin ye had ony mair speed at it." The bantering remark was uttered by a handsome rollicking stranger, who had been lounging about for some time, pretending to be in search of work.
"I kenna whether it sets me weel or no," replied the maid; "but I think nane could grudge wi' my speed."
After some further baner, the stranger undertook to lay a "causey" to the top of the neighbouring mountain before she had finished her firlot, on condition that, if successful, her hand and heart should be his reward.
She thoughtlessly agreed to the proposal, deeming it a piece of idle fun. The stranger went on his way, and the maiden continued her task. The gloaming drew on apace, and the firlot of meal was nearly ended. The stranger and his wager were forgotten. The bride's thoughts were all of her bridegroom, and she longed for his presence, for he had promised to be with her "twixt the gloamin' and the mirk."
The night came down gloomy and wet. "It's nae that, nor mony sic like, 'ill gar him bide frae me, but I'm wae to see him weet," said the maiden, as she looked out to see if her lover was coming to keep his tryst; and as she spoke she glanced at the cloud gathering on the hill, when, oh horror! she saw a "well-laid causey" up the slopes of Bennachie. At the same time she beheld the stranger, who, she now discovered, was no other than the Prince of Darkness, quickly and noiselessly coming to claim his reward.
"Fast she flies, as fast pursued,
Straining for Pittrodrie wood;
'Jamie!' shrieks the frantic maiden,
As he wildly scours the hill."
But alas! vain was all human aid. The unuttered prayer of her heart, however, was granted, for just as the "foul fiend" was about to clasp her in his arms, she was turned into a block of lifeless granite, and there she stands to this day.
"Lone adn last of all the clachan,
With her bake-brod and bread-spade,
Aye she bids the maids of Garioch
Guard the vows that love has made.
Love is holy, love is solemn;
Think of this mysterious column!"
The "causey" is said to be still extant, although overgrown with rank heather; and the neighbourhood bears the reputation of being haunted.
"And quick the pace, and quick the pulse,
Wha wanders there alane,
Atween Pittodrie's haunted wood
An' the dowie Mayden Stane."
From Notes on Superstition and Folklore' edited by D H Edwards (1885). The stone is the rather nice carved Pictish 'Maiden Stone', and Maiden Causeway a track (some say it could well be prehistoric) up to the fort.
I would think this is story between Bennachie and Tap O Noth Rhiannon is looking for.
'It is easy to see how this elemental landscape has generated legends. The causeway and the fort were built by the Devil or by Sir Andrew Leslie of Balquahain as a secure rape-camp for the local girls he abducted. In reality the causeway could be early medieval or prehistoric route to the fort. The giant Jock O Bennachie lived here. Little John's Length to the east of Craigshannoch is his bed; assuming he slept full-length he was 600ft 9183m) tall. North-west of Craigshannoch a shirt shaped surface is where he dried his clothes. The Giant threw boulders at TAP O NOTH, especially after its resident guardian stole his girlfriend Anne. Jock then met a strange woman he mistook for the Lady Anne; when they kissed he sank into an enchanted sleep beneath the mountain. Only when a certain woman finds the magical key will he be released. A man once found the key, but couldn't turn it in the great lock. He put his hat on the key to mark the place and went to get help. When the party returned, key, lock and hat had all vanished.'
Not to be outdone this prophecy became legend:
'Scotland will never be rich, be rich,
Till they find the keys of Bennachie,
They shall be found by a wife's ae son, wi ae e'e,
Aneath a juniper tree.'
Thomas The Rhymer
(3rd line translation "ae" means one and "wi ae e'e" is with one eye. Seems perfect english to me ye ken!)
You would imagine that the two hills mentioned have got to be Bennachie and Mither Tap. Elspet's Cairn was at NJ706298. It was trenched in 1849 and a cist with a skull and arrowheads/ axes were found. Nothing remains of it now, but it was on a noticeable bump, a couple of miles west of New Craig stone circle.
On two hills in the Highlands of Aberdeenshire the Banshee had to be propitiated by the traveller over the hills. This was done by placing near a well on each hill a barley-meal cake marked on one side by a round figure O. If the cake was not left death or some dire calamity befell the traveller. On one occasion a woman had to cross one of the hills. She neglected to leave the customary offering. She paid the penalty. She died at a cairn not far from the well. The cairn bears the name of Cairn Alshish, i.e. Elspet's Cairn.
J. Farquharston, Corgarff.
Notes on Beltane Cakes
Folklore, Vol. 6, No. 1. (Mar., 1895), p5.
