22/06/2015 - About 10 years since I was last on Schiehallion. It was a lovely blue sky day last time. Today was windy, misty and cold. I even sat next to a patch of snow for my sandwiches and cuppa. It didn't feel much like the end of June!
What can I say about Schiehallion that you need to know apart from it's just a great hill with a fantastic view. If you are in the area and like a walk, it's a must visit. Good parking, nice path and great boulder hopping to be had near the top (if you like that sort of thing).
This hill must have been special to people since the first time humans laid eyes on it.
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....
Cailleach Bheur (pronounced 'cal'yach vare') is rumoured to haunt Schiehallion, and other mountains like Ben Nevis.
She is a frightening blue-faced hag - a personification of Winter, and also called 'the daughter of Grianan (the winter sun)'. The Cailleach was reborn each All Hallows and went about smiting the earth and calling down snow! On May Eve she threw down her staff under one of her wintery plants, the holly or the gorse, and - interestingly - turned into a grey stone for the summer. One wonders how many standing stones were therefore associated with her. In another version she turns into a beautiful girl at the end of winter.
She also looks after various animals - deer (which she herds and milks, and protects from hunters), swine, wild goats and wolves. She was also known as a guardian of wells and streams.
As Katherine Briggs says in her 'Dictionary of Fairies', a whole book might be written about her and her variants. She seems widespread as well - there is another blue-faced supernatural woman in Leicestershire: Black Annis.
Insa Thierling has an article on the Cailleach at http://www.caerclud.vscotland.org.uk/cailleach.html
She mentions that there is a Sgrìob na Caillich, or Cailleach's Furrow on Schiehallion. It is where she has been with her plough, causing furrowed patterns in the rocks - a scree? There is one on Jura too.
The is also a famous cave on the mountain's side - a direct connection with the underworld, so it seems.
This comes from the Rev. Robert MacDonald, a former minister of Fortingall, in the new Statistical Account for Scotland (Perthshire), published in 1845:
"There is a very remarkable cave near the south-west angle of Sith-chaillinn [Schiehallion], at the 'Shealing,' called Tom-a-mhorair, or the Earl's eminence. Some miles to the east, there is an opening in the face of a rock, which is believed to be the termination thereof. Several stories are told and believed by the credulous, relating to this cave; that the inside thereof is full of chambers or separate apartments, and that, as soon as a person advances a few yards, he comes to a door, which, the moment he enters, closes, as it opened, of its own accord, and prevents his returning."
Similarly in "Rambles in Breadalbane" (1891), the author, Ferguson remarks: "It is said that there are a long series of mysterious caves, extending from one side of the mountain to the other." And also there is this quote from "A Highland Parish or the History of Fortingall" (1928) by Alexander Stewart:
"Of all the caves in the Parish, the most remarkable is that at Tom a Mhorair, on the south side of Glenmore, near the west shoulder of Schiehallion. It has a fairly wide opening which extends for three or four yards. It then contracts and slants into total darkness in the bowels of the earth. Some miles to the east of this there is another opening, which tradition holds to be the other end of the cave. According to the traditional accounts, this cave was regarded as an abode of fairies and other supernatural beings, rather than a hiding place of mortals. The only men who were supposed to have lived there were individuals who were believed to have been in league with supernatural powers."
Schiehallion is actually 'Sidh Chailleann' - fairy hill of the Caledonians ('sidh' is like ban-'shee'). According to Ruth and Frank Morris in 'Scottish Healing Wells' (and noted in Bord's 'Fairy Sites'), there is a fairy well somewhere on the side of the hill which was renowned for healing and for granting wishes. Girls dressed in white used to bring garlands to the fairies every May day.
"Two hump-backed men lived on either side of the mountain, one near Braes of Foss and the other near Tempar. One fine summer's eve, the man from Braes of Foss went to visit his friend, walking through Gleann Mor. As he approached the cave - Uamh Tom a'Mhor-fhir - he heard the singing and dancing of fairies. He was totally thrilled and joined in the song in a melodious voice, adding a new line. The fairies were delighted with the addition and gave him three gifts - that he would be tall and lose his hump, that he would be healthy and that he would have plenty until he died.
When he got to his friend's house, the friend did not recognise him, so he told of how he had lost his hump. The friend tried to do the same, and met up with the fairies too. Unfortunately the friend had a most tuneless voice and greatly upset the fairies who cursed him, doubling his hump, making him the ugliest man on earth and making him grow bigger and bigger until he died. Needless to say, his friend no longer recognised such an ugly, giant of a man."
A curious fact is that in 1774 the Reverend Neville Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal, chose Schiehallion for his investigations into gravity (the mountain was nice and symmetrical). From these he worked out the weight of the earth and from his methods were developed contour lines on maps. You can read more at the John Muir Trust website at http://www.jmt.org/cons/sch/sch_ref_maskel.html Seems like a suitably worthy use of a sacred hill.
'There is a famous cave at the foot of Schiehallion where, tradition has it, fairies loved to dwell. There, it is said mortals from time to time dwelt among them, and interesting stories are told of the strange ways in which they were rescued from their power. Behind Schiehallion, again, on Creag Chionneachan, is one of the spots where the old Fingalian warriors were supposed to lie on their elbows awaiting the third blast of the horn that is to raise them to life again.
From ' A Higland Parish or the History of Fortingall' by Alexander Stewart 1928.
'…Schiehallion (3,547 feet)- i.e. the hill of the Daoine Shi or the Fairies' Hill. If all the tales one hears related by old natives of Rannoch could be fully relied on, Schiehallion in days of yore used to be a favourite resort of the fairy folks, and more especially once a year, when all the various tribes throughout Glenlyon, Rannoch, Strathtummel, etc. congregated. Here they used to assemble in large numbers and hold their annual convocation, presided over by the beautiful and accomplished Queen Mab, gorgeously arrayed in her favourite green silk robes, with her abundant crop of beautiful golden-yellow hair waving in long ringlets over her shoulder down to her waist. It is said that there are a long series of mysterious caves, extending from one side of the mountain to the other.'
From 'Rambles in Breadalbane' by Malcolm Ferguson 1891.
Whilst sorting through pictures, fieldnotes etc for a sites in this area I realised that along the north and east sides of the Magickal Mountain, Schiehallion, there are at least nine sites of cup (and ring) markings. There are probably many more hidden away (see Garth Estate 3 for example) awaiting re-discovery. To the hills ;)
This is not the recorded marked rock by the oil tank but one I discovered about 7 years ago a in the field to the south of the farm . Small cups again ,also in a rosette but this is 25 miles and over two ranges of hills from the similar Corrody burn example . An interesting story about this is that a few weeks ago I came across a pic of it taken from the now defunct BRAC website and used to illustrate a very poorly argued idea for rock art motifs being maps of the local monuments . The pic had no caption and was supposed to be an example of a representation of a grouping of barrows .When I asked the unfortunate who had come up with the idea he had no idea where the rock was situated , what it was called or where the pic came from ,yet he had decided that it "represented " a grouping of barrows in the area . Needless to say there are no barrows in the area and he missed the other markings on the rock .meaning there would have been an even greater number of "non" barrows in the area . Fwiw some of the cups are aligned on the cardinal points and there is a sun roll seen from the stone over the nearby Schiehallion .