Sunday, 30 October 2016

#Samhain on #Bennachie

Happy Sunday to you! 

This blog post is somewhat like my post today (30th October 2016) at my friend Jennifer Wilson’s blog. I’ve done a partial re-blog here because relating the stories of Bennachie and the north east was a little too long for a guest post.

Here you can read the full legends because legends they are. Corroboration is thin… Just like the veil between the world of the living and the dead on the night of  Samhain/ Halloween.

 Grab a drink, take a seat and enjoy a virtual journey with me, from the present to the past.

From the south near Monymusk
The destination is a range of hills in Aberdeenshire, north east Scotland, called Bennachie (pronounced BEN-A-CHEE where the ch sounds like the Scottish ch as in loch). The most important summit of Bennachie is the Mither Tap. Mither Tap (mother top/ hill of the breast) is traditionally named so because the peak resembles a prominent nipple. Though Mither Tap isn’t actually the highest at 1699 ft, it’s the one which catches the eye from many perspectives.

It looks like this from the north east near Daviot Stone Circle.

At Daviot
It doesn’t matter which of the official routes you take to climb Mither Tap, or from which direction you begin, you can reach the summit fairly quickly. My nearly-fit younger self used to do the return trip in a little over an hour on the quickest route.

Got your stout boots on? That’s great! Follow me to the Maiden Causeway, the fairly steep narrow trail up into the forest that clads the foothills and creates lovely dappling shade on a sunny day.

Legend says the Maiden Causeway track was built by the devil. How do we know this? Well... it's written in the stone...
One version of the legend goes like this:
A rejected suitor of the maiden, the daughter of a local chief at Drumdurno, was wandering the nearby Pittodrie Woods when he met the devil. In a fit of pique the lad sold his soul to the devil to get his revenge on the girl for having moved on to pastures new.
On the eve of her wedding, the happy girl was singing away as she baked oatcakes. On looking up out of her window, she saw a handsome stranger. He wagered that he would build a causeway right up to the top of Mither Tap before she finished baking the ‘firlot’ of meal that she had set out to use. Thinking it idle banter, she pledged her heart and her hand to him if he managed to complete the path before her work was done.

At twilight, when her ‘firlot pile’ of meal was almost used she looked out to see a causeway path going right to the top of Mither Tap and the handsome stranger she now recognised as Satan was coming for her. Running off into Pittodrie Woods, she cried out to God to save her. When the devil caught her, the best that the almighty could do was to turn the poor wee quine (Doric for girl) into stone. The Mirror and Comb symbols are said to be her girdle (flat pan) and baking board. The large wedge that’s been torn out of the side of the stone is said to be the mark of Satan’s hand.


Wikimedia Commons
The symbols carved in relief on the Maiden Stone, which is to be found not far from the causeway path, are splendid.  Two figures, a mirror and a comb are at the bottom of the east side. Move your gaze up and you’ll see an ‘elephant like’ creature and a Z-rod image. Other faint creatures adorn the top.

The west side is less easy to decipher due to weathering though the wicker work Celtic knot patterns near the bottom must have beautiful. Above them, the Celtic Cross measures more than 5ft, but what was above is gone for ever.

The deep notch in the stone’s side is said to be the devil’s mark when he tried to catch her. At 3.2 metres (c. 11 ft) high, the Maiden Stone is a superb example of its kind and is dated to around AD 800, the carving almost unsurpassed and that’s saying something since Aberdeenshire has many beautiful Pictish carved stones.

But back to our Sunday Sojurn...

Having headed up the causeway, once we reach the tree line the climb isn’t so steep. As we catch our breath, we’ll pass Hosies’ Well—said to originate from the tears of a local lad named Hosie. In 1411, Hosie and his bride were heading to the church for their wedding when news came that an army of Highlanders was advancing to Harlaw, a short distance away between the foothills of Bennachie and the nearest town of Inverurie. The advancing army was that of Donald, Lord of the Isles, who was attempting to claim supremacy over the north of Scotland. The local army were followers of Alexander, the Earl of Mar, who was supported by the Provost and Baillies of Aberdeen.

