Stories Of Schiehallion - Cat Burton Photography

A special project in partnership with the John Muir Trust.

When we look at the mountain tops that dominate Scotland, we cannot help but be in awe.

Peaks such as Schiehallion provide a focus, a way-marker and an anchor in the landscape.

Many people climb this much-loved mountain to take in the views from the summit. My goal for this project is to reveal the fascinating stories below Schiehallion’s peak that often go overlooked. From its history and folklore to the conservation work currently taking place.

While the view from the top is indeed breathtaking, I hope to inspire people to admire the entirety of the landscape – from the rocky slopes to the life of the glen, with its woodland, waterfalls and ruined shielings.

Schiehallion is a mountain of magic and folklore. A place that inspires and beckons us. Our Perthshire pyramid. Our triangle in the landscape.

This isn’t just a Munro to be bagged.

This is a place of fascinating stories and wondrous tales.

There is more to a mountain than the view from its summit.

Fairy Hill Of The Caledonians

Fairy Hill Of The Caledonians

Schiehallion, from the Gaelic Sìdh Chailleann, translates to “Fairy Hill of the Caledonians”.

This magical mountain is a key feature of the Perthshire landscape.

It has fascinating archaeology, a rich natural habitat, wondrous folklore and a very important place in scientific history.

The mountain lies in western Perthshire, between Lochs Rannoch, Tummel and Tay, approximately 10 miles from Aberfeldy.

At 1083m (3553ft) high it is one of the most accessible and popular Munros with beautiful views from the summit.

To the north of Schiehallion lies Strath Fionan, a valley leading to Kinloch Rannoch via Braes of Foss.

It is dotted with quarries and features an impressive limestone pavement near Lochan an Daim that is well worth a visit.

The road alongside Schiehallion which follows Strath Fionan is known locally as The Goat Track, due to the legend of the Gabhar - a mythical creature that was part goat, part man, part wildcat.

This terrible beast was known to prey on anyone who tried to cross the ford in the road after sunset.

This wonderful mountain has so many stories to tell.

The following images reveal some of my favourites which were encountered during my research.

SIGNED LIMITED EDITION of 3. Approx 40x12in. 1 available framed. 1 available unframed. Contact me for pricing.

The Attraction Of Mountains

The Attraction Of Mountains

In the summer of 1774, an experiment took place at Schiehallion to calculate the mean density of the world.

The work was carried out by Nevil Maskelyne and is often referred to as the “Weighing The World” experiment. It involved measuring the tiny deflection of a pendulum due to the gravitational attraction of the mountain. 

They chose Schiehallion for the experiment due to its almost symmetrical pyramid shape. It is also far enough away from other mountains to minimise their gravitational influence on the results.

The team built observatories on the north and south sides of Schiehallion where numerous measurements were carried out. The result was a rough calculation for the density of the world. The experiment was later repeated by Henry Cavendish to try and find a more accurate result.

Recent re-examinations of Maskelyne’s data took into account extra information which the 1774 team could not, such as more accurate surveys of the mountain. The modern result was very close to Maskelyne’s, which is a credit to his accurate observations and original calculations.

And just in case calculating the weight of the world wasn’t enough of a result for one project, they also came up with an important cartography tool that is still used. During the survey of the mountain, they simplified the survey process and came up with the concept of contour lines which we see on maps today!

SIGNED LIMITED EDITION of 3. Only 1 remaining print available (framed). Contact me for details and pricing.

Land Of The Dreamer

Land Of The Dreamer

Often when we look at a scene, we only see the surface, the trees, the buildings. We don’t always stop to think of what lies beneath the hills and soil.

This image was captured from the limestone pavement on the northern side of Schiehallion and shows the land to the north-west fading into the evening haze.

A limestone pavement is an exposed flat area of limestone. They often have holes and channels in them, formed by a combination of chemical weathering and erosion.

If you look for Strath Fionan and Schiehallion on a map, you will see a few quarries along the road and the Tomphubil lime kiln. This land is very limestone-rich and once attracted industrially-minded people to harvest and process these precious materials.

And what about Schiehallion itself? Some people believe Schiehallion is an extinct volcano due to its shape. It was instead formed by sedimentary processes and was carved into its unique shape by erosion during the ice age.

The majority of the rock that makes up Schiehallion is a pretty white or pink stone called quartzite. It is easily seen during walks to the summit.

Another thing you will likely notice during a climb up Schiehallion is sink-holes! We often think of mountains as being solid and unmoving, but they are always changing, even if incredibly slowly.

SIGNED LIMITED EDITION of 3. Only 1 remaining print available (framed). Contact me for details and pricing.

Maybe Tomorrow

Maybe Tomorrow

Our wild spaces are great places to explore.

Some people like to hike to remote bothies and spend a night under their protective roofs.

Others enjoy geocaching - a sort of treasure hunt with clues and map co-ordinates.

And of course, many people like to climb Munros. Approximately 20,000 people ascend Schiehallion every single year.

