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Healabhal Mhor

Round Cairn

<b>Healabhal Mhor</b>Posted by GLADMANImage © Robert Gladstone
Also known as:
  • Macleod's Table North

Nearest Town:Uig (26km NNE)
OS Ref (GB):   NG22244439 / Sheet: 23
Latitude:57° 24' 17.55" N
Longitude:   6° 37' 30.8" W

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Now it may seem somewhat ironic, here upon an island boasting The Black Cuillin, Britain's finest mountain range, to recommend a visit to the summit plateau of what, in comparison, might well be described as a 'minor hill'. However Skye appears to present the exceptional as standard, to embrace the surreal, to revel in the 'out of the ordinary'. Certainly, in my opinion, there is nothing 'second best' about Healabhal Mhor (1,535ft) and its slightly taller - albeit smaller, hence the nomenclature - neighbour to the south, Healabhal Bheag (1,601ft). The flat-topped summits, the topography the result of layers of horizontal basalt, are probably far better known to outsiders as Macleod's Tables and completely dominate Skye's western-most peninsular of Duirinish. Legend has it that they were so named following a visit clan chief Macleod made to King James V in Edinburgh. Yeah, it seems he boasted that he had a finer 'table' than James at home, brought the curious king back to Skye and (somehow) managed to convey the monarch to the summit plateau of Healabhal Bheag at dusk .... where a lavish banquet was laid out surrounded by torch-bearing clansmen... in lieu of candles!! Enough to have given Albert Speer and his Nazi goons wet dreams, I'd have thought? Incidentally Macleod's descendant apparently still resides in nearby Dunvegan Castle in possession of a 'Fairy Flag' yellow silk banner dated to the period 400 - 700 BCE. What is that all about? As I said, expect the unexpected upon this magical island. Healabhal Mhor doesn't have an direct association with such a fantastic historical tale... although just imagine sitting here that night. No, instead it has something potentially much more appealing and wondrous to the modern antiquarian in the form of a large, albeit more or less trashed Bronze Age cairn. It is worth a visit.

By all accounts the easiest direct approach would appear to be along the access track for Osdale Farm and hence ascending the peak's eastern shoulder. As usual, however, I go walkabout, starting and finishing my day at the surprisingly fine Dun Osdale (broch) and proceeding uphill to the south-west across trackless bog liberally 'enlivened' by peat-hags. In retrospect this turns out to be very hard going, although I should add that fabulous views along Loch Dunvegan were ample compensation. The final ascent of Healabhal Mhor's northern face is brutal in the extreme, the sheer effort demanded of me, particularly under a peerless royal blue sky, making a mockery of mere numbers shown on maps. When I eventually do reach the summit plateau I'm blown away.... quite literally by the freezing wind.... and metaphorically by the mesmeric coastal views. I'm well aware that attempts to convey such things can quickly descend into trite cliche. I guess I probably eulogise too much, but these places affect me so. Hence take what I say with a pinch of salt, but do come if you find yourself in a position to.

The summit plateau is extensive, to say the least, and I can well understand why Macleod selected the smaller neighbour to maximise the impact of his bravado. I make my way westward toward the summit (NG 21994451), crowned by a rather well built cairn which, to be honest, looks too good to be true. RCAHMS (1928) agree, describing the cairn as 'cone-shaped and probably an old trigonometrical station'. The ancient cairn - or most probably ancient cairn (again according to RCAHMS) - lies at the extreme opposite, south-eastern end of the decapitated hill top, the view across Loch Bracadale toward the serried summits of The Cuillin simply utterly sensational. I attempt to pick out some of the brochs visited last year and decide it was most certainly worth the effort coming here. Sadly, however, the surviving archaeology is not in the same league. Although presenting a very substantial footprint, the centre of the cairn has been decimated by the excavation of three (count 'em) storm shelters.... its very heart torn out by muppets unable (or unwilling) to dress appropriately. As if to underline the point I'm joined by a young couple clad in shorts and T-shirt, neither in any position to deal with the wind whatsoever. No wonder the British uplands claim so many victims....

Nothing, however, can detract from such a classic location for a Bronze Age funerary cairn. A perfect spot for lunch, too, for that matter. Mine may not have been fit for a king - although ample enough for a Citizen Cairn'd - but the view certainly was. I speculate that a community of Bronze Age locals might well have concurred with that sentiment a couple of millennia before me.

N.B. - Oh....almost forgot. As well as the Osdale broch, don't forget to drop in on the two nearby Vatten cairns. Cope speculates (in his orange tome) that these might have been erected to mirror Macleod's Tables? See what you think.
27th July 2013ce
Edited 29th July 2013ce