Sunday, 30 September 2012

Bennachie stones

The Aberdeenshire hill of Bennachie makes an excellent short hillwalk. My friend Russ has recently moved to the area and on his day off we took the opportunity to climb the hill, taking in Millstone Hill first.  There are car parks and waymarked paths from most sides of Bennachie, we chose the Donview starting point for our walk.

The initial ascent to Millstone Hill is quite steep but relatively short, going up through lovely mixed woods of conifers, birch and rowan to emerge just below the summit.  We continued down to the bealach (col) between Millstone and Bennachie, known as the Heather Brig, before starting the climb up towards Bennachie itself.  Part way up we came across this millstone not far from the path.  I've climbed these hills many times and must have walked past this stone frequently without noticing it.

It's hewn from the granite of the hill and must have been one of countless stones produced here to grind the barley and oats produced on the farmalnd which surrounds this small group of hills.  Looking back, there's a nice view to the hill named for the stones.

The millstone was a little above the treeline in this view to Bennachie's "Mither Tap", which isn't the true summit of Bennachie but is certainly the best known and most prominent summit on the ridge, being visible from most of Aberdeenshire and beyond.  Bennachie is "Beinn a' Chioch (hill of the breast), for fairly obvious reasons.  It's a hill which I always look for, and one which, once spotted, conveys a sense of coming home.

A feature of the Mither Tap is the well-preserved Pictish hill-fort built around the summit tor. In sections the walls are still partly standing, and the entrance passage is very well preserved.  It seems likely that this fort was in use at least 2000 years ago.  There are the remains of at least ten buildings within the fort site and the walls were up to 6 metres thick and stood up to 5 metres tall - quite an impressive structure.  Most of the stone seems to have been brought up from much lower down the hill.

It has been speculated that the battle of Mons Graupius (which indirectly gave rise to the term "Grampians" to denote most of the high ground of the north east and Cairngorms) was fought here between local tribes and the Roman army.

We had time to speculate on this as we sat out a particularly heavy rain shower.  Bennachie is a popular hill and lots of people climb it from the various starting points, including today some quite small mountaineers enjoying the sense of achievement as five-year-old legs carried them in triumph to the very top!  Although a bit chilly and wet, the rain didn't seem to be putting the little guys off at all.

We continued along the ridge to Oxen Craig, the highest point of the ridge with great views over the River Don and over to the Cairngorm giants before descending back to the Heather Brig and contouring around Millstone Hill on forest tracks back to Donview - walking fast to evade the midges which are still about yet!

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