by: Watson, Algy
The hill o Bennachie is pairt o oor Scots heritage. Altho it is only seventeen hunner feet in hecht the Mither Tap, tho' nae the hichest pint, is weel kent aa ower the Nor'East an was aince eesed bi sailors an fishers far oot at sea as a guide in navigation
Clachnaben an Bennachie
Twa landmarks fae the sea.
The Bennachie range is sae prominent throu the Garioch (Gerrie) an beyond becis it's surrounded by lowlan grun an can be approached bi car fae aa airts. This maks it a popular hill as is shown bi the fact that weel ower a hunner thoosan fowk visit it ilkey year.
Geologists tell us it is at least fower hunner million years aul, an for lang it wis much hicher wi jagged peaks til glaciers o the Ice Age an erosion bi win an weet left this smeeth granite mass five miles fae east tae wast an three miles fae north tae sooth- a smeeth plateau apairt fae the crags an taps that rise abune it. Sax main taps stan oot. Oxen (Ousen) Craig (the hichest at 1733 feet), Mither Tap, Craig Shannoch, Watch Craig, Hermit Seat an Black Hill, bit there are aboot anither ten named minor peaks. The remains o a muckle peat moss lies on the plateau atween the peaks aroon 1500 feet. Up til the ein o the 19th century the crafters climmed tae dig peats in early simmer, a gey laborious job, relieved only bi the brak for a picnic denner in the guid healthy air.
Bennachie is a winnerfu sicht at ony sisson an abody his their favourite viewpoint. It his warmed the hairts o aa born aroon its slopes, in the Howe o Alford, roon bi Monymusk an Fetternear, or alang the Gadieside an Urieside frae Leslie tae Inverurie. Tho fowk hae wannert far tae the corners o the Earth there bides wi them a nostalgic affection for the hill o Bennachie for as Charles Murray pits it:
'But Bennachie! Faith, yon's the hill
Rugs at the hairt when ye're awa!'
Their visions keep vivid. They min o it deep in sna, again like Hamewith, himself an exile:
'drift oxter deep haps Bennachie.'
The scent o the hedder on an August picnic comes back tae them, as they reca the soun o the bumble bee file they sit on the hedder munchin their hard biled eggs an the girdle bannocks an scones. Or a yearnin comes tae see again the meenlicht on Bennachie. Ithers will picter it on a day in late October fan the pines an spruces bide green an the laricks turn a glorious yalla.
Bennachie's moods an appearances change fae day tae day an fae sisson tae sisson bit yet it spiks o a constancy an stability in this warld o cheenge. Naethin has geen the Bailies o Bennachie mair pleasure than the expressions o affection an luv for the hill in the mony letters fae hame an fae ower the seas.
A lot o the pleasure o Bennachie at the present time is nae doot due tae the vision o the Forestry Commission (the largest landowner on the hill) in the opening up o a network o fitpaths throu the widlands an roon the peaks. Fower car parks an a picnic park wi tables hae been provided for the benefit o visitors. The Bennachie Centre near Chapel o Garioch provides information aboot the hill an
its history an is the hame o the Bennachie rangers. The Bailies hae a room there wi an eesfu library o local buiks. A lot o wirk his been pit intae the upgradin o the fitpaths tae control erosion, an saves fowk traipsin throu the rank hedder.
The Bailies o Bennachie hae deen a lot tee bi helpin wi' the upkeep o the paths an the control o litter, an improvin fowk's knowledge o the hill itsel an its stories an legends, pairtly bi publishin buiks, guides, an maps.
They hae got much o their information fae Alex Inkson McConnochie's 'Bennachie' published in 1890, a fascinatin buik wi graphic accounts o the legends an the ballads, some acht o which can be fund in that buik.
Amang them the legend o the Maid o Drumdurno wha had mony lads, a bit o a flirt, tells o the rejeckit lover wha met the devil in Pittoddrie Wids an in exchange for his sowl bocht his revenge. It wis the nicht afore her waddin an she wis bakin breid, aa the while liltin a sang, whan she lookit up an there wis a braw, hansome stranger, wha waugeret her that he cuid big a causey richt up tae the heid o the Mither Tap afore she hid feenished her firlot o meal. 'It sets ye weel to bake, lass, gin ye hid ony mair speed at it,' said he as he entered the kitchie. Thinkin this wis idle banter she lichtly promised her han an hairt wid be his rewaird if he won.
Glomain cam on, her firlot wis gey near baked whan she lookit up an saw a causey richt up tae the hill-tap, an the braw stranger wha she noo recognised as Satan himsel, comin tae claim his rewaird. Sair frichtened, she ran aff tae Pittodrie Wids hopin tae meet Jamie, her true luv, bit it wis the deevil wha caught up wi her an as she howled for help she wis turned intae a pillar o stane, noo kent as the Maiden Stane. It is a fine example o a Pictish Sculptured stone wi the carvins sic like as the mirror an caimb an the crak near the tap as the mark o Satan's han. The Maiden Causeway is marked on auld Ordnance Survey maps an can possibly be seen in some places on the wey tae the Mither Tap.
Halfwey up the Maiden Causeway fae Pittodrie ye can veer aff tae the richt at
Stay Knowe an walkin alang the ridge tae Craigshannoch ye come on twa creags, twa hunner yairds apairt. This is kent as Little John's Length reputed tae hae been the bed o a freenly giant, Jock o Bennachie. There he wid lie the lang simmer day dreamin o his luv, the Lady Anne. In the ballad o the 'Rival Giants' ye can read aboot foo Jock o Noth, his great freen, won the luv o Lady Anne an trysted her awa tae Tap o Noth some dizen miles tae the wast. Fan Jock o Bennachie haurd the news his birse wis up an he hurled a muckle rock at Jock o Noth wha saw it comin an stuck oot his fit an stoppit the rock far ye can still see it on the Noth hillside, his great fitmark on the wast side an the five great fingermarks o Jock o Bennachie on the ither side.
On the easternmost slopes o the Mither Tap ye can see amang the pines an spruces a green patch o grass kent as Esson's Craft. This is aboot aa that is left, apairt fae a few mair ruins, tae show whar the squatters, in the lan hunger o the nineteenth century, rived oot little crafts fae the hillside- an acre or twa tae keep a coo, wi the hedder hill for their sheep, an a roch thackit but an ben an a byre biggit fae the steens fae the roon aboot, wi clay instead o cement, pine branches tae mak the framewirk o the ruif, an masses o hedder for thatch. By 1850 there wis a dizen o these crafts. Bennachie, aifter bein a Royal Forest, hid become a Commonty for onybody aroon the slopes had the richt tae graze their coos an sheep, tak peats, wid, stanes an hedder. The squatters war gyang ayont their richts biggin on common lan an the lairds aroon the squatters war able in 1859 tae get the Court o Session approval tae divide the Commonty amang themsels. The squatters war forced tae pey rent (which they coudna afford) for something they hid vrocht hard for tae provide for themsels an their faimlies. The brak up o the Colony is remembered bi a carvin on the summit on the Mither Tap caad 'The Thieves Mark'.