THE GULE.—Some years ago there was a discussion in a provincial paper in the north of Scotland upon the origin and meaning of the following popular rhyme:—
"The gule of the Garioch,
And the Bowman of Mar,—
They met on Bennachie;
The gule wan the war."
[..] The gule is a weed (wild mustard) too well known in many parts of the country, although, perhaps, it is more generally known by other names. It is also pronounced gwele, and is derived from the same root as gold, gild, gelt, i.e. from the root of yellow, and signifies the yellow plant—a name to which it is well entitled, for it too often covers the green corn-field with a blaze of gold. Another rhyme of the " north countrie " also mentions it, characterizing it as one of the pests of an agricultural country:—
"The gule, the Gordon, and the hoodie-craw
Are the three worst enemies Moray ever saw."
Bowman is an old Scotch word for farmer, from boo, boll, or bow, a farm-house (originally of a dairy or pasture farm), derived probably from Gael. 'bo' - cows, cattle. This root occurs very frequently in place-names in the north, as in Eastern and Western Bo, Lingambo, Delnabo, Lochnabo.[..]
Mar and the Garioch (pronounced Gary) are two districts of Aberdeenshire, separated from each other in part by the hill range of Bennachie, with its lofty and picturesque pinnacles of rock. I would, therefore, interpret the rhyme as follows:— There was a time when the gule was prevalent in the Garioch, but had not yet spread into Mar. The agricultural mind of the latter district was alive to the fact and the danger, and used every means to prevent its encroaching. The representative bowman, armed, with full powers, stood, as it were, on Bennachie, on the march of his own territory, to meet and drive back the insidious attacks of the enemy, but in vain,—the gule won the war.
Notes and Queries X. X. s4-XII (298): 206. (1873).
Maybe this is pertinent as it is to do with boundaries and agriculture. Or maybe not.
A story about the giant of Bennachie and (presumably) Mither Tap, and that of Tap O'Noth- does anyone know the story?):
It is said that long " before King Robert rang," two giants inhabited these mountains, and are supposed to be the respective heroes of the two ballads [" John O'Benachie ;" and another, " John O'Rhynie, or Jock O'Noth]
These two sons of Anak appear to have lived on pretty friendly terms, and to have enjoyed a social crack together, each at his own residence, although distant some ten or twelve miles. These worthies had another amusement, that of throwing stones at each other; not small pebbles you may believe, but large boulders. On one occasion, however, there appears to have been a coolness between them; for one morning, as he of Noth was returning from a foraging excursion in the district of Buchan, his friend of Benachie, not relishing what he considered an intrusion on his legitimate beat, took up a large stone and threw at him as he was passing.
Noth, on hearing it rebounding, coolly turned round; and putting himself in a posture of defence, received the ponderous mass on the sole of his foot: and I believe that the stone, with a deeply indented foot-mark on it, is, like the bricks in Jack Cade's chimney, " alive at this day to testify."
In Notes and Queries, Volume s1-VIII, Number 204, 1853.
Gavin MacGregor suggests why Bennachie is so important in the landscape, and hence why "the majority of RSCs are relatively close to, or have a view of, the mountain.."
The distinctiveness of Bennachie's form is from the series of prominent peaks on its top: Mithers Tap, Oxen Craig, Watch Craig, Brunt Wood Tap, and Hermit Seat.
At one point on the plateau.. there is a basin surrounded by four peaks: to the east Mithers Tap, to the south Brunt Wood Tap, to the west Watch Craig and to the north Oxen Craig. Apart from a limited view to the north, this basin prevents views of the landscape below. The experience is of being enclosed by both land and sky. This is clearly a distinctive place on the mountain.
When you continue to walk within this natural amphitheatre toward the most prominent peak of Bennachie, Mithers Tap, the distinctive form of the Tor becomes apparent. The western side of Mithers Tap has a substantial cleft in the rock which when viewed from below has a geometric form to it. Together, Mithers Tap and the three other peaks veiwed from within the basin form a topographic monument...
.. I would argue that Bennachie is likely to have had considerable importance within cosmologies during the third and second millennia BC in the region, and the nature of experience at the top of Bennachie provided the source of inspiration for th form of the RSC tradition. Construction of a particular form of monument was an explicit statement by local communities of wider shared-belief systems. In the case of Bennachie, the basic form of the topographic feature was unambiguous..
from 'Making Monuments out of Mountains..' by Gavin MacGregor, p141-158 in 'Colouring the Past' ed A Jones and G MacGregor (2002), partly online at Google Books.