Anyone who knows me will know that my favourite place to run at is Bennachie. I love the variety of trails and hills, the countless different routes you can take but above all it's the stunning views which it offers up, both of the hill and also of the beautiful Aberdeenshire countryside. From Aberdeen and the North Sea to the east and to the mountains to the west including Lochnagar, Clachnaben, Hill O'Fare to name but a few, it never disappoints.
Whilst Bennachie offers up some amazing social running, there are some amazing races to be had during the year. As part of the summer Cosmics series, there is the Mither Tap race is a tough, no nonense hill race with steep incline and fast, technical descent off the top of Mither Tap. Later in the year, there is the Bennachie Hill Race, organized by the Garioch Road Runners, which is hugely popular and always sells out. It's an 8 mile race, taking in the 3 peaks, Oxen Craig, Craigshannoch and Mither Tap before descending back down towards the Rowan Tree carpark and then to the Back O'Bennachie.
Given my love of Bennachie though and of longer distance running, I've had a passion now for a while to stage an ultra marathon out at Bennachie. Along with some like minded folk, in particular Nicola Redgwell (Garioch Road Runner & responsible for the wonderful Bennachie Running site) we've been looking at making this a reality, developing the ultimate route, understanding the logistics which would be involved in a venture such as this and creating a team which will be able to support and deliver this.
As part of my training this year as part of our Mzungo Maniacs Run Scotland challenge, supporting the great work Myles Edwards and the Gathimba Edwards Foundation does for underprivileged children in Kenya, I decided to run the proposed route with the view of putting it out to the local running community to get some feedback as to whether it looks like it could work both from a route and logistics perspective.
Starting at the Bennachie Visitor Centre, the proposed route will head north towards Rowan Tree and the Back O'Bennachie. Continuing round the perimeter of the hill to where it meets the Gordon Way. The initial 9 miles will be nice and gentle undulating tracks leading to a bit of a climb up towards the Gordon Way although it gives a perception of being a nice easy run.
Forest trails to the rear of the hill
When faced with a big wall, we then take the narrow path up along the wall before taking a sharp right where there's a gap in the wall. This takes you on a beautiful downhill single track, heading down towards My Lords Throat before heading along the quiet backroad, with the River Don on your right, for a couple of miles towards Donview.
Heading down on the west side of the hill towards My Lords Throat.
The only road section, a scenic run along side the River Don
At the foot of Millstone Hill with Mither Tap in the background.
With Mither Tap now back in view for a minute, it's then up & down Millstone hill before swinging back round and coming back up towards the centre.
The climb up Millstone
It then heads west before the big climb up the zig zag path which takes us up onto the Gordon Way.
The long & winding zig zag path.
A sharp right turn will then take you on to a single track up to Watch Craig and then up to the highest peak, Oxen Craig, looking down to the Gordon Way below.
Summit of Watch Craig, with Gordon Way below
Stunning views await from the peak of Oxen Craig
From there, it's back down the Gordon Way before the final sting in the tail which is a sharp turn and hike up to Mither Tap. Once up, it's then down to Craigshannoch and then down to Rowan Tree and finally back to the Vistor Centre. With a total milage of 31.1 miles and an elevation of 5400 feet, it's guaranteed to be a challenging run but it will reward with the most stunning views of Bennachie and the surrounding Aberdeenshire countryside.
- Andrew Gordon