Schiehallion


3,547 feet high stands the greatly celebrated mountain of Schiehallion; often known as the Fairy Hill of the Caledonians as translated from Gaelic. Caledonian derives from the Latin for “Scots”, coined by the Romans on their discovery of Scotland. However the word Schiehallion is an anglicised form of the original Gaelic: Sidh Chailleann. There have been other translations of this word by historians to mean ‘The Maiden’s Pap’ and ‘Constant Storm’. Schiehallion, whether the fairy hill or the maiden’s pap, is found in Perth and Kincross. Notorious for its rich botanical life, archaeology and scientific history, it attracts many visitors including climbing and hillwalking enthusiasts – of which it boasts around 20,000 a year. Moreover its symmetrical shape and conical summit which can be seen throughout Perthshire makes Schihallion one of Scotland’s most iconic mountains. This is largely due to its isolated location which helps the mountain to be seen for miles around.

The mountain of Schiehallion was the scene of an important scientific experiment during the eighteenth century. The experiment was conducted by the Royal Society which sought to determine the mean density of the planet Earth. The mountain’s position and isolation suited the experimental requirements well; also the symmetrical shape for which Schiehallion is famous. The scientists used the deflection of a pendulum due to the gravitational pull of the mountain. Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne spent 17 weeks living in a wooden hut on the northern slopes of the mountain calculating the weight of the earth to be 4.5 x 1024 kg. Even though we now use the figure 5.98 x 1042 kg to represent the mass of the Earth; Maskelyne was surprisingly accurate as he was using comparatively primitive scientific tools.

The east Schiehallion estate has been carefully and lovingly attended by the John Muir Trust since their purchase of this iconic mountain back in 1999. The Trust maintains the heavily trodden footpaths, in particular the much worn footpath running from the Braes of Foss car park to the summit. This heavily worn blemish on the beautiful and popular mountain has been treated by the Trust which have realigned the path. The John Muir Trust have lovingly invested over £800,000 into the care of this national treasure, realigning its paths and restoring the erosion. The Trust was invested in heavily by the Heritage Lottery Fund which gave £506,500 to the organisation alongside many other benefactors. The older path which was called by many ‘the mud motorway’ has now begun restoration thanks to the Trust. The area has been reseeded, reprofiled and care has been taken to ensure that it was not subject to so much water damage as it had been in the past. Care has also been taken to restore the car park which has included the rebuilding of dykes and the construction of two new bridges. New information boards have also been built to ease the assent and flow of information from the John Muir Trust to the visiting walkers.

The elusive name of Schiehallion, the Fairy Hill of the Caledonians, lends itself to mystery and speculation from supernatural experts. However it is members of the Christian community which have seemed to have speculated the most about the nature and power of this mountain. Some speculate that this mountain is the ‘mount Zion in the far north’ which has been referred to in a psalm from David as well as other mysterious northern mountains throughout the bible. The location and the phenomenal shape of the mountain has caused much of this speculation. Schiehallion is at the centre of Scotland which mirrors the sacred hill of Uisnech which is found in the centre of Ireland and the mountain of Plinlimmon at the centre point of Wales. Coined the Fairy Hill, the mountain has long since been associated with enchantment and the supernatural. A phantom black dog is said to haunt its lower slopes and there is also the remains of a holy well which provoke interest. Sightings of the dog have been many however supernatural theorists report that the dog is a guardian rather than a threat to humanity. Beltane in the Celtic calendar (May Day) is said to be the best time at which to visit the holy well which some say has healing powers.


The mountain of Schiehallion has been made famous for its rich botanical life which is popular with its many hillwalkers. The rare limestone pavement is home to many varied plants which thrive on its nutrients. These include dogs mercury, lily of the valley and wood anenome. Other homes to wildlife include the bog and heather upon the moorland which change colour with the seasons. The aforementioned John Muir Trust plans to plant native woodlands upon the lower slopes of the mountain to provide habitats for more local wildlife. Hillwalkers are accompanied on the mountain by over sixty species of bird which call the mountain their home. Those which excite most interest include the kestrel, hen harrier, buzzard, red grouse and ptarmigan. Red deer also move in herds gracefully and playfully upon the hills. Reaching the summit of Schiehallion, after a scramble over the boulders, walkers are rewarded by splendid views from this mythical mountain top. In particular to the west across the vast wilderness that is Rannoch Moor and the glorious peaks of Glen Coe. This ascent should take under four hours at a reasonable pace, encompassing six miles of climbing up hill.

Take particular caution when reaching this mountain during the winter and less popular months. Driving to the car park in harsh wintry conditions can be treacherous as it can sometimes be difficult to reach the roads and the car park in order to grit them. However on a clear day the summit of Schiehallion, the fairy hill, is as glorious as it is magical. Attracting people with interests ranging from botany to the supernatural to science it is easy to see why this mountain is indeed one of the most popular in Scotland.

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