The Wayfarer - Tales of the fairy mountain

The mountains, hills and glens of Scotland are famous each one having its own individual character and attraction.

The Byne Hill behind Girvan gives a great view of the town and is the hill at the western end of the Southern Upland range. Behind the Byne Hill you will find Knockdolian a favourite hill of many giving fantastic views all around including Ailsa Craig, Arran, The Mull of Kintyre and Ireland. You can often look down on RAF jets in training flying below you and even see the pilot in the cockpit.

But often these hills are taken for granted and how many local residents have actually climbed them. However a mountain which very much attracts attention is Schiehallion in Perthshire. Schiehallion is known as the ‘Fairy mountain’ but the strict translation from the Gaelic name of Sidh Chaillearn is ‘The fairy hill of the Caledonians’. It has a firm connection with the supernatural which in centuries past could have brought a lot of wariness from many of the Highlanders living in its vicinity. An old witch known as Cailleach Bheur was once a familiar sight on the mountain, she could have lived in ‘Uamh Tom a’Mhor-thir’ a very large cave which was once considered to be the abode of fairies and other supernatural beings. This of course could have been a ploy to deter visitors from finding out about some nefarious practices which the Highlanders may have been up to. Illicit stills comes to mind, but that is all conjecture. There are also wild goats present on the mountain, but one in particular should be looked out for, the Gobhar Bacach a lame goat who is professed to roam Schiehallion always in milk should it be required by the Fingalions the fair haired giants from Ireland under the command of Fionn MacCumhail who may try to reclaim Scotland.

But departing from the supernatural we find that the conical shape of the mountain attracted the attention of Neville Maskelyne the Astronomer Royal who in 1774 tried to ascertain the density of the earth by assessing how the mountain’s mass caused a pendulum to pull away from the vertical. This provided Maskelyne with the information to allow him to calculate the mean density of the earth. It is all very complicated and well beyond me.

Now I am not suggesting that everyone should rush to climb Schiehallion to take on the Cailleach Bheur or search for milk from Ghobar Bacach but if the legs will allow it a gentle climb up the Byne Hill or my favourite Knockdolian is well worth the effort.