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Blown Away by Suilven


"Wakey wakey!" The repetition of this word is usually associated with minor feelings of dread or sorrow. Being disturbed from a wonderful state of unconsciousness, with dreams flying your free-and-easy mind to wherever they may choose. This is not nice. On a normal day. When situated in the heart of Scotland's wilderness, however, with mountains rising up from rugged ground sprawled with lochans and an abundance of tranquillity, these two words are good. Especially when the short but very sweet sentence "It's a lovely day!" is chimed merrily after them, to anyone who would listen.

Stac Pollaidh and Suilven at dusk  © Jon Read
Stac Pollaidh and Suilven at dusk
© Jon Read, Jul 2012

"The beauty of this mountain is not only its fine shape and awesome views, but its remoteness and inaccessibility"

It was a beautiful August morning, and as with any day on our holiday, we had three options; beach, fishing, walking. A sunny day on a secret beach nestled into the twists and turns of the West coast is tempting due to a number of factors, one of which is you are likely to have the whole beach pretty much to yourself. But how about having an area as far as you can see to yourself? How about standing on a not-so-high summit and feeling like you are the only person for miles and miles? Suddenly the 'walking' option was jumping up with open arms, and we embraced it. Up near Ullapool, and beyond, there is a decent selection of Munros that a person could climb to considerably shorten their tick lists. But on this glorious day, there was a mountain at the top of my tick list that was slightly more modest in height, but definitely not in adventure. Suilven.

Though remote,  Suilven can be seen from miles around in Assynt, a beached whale that looks so commanding, it's as if the roads and villages are happy to keep it at arm's length, too scared to disturb it. I had seen it before in articles, and in person, and I couldn't wait to scale its seemingly impenetrable bulk. I thought I had a good idea of what to expect.

Suilven in evening light
© Andy Birtwistle

So we set off to Elphin, 'we' being an eclectic mix of family and friends, as well as Jabba the Springer Spaniel, who was springing with excitement, as was I. We began the walk rather late – it was a holiday after all – with the knowledge that when we got back we could celebrate our achievement which a huge joint of roast beef. Often the thought of a long walk-in is dismal, but the trudge to the foot of Suilven was as interesting as it was unavoidable. There was a wealth of things to keep the senses entertained. As well as the obvious visual aspect, the smells and sounds were the epitome of remoteness and calm. However if, in some areas, you stopped for too long, the wee Scottish beasties that are midges would emerge to entertain another sense – touch. It wasn't a full-on feast at this point, just an appetiser of what was to come later. Another bonus of the walk-in is the change in perspective of the mountain itself. As you get closer it seems even more mysterious, revealing its crags and gullies, and appearing much bigger and intimidating than initially perceived.

Sitting next to Loch na Gainimh, with a midge-proof breeze, munching sandwiches and chocolate raisins, we were content. We were refuelling for the imminent trudge up the north face to Bealach Mor. The ascent was intense and got the heart going, but in a very good way, and for once the excuse of "I'm just stopping to admire the view," actually worked. Because when I paused and looked back over my shoulder, I drank in the majestic view over to the bulk of  Canisp, with  Quinag popping up behind. I glimpsed the speck which was Suileag bothy, evidence that we weren't the pioneers we felt like. People had actually been here before; it just didn't feel like it. This was proven just below the bealach, where we met some people, our first encounter with other mammals (apart from red deer) in miles.

South from Suilven  © sheep
South from Suilven
© sheep, Jun 2009

"It completely took my breath away, and that wasn't just the steep ascent"

I won't lie; I was expecting a pretty good view when I reached the bealach. So I had my neck strained in anticipation, desperate to be the first to feast my eyes on the sight. And it exceeded my expectations. Blew them away, in fact. It completely took my breath away, and that wasn't just because I was recovering from a steep ascent. I struggle to find a word to describe how this view made me feel, and although there have been some fantastic photographs taken from this great mountain, you really have to go there to experience it properly.

After the predictable poses on protruding precipices, we set off westwards, up to the highest point – Caisteal Liath. I say 'point', but the summit is surprisingly flat after seeming so intangible from below. We still had the weather on our side, and we used this to our advantage as our eyes swept round the glorious panorama. It felt life a private viewing of such an open and vast landscape. We could see all the wonderful hills – Quinag, Canisp,  Cul Beag,  Cul Mor and the fabulous  Stac Pollaidh to name but a few. Further afield was the Atlantic Ocean, stretching out to the Outer Hebrides. Far away was little Lochinver, a tiny splash of white amongst a carpet of green and blue. Looking back to where we had come from, the great tower of Meall Meadhonach was prominent, and that is where part of our group headed next. Whilst the others descended the southern side of Bealach Mor, seven of us - including the dog– started to scramble up Suilven's pointier half.

Suilven  © Al Todd
© Al Todd, Jun 2013

The scrambling was fantastic, with just enough exposure and difficulty to get the adrenaline flowing, without the worry of tipping over the edge. Suilven is a proper mountain, with unexpected surprises, even if you think you know it before you have met it. It lies there happily in the sun, rain, snow, wind, and whatever else the Atlantic throws at it. A peaceful mountain, which enjoys the odd visit, but is glad that it is not next to a road.

After reaching the top of Meall Meadhonach we descended unconventionally down a gully – the road less travelled it would seem. The walk back to the car was long. Whilst on the mountain, I had almost forgotten about time, and my poor feet started to complain. Even Jabba was showing signs of tiredness – a rare occurrence. The southern side of the mountain is even wilder, with moss and heather in an alliance to make life difficult to an??? Suilvenyone who dares to venture into this territory. It was hard to be glum, though, even when the midges came out in force, and a few clouds decided to darken the skies. We had had a wonderful day – one that I will not forget. The beauty of this mountain is not only its fine shape, or awesome views, but its remoteness and inaccessibility. Even though I began to wish that the car was a little bit closer, if it had been, Suilven wouldn't be the same.

After hours of plodding through the wilderness, we arrived back at base, our legs aching and stomachs rumbling. In the end there wasn't time to cook the roast beef, as we would have all been asleep by the time it was half-done. So we had to settle for steak, which in my view isn't such a bad compromise.

Suilven Sunset  © Roy Plenderleith
Suilven Sunset
© Roy Plenderleith, May 2012

  • A project to repair the heavily eroded trail on Suilven recently won an online vote for £18,000 of funding - see UKH news here.
Rosie Robson  © Rosie Robson

Who's Writing?

Having been brought up near the Lake District, Rosie Robson has been enjoying the hills from a very young age. Family holidays to Scotland have enhanced this, and one of the things she enjoys most about walking is the wilderness that it can bring, as well as the views. She also loves scrambling and a bit of easy climbing, and some of her best days out include Suilven, Aonach Eagach and Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. She is currently a Geology undergrad at Durham University, which allows her to get outdoors through fieldwork and gets her interested in the rocks beneath her feet.

UKH Articles and Gear Reviews by Rosie Robson

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2 Nov, 2015
Nice article, which captures the amazing landscape of Assynt and Inverpolly nicely.
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