Yesterday evening I found myself wandering over my local hill – Bennachie – as I am wont to do whenever the weather is fine and I am not otherwise engaged. My plan for the evening had been somewhat different as I was going to be taking our Intern for a flight around the Cairngorms. For once, and after a weekend of absolutely dire weather it looked as if a flight would be great – the Cairngorms were absolutely clear of cloud then I checked the weather forecast. Aberdeen airport TAF indicated thick fog and 0 visibility by 5pm, available diversions would be Dundee and Inverness. Dundee had the same forecast as Aberdeen. Inverness on the Moray coast was clear but a diversion there would have meant an overnight stay so with reluctance (and some scepticism re the forecast) I called the flight off and as the fog would be limited to the coast went for my faithful fall back option – Bennachie which is how I came to be eating wild blueberries on Watch Crag by 7pm.
Bennachie is a shapely ridge with 5 ‘summits’ from West to East – Hermit Seat; Watch Crag; Oxen Crag; Craigshannoch and Mither Tap. The most prominent summit is Mither Tap and this has an Iron Age Hill Fort atop with some very well preserved walls. Although it appears to be the high point of the hill this is an optical illusion brought about by its sharp outline, at 518m (1699ft) it is 10m lower than the more rounded Oxen Crag at 528m (1733 ft) a couple of km to the west. I have walked over the many trails on Bennachie hundreds of times and have never yet tired of the walk it is always possible to vary the route and even now I am often surprised by new options.
Last night I walked along the bottom of the hill to take one of the rarely trodden paths (most paths are well maintained by The Bailies of Bennachie) from the base of the hill directly towards Watch Crag. This Path is one I discovered only this year and does not appear on the tourist guide to the hill though the OS 1:50 000 does show it partially ascending the hill. Nevertheless as there are stone milestones or something like along the route it mut at one time have been a well-used route. Rarely do you meet anyone on this route and it gives an excellent view of the ‘back’ side of Oxen Crag. Just before reaching Watch Crag there is a turn off towards Hermit Seat. I took this turn off and visited Hermit Seat (approx. 1km ) before returning to Watch Crag.
From Watch Crag there were good views all around so I decided to linger. I knew wild blueberries grew somewhere here so decided to try to find some. Within minutes I had located a fine source of these small and delicious fruits and decided to eat a couple. Next time I shall bring a Tupperware box and collect enough to take home for a smoothie. As the sun was still high in the sky I lingered a while to enjoy the views before heading east over a small col to Oxen Crag from where it was possible to see clearly the fog bank that was no shrouding the coast and starting to come inland. As it was now nearly 8 O’clock and Mither Tap was starting to get c cap of misty cloud on it I decided I would finish the night’s walk on Craigshannoch and save Mither Tap until next time. On Craigshannoch I came across only the 2nd Hare that I had seen on Bennachie – this on a youngster. A couple of years ago I had seen a large adult at the same place. It was on the walk over from Oxen Crag to Craigshannoch that I met people for the 1st time. This side of the hill is often much busier than the route I had taken because most visitors head to Mither Tap from the car park closest to Aberdeen. Though when I say busy its usually less than 10 people at most that one ever meets. Last night as I approached Craigshannoch I met 1 walker and a mountain biker and that was it for the evening.
I finished the evening by walking back to the ‘Back ‘o’ Bennachie’ car park through the woods below Oxen Crag . In total I had spent 3 hours on the hill on a fine summer’s evening and had met only 2 other people. A great walk