Hosie's Well
Well, the brave Hosie abandoned the poor girl and went to join the bloody Battle of Harlaw. Hosie did such a brave job in the battle but he was captured and was dragged off to a dungeon in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. Only after many years of imprisonment was the poor lad able to escape. He made his long way home to claim his woman but his faithless ‘bride’ had gone and married another man. Hosie died of a broken heart and was buried on the slopes of Mither Tap. “the water that rises in Hosie’s Well is nothing but Hosie’s tears”

The climb gets steeper again as we approach the dramatic tor that is the summit of Mither Tap. The grey scree cascading from the summit, that we need to clamber over, is the tumbled down remains of an ancient Iron Age hillfort. No one knows when the fort may have been built, or even when it fell into ruin, but once we’re on the summit we’ll have a nice rest on the old stone foundations. I've put forward an idea about its origins in my Teen Time Travel adventure The Taexali Game but I'm giving no spoilers here! 

The view is amazing! Looking eastwards the panorama reaches all the way to the twinkling blue of the North Sea. The high peaks of the Grampian Mountains lie splendidly to the west. The views north and south are equally stunning.  But we’re going to focus on a point just across the valley, opposite Mither Tap called Durno,

Near Durno are the summits of three low hills with a plateau between. Somewhere around AD 84, that whole area of some 58 hectares (144 acres) was the site of the largest Ancient Roman Marching Camp in northern Scotland. Can you imagine something like 25,000 Roman soldiers forming up-century by century, and cohort by cohort? All in serried rows, with neat blocks of shield colours: Auxiliaries and Legionaries.  Ready to do battle!
Near the Durno Roman Camp

The amassed tribes following the Celtic leader given the name of Calgacus (Swordsman) were ranged on the foothills of Mither Tap, the chariots on the flat plain with the infantry behind and cavalry on the flanks. 

Mither Tap is one of the most suitable contenders for the site of the Battle of Mons Graupius. According to ancient historian, Cornelius Tacitus, on the foothills of a high hill the forces of General Agricola went into pitched battle with the Caledonian allies who were led by a charismatic figure named Calgacus (meaning the Swordsman).

I’m entirely biased and really DO believe that Bennachie was the site of some sort of confrontation between the amassed Celtic warriors (male and female) and the forces of Rome. You can read about my battle at Beinn na Ciche, the Gaelic form of Bennachie, in Book 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series—After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks.

Book 4, currently underway begins near Bennachie with the aftermath of the battle being the hot topic!

p.s. my time travel novel for teens—The Taexali Game—is also set near Bennachie, but in AD 210 when the Ancient Roman Emperor Severus marched his troops back ‘to teach those naughty Celtic tribes a lesson!’ 

That fact that I live only 9 miles from Bennachie, and that my own house is built just outside the edge of the ramparts of the marching camp at Kintore ( the camp stopping place before the camp at Durno)

Here's some more information about Bennachie...

The Bennachie Centre takes water from what is believed to be the Kewlie well. It's recorded that the Laird’s wife from Tullos used to visit it for water for her tea. Close to the well is a flat stone with a cup size hole in it. Legend has it that ut was the devil who created the dent. When in a rage, about something or other, he threw his tankard from the top of Mither Tap and it left its impression in the stone!

Maiden Castle 
Close to the Rowan Tree Car Park, the start point for the Maiden Causeway, is a Pictish fort standing on a rocky outcrop surrounded by a ditch and a circle of mature trees. Excavations at the site have confirmed settlement in the area from 7,000 BC up to medieval times. During excavations in 2009, a rare Iron Age cobbled road, a stone pendant, and a 1,000-year-old sparkling glass bead were discovered.  It would have provided early inhabitants with a panoramic view of the Garioch valley, the neighbouring ancient hilltop forts on Mither Tap and Dunnydeer, and the Glens of Foudland at the gateway to the Highlands. Maiden Castle was a very high-status residence, probably home to an ancient prince or king. There are only three or four sites like this in Aberdeenshire. The excavations have now been filled in to preserve the site.

I've no space on here for Jock O’Bennachie story but click the link to read that one...

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