Scotland, Aberdeenshire, United Kingdom
William Mackesy’s account of this walk
I've underestimated this place. I knew of it from my father, but we'd never made it here – and at some point I started confusing it with nearby Tap o'Noth.
I'm on top of a prehistoric fort on a huge granite tor called Mither Tap, which is itself on top of the Bennachie ridge, an 8km-long first arm of what will become the Cairgorms, which stretches, all purple heather, due west below me for a couple of km to its high point, Oxen Craig at (gasp) 529m. On every other side is lovely rolling Aberdeenshire farmland from which protrude other heather-topped hills. In the clear August sky, it is meltingly pretty.
The fort is amazing, a ring of heaped rocks around the tor base the remains of its walls, with some surviving half-buried sections showing what a fine affair it must have been. It must have dominated the surrounding land, a secure base in no doubt wild times. Give its exposed and inaccessible site and lack of regular water, it is hard to imagine it being a permanent village, rather a place of refuge.
It has been a steep slog up here, through attractive pine forest, then thinning Scots pine and scrub, then open heather upper slopes with ever-widening views. We are nonetheless far from alone: Bennachie is now well known and promoted, with its own visitor centre at the base of Mither Tap, so there must be 30 of us scattered around the tennis court sized tor platform, drinking in the magic. There is only one thing to do – hunker down and attack a picnic while absorbing the stunning view.
The ridge stretches, all purple heather, east from Mither Tap to other tors including its high point, Oxen Craig. On every other side is lovely rolling Aberdeenshire farmland from which protrude other heather-topped hills. It is meltingly pretty.
We then clamber back down, through the old wall and out onto the wide heathery plateau-top, walking the 2km or so on to Oxen Craig, a higher if less imposing tor top of strangely layered granite.
We have many options from here. A huge joy would be to walk on along the diminishing ridge, but we have a car to get back to. Instead, we drop south to join the Gordon Way, which winds delightfully along the tops and southern flanks of the extended Bennachie ridge for 18km or so (note to self – a delightful day's walking some time). We turn left (eastwards), and traverse, with a few steeper descents, round and back to where it all began, hard in under the Mither Tap. The hillside vegetation is wondrously pretty, small trees pushing up through bright heather, rowans all a-berry, with distant views pushing their way in through the gaps for attention. The cool lower forest is welcome on this hot August day.
4 hrs of concentrated delight.