One Minute Mountain: Suilven

For this instalment in our series of potted intros to Britain's favourite hills, photographer James Roddie heads to Scotland's far northwest, home to one of the most striking and unusual mountains of them all - and it's community owned, too.

Approaching the main summit, looking back along the ridge to Meall Meadhonach, 135 kb
Approaching the main summit, looking back along the ridge to Meall Meadhonach
© James Roddie

Height: 731m

Size isn't everything then? In this case, not even remotely

What's in a name? From Old Norse and Gaelic – The Pillar

Personality: Commanding, bold and surprising. A sheer-sided dome from some angles, a long and narrow shark's fin of a ridge from others. The most unlikely-looking hill in the UK, Suilven dominates the low-lying, lochan-pitted landscape around it, and forms the centrepiece of the globally significant landscape of Assynt.

Scotland's finest hill? To many hillwalkers Suilven earns this accolade in spades, and whilst beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it's a difficult opinion to contest. The views are amongst the best anywhere, there's some enjoyable and challenging scrambling (if you go looking for it) and all the approach routes offer wild and beautiful scenery. It's iconic, it's intimidating and it cries out to be climbed.

Greatest route? To get full value out of Suilven, perhaps the best route starts from Inverkirkaig, ascending through deciduous woodland, past the impressive Falls of Kirkaig and along the northern side of Fionn Loch to gain the central col on the spine of Suilven. From here, an 'out and back' traverse of the ridge going eastwards to the second highest top, Meall Meadhonach, and even possibly the easternmost craggy top of Meall Beag, provides the meat of the classic grade 3 scrambling traverse of the hill - but it's not for the faint hearted. Luckily the main summit itself ( Suilven - Caisteal Liath) is attainable from the central col without the need for any scrambling.

Assynt, 128 kb
© Robert Durran, Jan 2016

For the particularly energetic: Combining Suilven with an ascent of Canisp starting from Ledmore is a big day out; or pack-rafting along the length of Fionn Loch is a grand adventure; or, or... if you like gobsmacking scenery and wild country then the options around here just go on and on. 

A spot of geology: Formed of Torridonain sandstone sitting on a bed of Lewisian gneiss, Suilven owes its island-like topography to the fact that it was indeed once an island of sorts - a nunatak, poking out of the ice sheet that carved its steep craggy flanks.

Who owns it? Scottish mountains are usually the playthings of absentee oligarchs or super-rich deer shooting types, but Suilven is unusual in being a community asset. In 2005 the estate on which the mountain stands was purchased by the local community, with a bit of help from the John Muir Trust. The Assynt Foundation now seeks to foster local employment and to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the area for the benefit of locals and the general public.  

Where to stay? Suileag bothy can be used to shorten the approach from the west. In terms of paying accommodation, Lochinver Mission bunkhouse provides comfortable and affordable accommodation, and there are numerous B&Bs and and a number of hotels in Lochinver also. Or you could make like a landscape photographer and camp on the summit of Caisteal Liath to capture the greatest sunset and sunrise of your life (fingers crossed for clear conditions).

And afterwards? The Caberfeidh Pub in Lochinver is a good choice, while the pies in the nearby Lochinver Larder are deserving of their fame!

Canisp from Suilven, 222 kb
Canisp from Suilven
© Dan Bailey


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