Locals set up crofts on the lower slopes of Bennachie around 1800. The slopes were a “commonty” (land with shared use rights). The pioneers “squatted” on the land, building walls and small homes with stones from the fields and from the quarry on the hill. At the time the land was covered in heather and scrub with few trees. The people were hard working, earning their living labouring on nearby farms, building dykes and working at the harvest.
All went well for about 50 years, during which land was improved, buildings altered and life was secure, if a bit hard. In 1858 the local lairds (landowners) decided to claim the land back and drew up a plan, dividing it between themselves.
This meant that the land became the property of the neighbouring landowners. The squatters then became tenants and so had to start paying rent.
Those who couldn’t pay were evicted, often forcefully. The last remaining colonist, George Esson, died in 1939. You can still see the remains of his croft below the tree line.
Follow the Colony Trail and you will see the Gouk Stone sign posted off the route.
You’ll be led into a little clearing. This is all that is left of the Colonist’s homes. In the middle of the clearing is a simple stone – no markings or carvings on it. This was one of the marker stones showing the boundary of the Common Land which was divided by Court Action in 1859. There were many more on Bennachie but most are no longer visible.
A “gouk” is a cuckoo and it is thought that the stone was so called because it may have been the bird’s favourite perch after all the people left.
Remember there would have been no trees here then – just bare hillside.
Mither Tap is the most prominent peak on Bennachie with spectacular views across Aberdeenshire. On the top is an ancient fort built over 2000 years ago.
The path to the summit takes you in by the fort’s main entrance. You can see the two walls of the fort with traces of the old parapet walk on one of these walls.
Be careful not to disturb what remains, for these stones were painstakingly brought up the hill, probably by way of the Maiden Causeway.
It is thought that there were at least ten buildings within the fort at one time.
You will find some old granite lintels up on the hill.
Lintels are pieces of stone used in house building to hold up the wall above doors and windows.
Today these are made of concrete or steel rather than granite. In the 19th Century, there were several quarries on the hill, all producing lintels. One of the quarries can be seen on Little Oxen Craig. There are some finished lintels still lying there from when they were carved.
You can see the drill holes in the quarry face where wedges were driven in to break off large blocks of granite. The lintels were carried down the hill on horse-drawn carts, probably two to a cart, with a third trailing to act as a brake.
You’ll know from reading the section on “The Colony” about the division of the “Common” – and the subsequent effects on the lives of the people who lived there.
Boundary lines were drawn on maps to divide the land and these were translated on to the ground.
In the 1850s, single stones marked the boundaries and they often had letters inscribed on them. On Mither Tap (between the trig point and the indicator) you’ll see one such stone, which has “AD1858, BPLE” written on it. The letters on this one stand for the three estates of Balquhain, Pittodrie and Logie Elphinstone.
The date is interesting as it preceeds the court’s decision by one year. The action succeeded in 1859 but the stone is dated 1858. Was this a measure of the confidence of the estates on the outcome of the action?
Although backed by the process of law, many folk felt that the division of the “commonty” was a shameful act so the stone became known as “The Thieves’ Mark”.
There are other boundary stones near the Bennachie Centre.
The Battle of Harlaw took place in 1411 on the sloping land to the north of Inverurie. Here the Earl of Mar and his men fought the Highlanders in a bloody battle.
Hosie, a local man, was on his way to marry his bride when he was persuaded to fight in the battle instead, postponing his wedding. After the battle, he was imprisoned in a Hebridean dungeon for several years. Eventually he escaped and went to find his bride to be. While he was in prison though she had married someone else.
Hosie was heartbroken, and with nothing to live for, he died and was buried on the hill overlooking Mither Tap. A well near where he was buried is called “Hosie’s Well” because it was believed that the water in the well is “nothing but Hosie’s tears”.
If you are going up to Mither Tap via the Maiden Causeway from the Rowan Tree car park, you will pass it.