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?
Bennachie translated from the Gaelic means 'Hill Of The Breast' which is an obvious reference to the Mither Tap, the ranges most famous peak. It is also famous for the stunning hillfort. Words can hardly describe this place. The walls are massive and shelter the Maidens Causeway which leads to the Maiden Castle at the foot of the hill. They also stretch most of the way round the peak the other defences being natural, it must have virtually impossible to attack. Being on the roof of Aberdeenshire the all round views are stunning and luckily I see this place every day. One flaw tho, no running water nearby except some melt streams. (no problem recently!)
On a day that would have Mr G and the Postie proud we made our way from Oxen Craig to the Mither Tap. But this can be reached by a few paths from the various centres surrounding the range. All of them are excellent and fairly well maintained being in reasonable condition despite the recent heavy snows. Snow still hangs about in deep drifts.
This is a must visit place, truly the most visible monument in the area. You can't miss it.......literally!
George, once again showed his posing qualities, led from the western approach. After that Mel led the way back down, we'd walked for more than ten miles. Time like the squalls had flown past. Brilliant day!
Well, we chose a nice day for it, swirling mist and driving rain mean an absence of photos for this site I'm afraid!
This is a truly amazing site, Mither Tap is so visible from so many sites, yet I hadn't realised that so much of the 'nipple' as it were, was actually man-made-I knew it was a fort but there's a real scale to it. The vitrified walls are incredible-I had read about them, but never seen them up close. The heat and sheer size of fire need to melt these walls must have been off the scale-the walls are at least 100 feet high, and yet clearly melted and slumped. If, as theorised, the burnings were carried out by an invading force, it must have been a real statement of intent to the locals - shock & awe anyone?
Wonderful site, and although steep only about 1 hours walk from the Bennachie Centre car park, even with 2 four year olds in tow.
... an artificial peculiarity about [Mither Tap] makes it still more worthy of notice - the great mass of stones that encircles the summit like a fortification... Naturally the Picts - and probably deservedly - get the credit of the building... The fortification has also been attributed to Sir Andrew Leslie of Balquhain, the Earl of Mar's "master of horse," who fought and was killed at the Battle of Harlaw.
Tradition has it that at one time he lived on the top, and carried off young women to this rude fortress, as well as took shelter there himself when his lawlessness put him in disgrace with his superior. But there are several reasons why this tradition should not be credited, besides the absurd account which it gives as to the origin of the Maiden Causeway...
There is another, and much later, tradition that the fortress was used as a hiding place by Lord Pitsligo after he had been attainted for his share in the rebellion of '45. An active search was made for him after the Battle of Culloden, but he always contrived, though often very narrowly, to evade his pursuers...
When on Bennachie he occasionally visited his friend General Horn at Logie-Elphinstone, and had a night's hard drinking with him. On the General's wife remonstrating with him against this habit, Lord Pitsligo replied that, "if she was sittin' upon a cauld, bare stane up on Bennachie wi' naething but burn water, she micht ca' that 'hard drinkin'.'"
The well is now dry, the water having disappeared it is said, in a single night, though some years ago it gave a fair supply of excellent water. At one time it was filled up with stones, to the disgust of the natives, by a crofter-squatter, who was annoyed by his sheep wandering to the top of the Mither Tap, and occasionally falling into the well. The stones have since been partly removed, but water appears to have forsaken the place.
The last bit sounds suspiciously superstitious, that by insulting the well by filling it in, it decided it wouldn't bother any more. Maybe.
This and masses more in Alex. Inkson McConnochie's 'Bennachie' (1890) which is on the Archive.orgwebsite.
'On the summit of Mither Tap (1698 feet) are the ruins of what is probably a Pictish fort. It was an enormous structure, the total circumference of which must have been over 700 feet. The outer wall is fully fifteen feet in thickness and is carefully built with well coursed masonry having a rampart walk and a parapet. Inside the protected area were found the remains of around ten hut circles, a well and a second wall.'