Smack bang in the centre of Scotland is a Munro that dominates both the landscape and the imaginings of numerous scientists, walkers and searchers after the supernatural.
Ten miles north of Aberfeldy in Perthshire, Schiehallion, from the Gaelic Sidh Chailleann – “Fairy Hill of the Caledonians” – is an isolated glacial monument described in 1901 by the Rev Hugh MacMillan as “a great icy tool … it is a residual, adamantine knob of pure quartz.”
This “icy tool” was, in 1774, the site of one of the most exciting scientific experiments of the 18th century. It was here that Dr Nevil Maskelyne, the Astronomer Royal, conducted research which resulted in an accurate measurement of the density of the earth. Maskelyne was helped in this ground-breaking work by the mathematician Charles Hutton, who, in an aside to the important work of “weighing the world” also came up with the notion of contour lines.
Yet however interesting Schiehallion is, or was, to the world of science, it is with regard to darker matters that it is still discussed. The mountain was long been regarded as a sacred and mythical place where fairies roamed, with tales of long underground caves taking the unsuspecting to the underworld.
The Rev Robert MacDonald published his Statistical Account for Scotland in 1845. In it he wrote of a “remarkable cave … called Tom-a-mhorair [which is believed to be] 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.”
This mysterious cave was also deemed worthy of note by Malcolm Ferguson, who, writing in 1891, describes a “long series of mysterious caves, extending from one side of the mountain to the other.”
According to tradition this cave was the haunt of Sidhs and fairies, which mankind entered at its peril. It is perhaps here that the “Cailleach Bheur” goes to rest – if rest she ever does. This terrifying blue-faced hag, the representation of winter, is reborn each Halloween, to smite the land with all kinds of terrible weather.
Other traditions hold that the magic caves are peopled by a powerful supernatural race. These “offspring of the Gods” enjoy extraordinary powers such as the ability to levitate and make themselves invisible (yes, OK, so some of this research came from David Icke’s website and this article was nearly left incomplete, so sidetracked was I by pictures of a reptile emerging from beneath Hilary Clinton’s face, and snakes appearing in Elizabethan portraits, and … that’s probably enough for now.)
More extensive is the body of writing which investigates whether Mount Schiehallion is a lost mystical Biblical mountain. Isaiah, 14:13, is to blame for this particular obsession, including as it does the passage: “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north.”
According to Barry Dunford, in ancient times there were a trio of mystical mountains, including Mount Sinai, Mount Moriah and Mount Heredom – whose location remains a mystery. Heredom (“Mount of God”) can’t be found on any map, but is, according to Dunford “60 miles from Edinburgh” – ie Schiehallion, the “mount of assembly” mentioned in Isaiah. His book becomes slightly confusing unless you’re very versed in Freemasonry and can follow the Masonic allusions to Heredom. I sadly can’t – and struggle even to paraphrase, but, erm, he says there’s lots of evidence.
Excitingly for those still suffering from the withdrawal of all the splendid Templar, Rosslyn, Holy-Grail-Da-Vinci-Code stuff, there is apparently a possibility that Heredom could be Solomon’s Temple and therefore very probably the bolt-hole sought by fleeing Templars when they escaped France with all their fabulous treasure. Oh, yes.
Still, you don’t need to be a supernatural buff to love this mountain. It’s hugely popular with walkers. The east side was acquired by the John Muir Trust in 1999, who have worked to improve the path that leads to the summit.
It’s a good walk, with spectacular views, and, who knows, the possibility of meeting up with some extra-terrestrials when you stop for a breather.