Schiehallion today. Scotland all brown velvet edged with frosty white lace. Felt Maskeleyne's presence.
28 01 2012
A summary in less than 140 characters, perhaps the new Haiku (according to climbing buddy Ian Crofton), of an excellent 3 hours trip up and down Schiehallion. Coming as the second hill walking day of the new year – there seemed to be a surprising spring in the step. More than I had expected having felt sluggish at New Year.
Ian Crofton tells me that my reference to Maskeleyne is explained well in his book History Without Boring Bits where he writes....
Fiddling on the Fairy Hill
In 1774 the Astronomer Royal, the Reverend Dr Nevil Maskelyne, travelled to Scotland on behalf of the Royal Society in order to conduct experiments on the mountain called Schiehallion (whose name means ‘fairy hill of the Caledonians’). The purpose was to ‘weigh the world’ – in other words, to determine the density of the earth. Schiehallion was chosen because of its conical shape and its symmetry, and for four months Maskelyne and his assistants, living in a hut on the slopes of the mountain, conducted experiments involving observations of the deviation of plumb lines, and of stars near their zeniths on the north and south sides of the mountain. From Maskelyne’s observations, Charles Hutton calculated that the density of the earth was 4.5 times that of water (the currently accepted value is 5.515). Although the expedition was a success, Maskelyne appears to have derived little pleasure from the experience:
My going to Scotland was not a matter of choice, but of necessity. The Royal Society … made a point with me to go there to take the direction of the experiment, which I did, not without reluctance, nor from any wish to depart from my own observatory to live on a barren mountain, but purely to serve the Society and the public, for which I received no gratuity, and had only my expenses paid for me.
The Royal Society did not, however, cover the cost of the farewell party, organized by the expedition cook, Duncan Robertson, who laid on whisky and played the fiddle. Such was the exuberance of the occasion that the hut burnt down, and Robertson’s fiddle also fell victim to the flames. In recompense, once he was back in London, Maskelyne sent Robertson a new fiddle – a Stradivarius.
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