However you enjoy nature, it’s important to do so in a way that respects the land and the environment. Our world can feel invincible and our individual actions can feel negligible, but neither of these is true. With such a big number of people visiting the mountain, every single person matters.

The new path up Schiehallion has been worked on by John Muir Trust to help limit the environmental impact of visitors. The path is a great way to limit erosion and keep plant life safe. It will ensure that as visitor numbers grow, the impact of humans on the mountain is minimised.

We can each do our bit to help Schiehallion and our planet recover. Why wait until tomorrow to make a change? If we all start today with a small positive step, that will add up to something huge and will help protect our world for future generations.

SIGNED LIMITED EDITION of 3. Only 1 remaining print available (framed). Contact me for details and pricing.

The Shepherdess

The Shepherdess

The land around Schiehallion has been inhabited for thousands of years and is used for sheep grazing and red deer stalking to this day.

Up until 200 years ago, people settled on the slopes to tend to their sheep, with remains of sheilings and sheepfolds visible along the path to the summit.

Further into the glen to the south, there are larger clusters of settlement ruins along the river, which suggests larger groups of people and animals would gather there in the summer.

There is fascinating archaeological evidence of settlement prior to this too, with cup-marked stones and hut circles providing a glimpse into distant times. We do not know the purpose of the cup-marked stones and they make for a fun discussion. So far I’ve heard everything from star charts to land division maps, to simply grinding the stone to extract minerals.

I decided to illustrate the story of land use with an image of a shepherdess and her sheep on the slopes of Schiehallion. I chose to dress her in blue as a subtle nod to the Little Bo Peep nursery rhyme.

If you are able to attend one of the excursions during this exhibition, we will take you on a tour which includes one of the cup-marked stones, shielings and a hut circle on the lower levels of Schiehallion.

SIGNED LIMITED EDITION of 3. Only 1 remaining print available (framed). Contact me for details and pricing.

The Blue Witch

The Blue Witch

SIGNED LIMITED EDITION of 3. Only 1 remaining print available (framed). Contact me for details and pricing.

For full details on her story, please refer to her Folklore page in the Explore Scotland section:

Queen Mab

Queen Mab


For full details on her story, please refer to her Folklore page in the Explore Scotland section:

A Dance With Nature

A Dance With Nature

If you visit Schiehallion and Strath Fionan today, you will see a mountain that’s changing.

Tree plantations of sitka spruce are being felled. Fences are being established to limit grazing of saplings. Native trees are re-emerging where they’ve previously struggled to grow.

Near to Braes of Foss Car park you will see a tiny woodland - a sea of protective tubes to help the young saplings planted by volunteers for the John Muir Trust. In the field, over 6000 native trees have been planted - from rowan and birch, to oak, Scots pine and more. These native woodlands provide a home and food for our native species and help to keep the ecosystem in balance.

Without trees, there is nowhere for the red squirrels and birds to live. Without the rodents there is less food for the birds of prey. Without trees, the land is more prone to flooding and erosion.

Our ecosystem is so special, yet so fragile. Over generations we’ve been abusing our wild spaces for profit. Now, with the help of volunteers and organisations such as JMT, they are being restored.

Instead of using and abusing nature we must cherish it. To work with it in harmony for the benefit of us all.

Artist Notes: These trees are on the side of Schiehallion and I love how they look like they’re gathered to dance. I added the birds in post-production to add movement to the scene - almost like a ceilidh for nature!

SIGNED LIMITED EDITION of 3. Only 1 remaining print available (framed). Contact me for details and pricing.

The Heart Of Scotland

The Heart Of Scotland

There are a few different places that can claim to be the heart of Scotland. It depends whether you’re simply measuring the mainland or including the islands.

To the east of Schiehallion is Dun Coillich, and on the slopes of the hill are one set of coordinates for the centre of Scotland.

Dun Coillich itself is part of an ongoing project between John Muir Trust and numerous other landowners in the area. This project, called the Heart Of Scotland Forest Partnership, intends to create a large area of connected native woodlands.

Connected woodland is vital for wildlife. It provides a safe route for animals to travel and much needed food and habitat.

On this land, you will see lots of tree planting efforts by all members, as well as new fences to prevent grazing animals, natural regeneration, and eventually an increase in wildlife.

If you’d like to find out more about the project, head over to the John Muir Trust website.

Artist Notes: This artwork is derived from a single image of a lone tree growing near to Braes Of Foss Car Park. I chose to transform the tree into a heart shape to create a symbolic link between this tree and what the Heart Of Scotland project represents.

SIGNED LIMITED EDITION of 3. Only 1 remaining print available (framed). Contact me for details and pricing.

With special thanks to:

Liz Auty (Manager for East Schiehallion) - for being an incredible source of information on the nature and history of Schiehallion.

Tim Haynes and Doglet - for their brilliant company on photography adventures.

And as always, Mark Harkness, for his continued unwavering support.

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