Once the ridge of the Black Cullin is behind you, your eyes are drawn to Macleod’s Tables, Healabhal Mhor and Healabhal Bheag. These distinctive peaks stand as isolated remnants of the vast basalt plateau that once covered the isle of Skye.
The name “Healabhal” is believed to originate from the Scandinavian term “helgi fjall,” meaning holy mountain. Perhaps a reminder of Viking domination of the western seaboard of Scotland.
The ‘bheag‘ of Healabhal Bheag, standing at 489m, means the lesser, despite its greater height. Lesser likely refering to its smaller summit plateau. In contrast, Healabhal Mhòr, 20m lower at 469m, is the greater holy fell. An ascent of the two hills is pathless, but thankfully the presence of dry bogs makes the journey somewhat easier, albeit still tedious on the lower slopes.
Regardless of their sacred epithet, local legends speak of these mountains as the dwelling place of fairies. One such tale, originally published in The Scotsman in 1926, adds an air of enchantment to their already captivating allure1‘MACLEOD’S TABLES . TWO LEGENDS of the PAST | The Scotsman | Friday 08 January 1926 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2023. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000540/19260108/201/0006> [accessed 8 June 2023]:
“One summer’s day a man from Osdale climbed Healabhal Mhòr. On the hill top he met a fairy woman, who was three feet in height. She was comely to look upon, and the man may have bestowed admiration upon her, but he returned to Osdale, and there married a human wife. Some time after that his wife was to have a baby. The husband again climbed Healabhal Mhòr, for his wife was ill, and he wished for advice. But lest the fairy Lady should be jealous he told her when he met her in the rocks just below the hilltop, that it was his cow that was to calve saying that the animal was ailing, and that he wished to cure it.
“The fairy told him he was to rub his hand over the cow, and that would cure it. With that advice she gave him a bag of gold, so heavy that he could not lift it. The fairy said, ‘I will carry it for you.’ She lifted the bag, and carried it easily. When he reached his home he rubbed his hand on his wife, and she bore a son. A little later on he met the fairy once more on the hill, and she said to him that he had deceived her in telling her it was his cow, and not his wife, who was ill, and that as a punishment she must have his baby boy. That night the boy disappeared from the house.
“Ten years later the man from Osdale again met the fairy. She asked him, did he wish a sight of his boy? He said he did. She took him with her up Healabhal Mhòr, and tapped on the rock; the door of the sithcan, or fairy dwelling, opened. The mortal, before entering the dwelling, wished to stick his knife into the door (for otherwise he could never leave of his own free will), but the fairy said there was no need for this, as she did not wish to keep him. When he entered the dwelling he found it the most beautiful house he had ever seen. The mother and father of the fairy were there. They were each a thousand years old. He was glad to see his lost boy alive and well. The fairy said to him. ‘In ten years I will marry your son.’ She gave the father another sack of gold. Again he was unable to lift it, and again she raised it to her shoulder with ease, and carried it for him. The man returned home with his treasure, and ten years later went again to Healabhal Mhòr for the wedding of his son to the fairy.
“When he reached the fairy dwelling he found it filled with beautiful women and handsome men, and a splendid feast prepared. The fairy asked him how his gold was lasting out. ‘It is pretty near finished.’ he said. The fairy this time filled two bags of gold, and again carried them for the man, since it was far beyond his power so much as to lift them. When they parted she said that if he should ever want her help she would do her best for him.”
I’m not sure what the moral of this tale is, if there is one at all. However, one can infer that the fairy and the man’s son got married, and they all lived happily ever after.
- 1‘MACLEOD’S TABLES . TWO LEGENDS of the PAST | The Scotsman | Friday 08 January 1926 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2023. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000540/19260108/201/0006> [accessed 8 June 2023]