On Schiehallion

Quite something to climb a Scottish mountain noted by Ptolemy a couple of thousand years ago. As if that wasn’t fame enough, Schiehallion was the mountain used by Maskelyne to calculate the mass of the Earth way back in 1774. His assistant Charles Hutton used his experiences on the mountain to devise the system of map contour lines which we all use today.

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On the Boulder Field (c) John Bainbridge 2017

As someone has pointed out elsewhere, Schiehallion is a mountain walk of two halves – first a relatively easy and gentle climbing track from Braes of Foss, the second negotiating a long stretch of quartzite boulder field. Contrary to popular belief – from the shape – Schiehallion was never a volcano. Its great bulk is sedimentary rock eroded during the Ice Age.

The weather we’ve had in Scotland has been much better than we’ve experienced in Cumbria. We were granted a warm and clear day to climb Schiehallion, though it was quite blowy on the top.

And one of the joys of walking at this time of the year is that the heather is out – walkers are fortunate to see heather at its best and to walk those purple slopes. A delight of the year.

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The Easy Path (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The path from Braes of Foss rises gently, offering wonderful views down into Gleann Mor – a place I’d like to explore one day. People settled this glen thousands of years ago – there are hut circles, cup-marked stones and the evidence of more recent shielings there and about. Jacobite fugitives hid here after the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

As you walk in this country you tread in the footsteps of history.

Nearer the summit is the boulder field and very rocky it is too. I’m not as agile as I once was – the days when I could skip over the sloping clitter of Dartmoor tors (which this Scottish hill’s boulder field rather resembles) are long over. I envied the young people I saw on our ascent who can still skip.

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On the Summit (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Making our way rather more gingerly, we reached the summit. Despite the clear and dry weather it was very blowy as we edged along the summit rocks.

The real joy of this mountain, standing solitary and clear of any neighbours, is that you get all round views. Lochs Tummel and Rannoch (I’ll spare you my rousing chorus of The Road to the Isles) far below.

In the distance the heights of the Cairngorms; old mountain friends such as Ben Vrackie and Beinn a’Ghlo’ the great gash marking the entrance to Glen Tilt. Twisting your head around is the mighty Ben Lawers, then watery Rannoch Moor: the Buchaille Etive Mor and the crags of Glencoe; distant Ben Cruachan, the first Scottish mountain I ever climbed.

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Descent with Loch Tummel in view (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Just seeing them all makes you hungry for exploration.

The John Muir Trust, which owns the eastern side of Schiehallion, calculates that some 20,000 people climb this mountain every year. There were quite a few up on this lovely day, though because we started early we encountered most as we descended.

Schiehallion’s views are still so clear in my mind.



3 thoughts on “On Schiehallion

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