Staff blog: Suilven path repairs done and dusted

Chris Goodman celebrates the end of a two-year project carrying out a major path restoration project on one of Scotland finest mountains

Suilven from canisp 02b cropped for web detail

I look at my watch, it’s 5.30pm and it’s still a long walk back to Glencanisp from the steep slope on the north side of Suilven. It’s the last day on site for the path repair workers and it’s been all hands on deck getting everything finished off. The last bit of pitching has turned into an epic with the steep ground above collapsing, water gushing out of a spring and an ever-spreading mess of peat. Xabi, Luke and Alec have been toiling away with it all day and it’s finally done.

Xabi working on a difficult cross drain and pitching. Photo © Chris Puddephatt.Xabi working on a difficult cross drain and pitching. Photo © Chris Puddephatt.

We set off from Glencanisp just after 8am and it’ll be 7pm before we get back down, but the job’s done. In fact that’s pretty much the work completed  (bar the final paper work). Three years of project development and fund-raising and two summers of hands-on construction and it’s done.

But as with a hill walker celebrating they’ve ‘done’ Suilven, a path repair project is never done, because a hill can never be ‘done’. In fact it’s just the beginning. Having stabilised the route up the steep north side and constructed 1.6km of path across the moorland below we don’t just walk away from it.

One of the jobs still to do is to set up a maintenance contract. The path will be battered by the weather and trampled by thousands of boots so iit will need looking after forever more. And then there’s the route in from Inverkirkaig and up the ‘sunny’ side of Suilven which is eroding too (a project for another time perhaps?) so the path work isn’t ‘done’.

An orchid growing next to the repaired path. Photo © Chris Puddephatt.An orchid growing next to the repaired path. Photo © Chris Puddephatt.

I’ve been up Suilven a fair few times now, for work and for pleasure, walked in from Glencanisp, Inverkirkaig and Elphin, been up in summer and winter and camped on the summit, but I like to remind myself that I haven’t ‘done’ Suilven. And never will have. Every visit is different and I look forward to many more times to come when I venture out past cnochans and lochans and spend time on those slopes and ridge, dwarfed by its grandeur, humbled by its age.

But for the time being I can just relax a bit. We’ve had two helicopter lifts carrying a total of around 230 tonnes of rocks and 140 tonnes of gravel out to the path and over 400 ‘person’ days of work to construct over 100m of pitching and 60 cross drains along with a variety of other stone built path features and the 1.6km of gravel path too.

One of the many bags of gravel the helicopter carried in to the path. Photo © Chris Goodman.One of the many bags of gravel the helicopter carried in to the path. Photo © Chris Goodman.

Four years ago I agonised over the design of the work – how much to build, which bits really needed work, which bits could be left, how wide to make it – and worried about what the response would be to such a transformation of the path on this community-owned hill.

How would it look? Would it spoil the feeling of finding your own way up Suilven? Now that the major work is done, I hope it’s to everyone’s liking, I hope that if you venture out to Suilven it still feels like an adventure – a big challenge and wild experience – but one that’s a bit nicer now that you don’t have to pick your way through wet peat and up loose scree.

And finally a huge thanks to everyone involved that’s made this possible, especially our funders Heritage Lottery Fund, European Outdoor Conservation Association, John Muir Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Mountaineering Trust and to the path contractors A.C.T. Heritage and Arran Footpaths who have done a great job.

Enjoy Suilven, it’s yours after all.

Read more about the Suilven path project's successful completion.