Tapping and Swiping - The Past at the Bennachie Centre

June 2018

Our New App Tells the Story of Crofters at Aberdeenshire’s Iconic Hill

The hill of Bennachie has a folklore of giants, magical springs and the devil who built a causeway in one night, while its archaeology includes prehistoric hut circles and the hill fort at Mither Tap. But research by the Bailies of Bennachie and the University of Aberdeen has led to a new app – the Digital Bennachie Colony Trail – that reveals how the history of the crofters who lived on Bennachie is just as intriguing.

The crofters made their homes on the slopes of Bennachie in the 19th century and the remains of their houses and fields can still be seen. While around 150,000 visits to Bennachie are made each year, few are aware of the stories of the Colony – the families who worked the ground, lived in the houses and, in some cases, were forced off the land as rents were imposed on them by the local laird.

The app, funded by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Bailies of Bennachie, shows where their houses were and how the crofters made a living from the sparse hillsides. Included are a mix of archaeology and archival history along with stories, music, poems, a quiz and even recipes. Users can explore the inside of one of the croft houses and see digital reconstructions of the crofting landscape.

Jackie Cumberbirch, chairperson of the Bailies of Bennachie who led the project, said:

‘This is the first ever Bennachie app and it’s a testament to all the hard work of the community volunteers who took part in the research. By downloading this free app we hope that many people can see into the past seeing the homes of the Colonists in 1860 that are near to the Bennachie Visitor Centre. It is great seeing into the past!’

Alison Sutherland, Aberdeenshire Council Ranger at Bennachie, said that the app should prove a hit with Bennachie visitors:

‘The app will enable me to show schools and groups virtual images of a Colony house and the surrounding landscape. A picture can say so much more than words, and this will enhance their visitor experience by helping them to understand how people lived on the hill in the 1800s.’

The University of Aberdeen secured grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council Connected Communities programme to train volunteers and carry out research on archaeology, oral history, and archival history at the Colony, together with schools and outdoor education events. Dr Jo Vergunst of the Department of Anthropology was on the steering group for the app project.

‘I’m delighted to have supported the app, which shows the real impact of the University’s interdisciplinary research in archaeology, anthropology, history and education. Working with the community has made this a showcase in Scottish heritage research and it underlines the significance of the wider Bennachie landscape.’

Dr Jeff Oliver of the Department of Archaeology, who led the archaeological research, added:

‘It is gratifying to see how the project has matured to a stage where our community collaborators have played a central role in the design of this app which will help to publicise our shared historical endeavours on the hillside.’

Smart History, a spin-out company at the University of St Andrews, provided the technical skills to create the app. Dr Alan Miller of Smart History said:

‘Apps are a great way of engaging new audiences with the past and we’re really pleased with how the Bennachie Colony Trail app has turned out.’

The app is based on over six years of research involving the Bailies of Bennachie, University of Aberdeen, Forestry Commission Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council Rangers and Inverurie Youth Forum amongst others. Narration on the app is provided by broadcaster Mark Stephen and Aberdeenshire storyteller Grace Banks.

The Digital Bennachie Colony Trail app is available to download free from app stores for both Android and Apple operating systems. Users should remember to download the app before leaving home as at present the Bennachie Visitor Centre does not have wifi. However 3D virtual reality viewers for smartphones will be available to purchase at the Centre!

You can download this app from,

For more news please see our current News, News 2018 and Events sections.