Bennachie

Bennachie in the distance

Bennachie is a large hill that can be seen for miles in Aberdeenshire. Its craggy peaks seem to loom out of nowhere as you drive round twisty corners of country roads. I once climbed it three times in one day for charity; complainers of sore legs were reminded of that fact yesterday. The top of Harthill Castle, which was owned and restored by the late American writer Ann Savage, is just visible over the trees.

The start of any Bennachie climb – we took the easiest ‘Rowan Tree’ route – starts with a misleading forest stroll:

woodland walk

Then you’re out into the baking sun (sometimes; you are equally as likely to emerge into a dense Stephen King-esque mist) and views expand.

rock

Parts of the path are pure exposed rock, it feels like standing on the bare face of the planet. I like to kneel and kiss the stone; you do see some strange people on Bennachie…

steeper

The ascent gradually gets steeper, the sun gets hotter, but the Mither Tap nears. Big cairn, little cairn:

cairns

There’s a Pictish hillfort on the top, you pass between its walls…

hillfort

and then cling, terrified, to the side of the uppermost rocks as the wind buffets you. That bit is over quickly. The landscape soon owns your attention.

views

The Maiden Stone stands near the foot of the hill, a ninth century Pictish stone displaying a good example of the mysterious, much debated, ‘Pictish beast’. Swimming elephant? Dolphin? Kelpie?

The Maiden Stone

A few miles further on is Loanhead of Daviot Stone Circle, the first recumbent circle I ever visited, beautifully cared for by Historic Scotland.

Daviot

uprights at Daviot

between the recumbents

Will I stop now? No, one more, then we can put our feet up.

circle

of Mountains, and Circles, and Russian Dolls

Cairngorm

Above is a picture taken from the top of the  Cairngorm Mountain, which in no way captures how windy it is up there. Loch Morlich can just be made out in the distance.

Gales aside, the mountain is always grounding. It is so huge and so solid and high. Worries recede. Ridiculous dramas can be seen for the trivial nothings that they are. And I was wearing my new, very cheerful dress:

russian dolls dress

There’s a scene with Russian dolls in my book, so I love this. Admittedly, it wasn’t the most appropriate clothing for hill walking, but I did wear sensible boots and a good coat and felt great solidarity with the man who had teamed shorts and plimsolls with a furry hat. We both attracted what I like to think were admiring looks.

Loch Morlich

Everything was serene down below by the loch, amid the sand and the trees.

loch waters

It was warm enough to paddle before heading to the stone circle at Aviemore:

Aviemore stone circle

This circle is rather unusually situated in the middle of a housing estate, but a peaceful and energising place nonetheless. *enters tour guide mode* There are over 150 stone circles in the Grampian region, more than the rest of Britain put together, but this is the most urban one I’ve encountered. They’re more commonly nestled on the brows of hills, sometimes surrounded by trees, sometimes overlooking open countryside. *reverts to ‘woman wearing a silly dress’ mode* I have a definite ‘thing’ for them; I write about them, I kiss them, I dance round them.

Aviemore stone circle

Yesterday I needed to soak up the calm, to absorb it from the stones and carry it with me into the week to come. However: I’ve already made one critique partner cry; I’ve got myself into a horrible manuscript formatting tangle and I have eaten too much chocolate. And it’s only Monday…