Sacred Mountain: OS Grid Reference – NN 562 097
From the tourist-infested (but lovely) town of Callander, look west to the largest of the nearby mountains — that’s where you’re heading! You can keep along the A84 road out of the town for 4-5 miles (past the Falls and Pass of Leny) till you reach the parking spot on your left. Cross the river and go up into the signposted woodland. Keep walking up thru the trees till the rocky mass emerges above you. You can either keep to the path and follow the long walk round the mountain, or go straight up the crags above you. The top’s in sight!
Getting up here is no easy task if you’re unfit — but it’s well worth the effort for the journey alone! And in bygone centuries it seems, local people made it a particular pilgrimage at a certain heathen time of the year. Even the name of this great hill has some supposed affinity with holy issues; though some modern english etymologists put a dampener on such things. In Charles Rogers’ (1853) excellent Victorian exposition, he told that,
“Benledi is an abbreviation of the Celtic Ben-le-dia, signifying the hill of God.”
But whether the old heathens who named most of these ancient mountains would echo his oft-repeated derivation is another thing altogether! However, there are other decidedly pre-christian events that used to be enacted here, for the summit of Ben Ledi was, tradition tells, where the sun god was worshipped. It would seem, however, that this tradition is a somewhat watered-down version of it as a site of cosmological and social renewal. (see Eliade 1974) For akin to the annual pilgrimage that happens upon Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, Ireland, here upon Ben Ledi,
“For three days and three nights…the inhabitants of the district in those primitive times convened, at the period of summer solstice, on the summit of the mountain, to join in the rites of heathen worship.”
More recent lore tells the date of such sacred gatherings was Beltane. Also a short distance to the north of the summit of Ben Ledi is a small loch known as Lochan-nan-corp. Mr Rogers again tells us that,
“Here two hundred persons, who were accompanying a funeral from Glenfinglas to the churchyard of St. Bride, suddenly perished; the ground had been covered with snow and the company were crossing the lake on the ice, when it at once gave way.”
It seems a most unusual event. But the tale itself implies that a corpse route passed by the way of this high summit, down to the heathen chapel of St. Bride at the bottom of its eastern face: a huge undertaking in itself with probably archaic origins. Does anyone know owt more about this?
Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return, Princeton University Press 1974.
Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
Roger, Charles, A Week at Bridge of Allan, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian