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Mighty Schiehallion

Mighty Schiehallion

Piercing the sky with its nearly perfect symmetry, Schiehallion has
attracted legends, audacious scientific experiments and, in more recent
times, hillwalkers in search of forever views.

BY PAUL STAFFORD

Moody lighting dappled a landscape in the throes of autumnal transition as I set out from the Braes of Foss just after midday. Heather and bracken had shed their hues of summer for coats of russet and burnt orange. Further afield, clumps of managed forest occasionally spread across the undulating land in angular swathes of pine green.

Distant mountains lay in shadow, occasionally blotted out as a far-off shower blended the clouds with the earth. Cloud kissed the summits all around, but that was not too disconcerting, for I was on a mission to experience the timeless attraction of Schiehallion. Its name comes from the Gaelic Sith Chaillean -- "Fairy Hill of the Caledonians" -- and it stands like no other at the intersection of history, myth and legend.

On the south side of Schiehallion is the Cave of the Hillock of the Great Man, the entrance to the underworld and home of the Great Man, Tom a' Mhor, as well as fairies and other supernatural beings. Cailleach Bheur, the Blue Witch, also haunted these precincts. She appeared each Halloween to usher in the winter and would sometimes surprise unsuspecting travelers, her icy breath sending them to an early grave.

It is ironic that this same landscape would also attract 18th-century men of science, whose mission was not supernatural discovery, but a determined quest to do what had never been done before: weigh planet Earth.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2020 issue of Scottish Life.

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Click here to preview our Notes From The Isles column by Kate Francis.

Photo © Doug Houghton/Scottish Viewpoint