|Funny, isn't it, how incidental views of something from a viewpoint can act as a spark for future action? In this case it was Schiehallion rising upon the distant skyline from the wonderful Na Carraigean 'four poster' last year. Hmm.... 'The Fairy Hill of the Scots' (seems this is the generally accepted translation?)... which just happens to dominate Loch Rannoch, apparently the land of my distant ancestors, assuming the genealogical research undertaken by my late (and much missed) aunt Maureen to be correct. Yeah, I knew I really needed to do something about arranging a personal audience before it became an entry upon the 'if only' ledger in later life. But Mother Scotland doesn't just 'do' favourable weather to order. Oh no! Which is why I find myself hanging out within Aberdeenshire's fabulous Cothiemuir Hill RSC, pondering the best route towards Skye, when the thought suddenly enters my head. It has to be tomorrow! To the Fairy Hills!
My weather hunch is correct, the day dawning cloudless as I rise from my overnight stop upon the Devil's Elbow (heh! heh!) above Glen Shee. So, a passing nod to the wondrous Spittal of Glenshee upon its glacial moraine en-route, I duly arrive at the Braes of Foss car park. Yeah, the knee feels OK, so today's gonna be a good day. I hope. There is a £2 parking charge, the monies apparently used to maintain the approach track, which the John Muir Trust noticeboard explains has been re-routed to minimise environmental impact. Hey, I can live with that. The 'board has a further surprise.... a fine, multi-cup marked stone standing right by the initial stages of the track and not shown on my ancient 1:50K OS map. Schiehallion looms above to the approx west and, foreshortened, looks a bit of a doddle, to be honest. Are they sure it's 3,553ft (1,083m)? The first stage of the ascent does little to dispel this illusion, despite the fierce heat and thick coating of 50 factor sunblock. Yeah, the aforementioned track does its job well. A large cairn appears upon the immediate near horizon... surely not. Already? Err.... no. Needless to say the ridge stretches away to the summit upon the far horizon, the intervening distance a moonscape of shattered rock and quartzite outcrop. Quartzite... hmm. Funny, that. As for the cairn, a lack of bonding footprint with the earth strongly suggests no ancient providence. More's the pity. Oh, one more thing. It is here that the nice, easy going track ends. Abruptly. Schiehallion may be a 'fairy hill' but, much like the celebrated gay contingent of 2 Para during the Falklands War, she is as hard as nails. And don't you ever forget it.
So, the traveller, not so cocky now (ha!) is forced to pick his way across the knee juddering rock, small patches of grass veritable oases of relative calm within the brutal carnage that is the serpent's rocky back - suggest trending to the left is possibly the better bet? The mighty Ben Lawers rises in this direction to as near-as-dammit 4,000 ft, a skyline of Cairngorm and Lochaber mountains to the right, ahead just shattered rock rising slowly, but anything but 'gently', to the summit cone. It is the first view of the latter which explains why Schiehallion has no need of a 'Tinto-style' Bronze Age cairn.... the summit itself is formed of one massive, nay gigantic, natural cairn of shattered rock. Mother does it best, does she not? Eventually I reach 'the top' where the view down to Loch Rannoch - and across to Rannoch Moor, Glen Coe etc blows my mind, vestiges of last week's snow still apparent upon the high tops. Schiehallion has none, but needless to say has no need, her whiteness built in courtesy of the liberal coating of quartzite.
I move a little down hill to the west to avoid the noisy trainer-clad brigade and try and take it all in. I can't, of course, there being too much sensory data to process. But if this landscape does hold my ancestral roots, what a privilege that would be. Hell, it's a privilege to be here full stop. So... 'Fairy Hill?' A retrospective look at TMA shows the Braes of Foss site is but one of numerous examples of rock art below the mountain's mighty flanks. So, yes. Seems pretty clear that Schiehallion has always basked in the attention of humankind. Time, of course, is fleeting. So I decide to stay the night below in order to maximise the moment. Yeah, it just feels 'right', you know? Perhaps it always has....
Posted by GLADMAN
5th June 2012ce
Edited 5th June 2012ce