Wild moment: James Brownhill

Published: 15th February 2016

"It was like being in a green-upholstered, open-cockpit aeroplane trans-Atlantic at 35,000 feet..."

It's June. One week to go to the John Muir Trust Volunteers conservaton work party in Assynt. Good chance to meet up with co-volunteers from previous years. Check the weather. Fantastic, the forecast looks dry. I’ve a plan - drive up to Lochinver one day early and walk up Suilven.

And so I found myself awakening early one morning in Lochinver with the sun not yet risen in a cloudless sky. It was a short drive to the walker’s car park at Glen Canisp Lodge with the first views of the rounded silhouette of Suilven, a name derived from the Norse word for “pillar”. I was alone with nature and the challenge of a complete circuit of Suilven north to south lay ahead.

JB Suilven from Fionn Loch P1080909

At first it was easy walking along a landrover track passing Loch Druim Suardalain, the Glen Loch, bounded on all sides by extensive spreads of bright yellow gorse in full flower. But the best views were forward up the glen: flanked on the left with the angular summit of the Corbett, Canisp, wearing a belt of low level stratus cloud still hanging on after the chill of the early morning; and on the right, the towering side of Suilven now illuminated by the mid-morning sun.

Once the track crossed the Abhainn Na Clach Airigh burn the view of Suilven was full broadside on to its northern flanks and a small cairn indicated where walkers path to Suilven began. Initially a small ascent lead to a flat boggy section cradling over 20 lochans, typical scenery of the three million year old Lewisian gneiss. It was Loch a Choire Dhuibh, that offered the most attractive stop for a first bite of lunch.

JB Suilven across Loch a Choire Dhuibh P1080824

Post lunch the walking was only one way, up, and very steeply up, following a natural drainage gully ultimately to Bealach Mor between Suilven's two summits: the rounded Caisteal Liath, the Grey Castle, to the west and Meall Meadhonach, the Middle Round Hill, to the east. The ascent was relentless and often the highly eroded path mingled with the drainage gully to the point that the two were undiscernible.

Once on the bealach it was easy to reach Suilven’s summit at 731metres. It was surprisingly flat and covered in verdant grass. Beyond the green grass lay only blue sky, and to the west blue sea merging into even more blue sky. It was like being in a green upholstered, open cockpit aeroplane trans-Atlantic at 35,000 feet.

JB on Suilven wth Quinag P1080884

I stayed “onboard” for two hours in windless, midge-free heaven admiring the views of neighbouring and distant Sutherland summits, but then some more “passengers” boarded and after a chat I began the descent on the southern side. This path was even more badly eroded, effectively a human created scree. I was glad to be going down, rather than up.

Once on the flat it was a wonderful ramble alongside Fionn Loch to the magnificent Kirkaig Falls with views back to the mighty Suilven. From the falls a simple northerly bearing amongst small hills and lochans led back to gorse landmarks of Glen Canisp Lodge, and the end of 24 km of sheer exhilaration.

Tomorrow's the John Muir Trust work party. I’ll be pulling down deer fences, repairing footpaths, or working in the Little Assynt tree nursery. It’ll be fun working with fellow volunteers.

JB Quinag Work Party P1080933

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