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Bennachie, the best-loved hill in Britain

Is Bennachie the most loved hill in Britain?

Of course it is. Anyone who lives in the north east knows that. However, the Royal Geographical Society, which doesn't have the benefit of being Aberdonian, poses the question in its Discovering Britain walks guide, which features the landmark.

What makes Bennachie so special? It may not be the best-known of peaks or have as many visitors as Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh or Dumgoyne in the Campsie Fells, but it is a ben that inspires people to fall in love with it.

I know because I've seen it happen. I've been going up it since I was about five. I've picked bilberries on its slopes in summer, I've trudged up it through knee-high snow, I've been blasted by the wind at its summit; I even got married in its shadow. I feel pretty confident that this 1732ft mountain ("hill" really doesn't cover it) is at least as well-loved as any on this craggy island.

On a clear day, looking west towards Bennachie, the Cairngorms are like a set of crooked teeth in the distance but this single jagged peak stands alone like a sentry in flatter, more pastoral landscape, dominating the skyline. Like all good hills it has a very distinctive shape, gently sloping upwards, and while its lower skirts are clad in trees, its shoulders are covered in heather moor and topped with granite tors.

It's the sort of walk that seems to a child like a gruelling expedition (in my head, I was Frodo taking the ring to Mordor), but to an adult is an energetic but manageable hike.

Strictly speaking, the bit people know as Bennachie is only part of it. Bennachie is actually a long ridge of granite with seven taps, or tors, on the plateau. The one people often call Bennachie is Oxen Craig, while along a bit is Mither Tap.

There is a Pictish fort on Mither Tap, and Bennachie is said to be a possible site for the battle of Mons Graupius in 83AD, when the Caledonians unsuccessfully took on the formidable Roman Ninth Legion. The mountain was common land until the 1850s, when local landowners carved it up to exploit peat-cutting, grouse-shooting and rental incomes in what was known as "the Rape of Bennachie", but it is now mostly owned by the Forestry Commission.

The weather can be bad at the summit. A plane on military manoeuvres crashed on September 3, 1939, the day World War Two broke out, killing the pilot and gunner, who are thought to have been the first British casualties of the war.

On our wedding day, the haar rolled in. My dad spun an elaborate yarn in his speech about the tradition of walking up the mountain the day after your wedding. If you came back hand in hand you were destined for a happy union, if only one partner came back the omens weren't good and if you came back one behind the other complaining of sore feet? That would be a normal marriage. We didn't waken till lunchtime, so don't know how our story will go, but it will feature Bennachie.

rebecca mcquillan

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