At the beginning of May we visited the far north-west of Scotland for our first group hillwalking holiday to the area. As a place of childhood holidays, and many a visit on our Cape Wrath Trail treks, it holds good memories and I was delighted to be back. The mountains here are small but mighty, rocky and complex, iconic yet less travelled.
Many of the photos below were taken by Andrew, one of our walkers, who deserves credit for having an eye for a good pic!
It’s a long old journey from our base in the Scottish Borders to this north-west corner of Scotland and I broke up the driving with a stopover at a friend’s house near Feshiebridge. Always a lovely spot to visit, with its pine forests and wonderful wildlife, there is a marked contrast from the ‘cnoc and lochan’ landscape we were going to be walking in.
An Inverness meet up, a trip to the supermarket to stock up on essentials, and then we were off. The change in landscape is quickly noticeable as we drove first to Ullapool, and then northwards through Elphin and Inchnadamph to our base in Scourie. With the forecast fair for our week ahead, the sunset over the bay promised a good few days in the hills.
The forecast for day 1 was good, and with Suilven being the main objective for group we decided to head straight for the star attraction. Out of Lochinver we passed Glen Canisp Lodge and made our way up river. Suilven is large and imposing, despite its relatively small height of 731m, and is in view from the off. A few early risers and summit campers are heading the opposite direction and we take on the steep ascent of Suilven’s northern flank with a couple of other groups. From the bealach the views open up southwards to the mountains of Coigach and beyond and we drink these in before heading for the top. Some rock steps provide some straightforward scrambling and the flat grassy summit made the perfect lunch spot. We returned via the same route, as showers chased us down the glen back to the car park.
Conival & Ben More Assynt
The two Munros of the area were our day 2 objectives. With clouds forecast to linger on the tops we made peace with the fact we wouldn’t see much from above 600m today. A steep eroded path leads up into a small corrie above a band of rock, passed with some fun scrambling up good steps. From here underfoot becomes loose; good balance, foot placement and care are required.
At the top of Conival the group are all keen to continue through the clag to Ben More Assynt. Good on their feet they easily tackled the there-and-back of this quartzite ridge, but were thankful for easier going thereafter. Not a day for fine vistas but certainly a quality mountain day deserving of the tea and biscuits back at base, over which we decided to head for the hills again the following day, to beat the incoming rain followed that on Thursday.
Heading north from Scourie we approached Arkle from Achfary. Arkle, a name made famous by horse racing, like its neighbouring Foinaven. A route less travelled than our previous tops we didn’t see another walker all day. We left the main track and began the long ascent on a quickly disappearing trail. Finding our own path of least resistance through the rocks we reached Meall Aonghais in good time. However, the cloud was stubbornly hanging around not much above our heads. Into the clag we went to find the first top of Arkle.
The odd break in the cloud gave glimpses of what we might see and with fingers crossed we made our way around the curved summit ridge of the mountain. Here it narrows and our confident group dealt well with the exposure (perhaps made easier by the clouds) and we were soon at the cairn of the main top. A sheltered lunch spot was sought and just when we had given up hope the magnificent views we had come for were revealed! There was definitely an increase in photo stops on our return and we finished in warm sunshine, please with our good fortune.
Day 4 and we were ready for a lower level day. We made a leisurely start before heading for a late morning ferry across to Handa Island Wildlife Reserve. This little island is home to thousands of nesting seabirds and we made the 6.5km circuit to take it all in. Passing through the centre of the island we passed the Bonxies and the smaller Arctic Skuas before reaching the cliffs on the north side.
Here and round the west they are full of guillemots and razorbills, streaking the rock white and creating quite the sight. Puffins were beginning to nest and we saw a couple waddling towards their burrows on the tops of the cliffs. As we rounded the west coastline we had excellent views back inland reminding us of achievements of the previous 3 days. Thankfully our boat back arrived just before the dark clouds and heavy rain did.
With the advantage of starting from around 250m above sea level, we took on the Corbetts of Quinag with a bounce in our step. Up the slabby flank of Spidean Coinich we made steady progress. From here there are numerous ups and downs, rocky bands to scramble, and route choices to be made. Dealing with all the difficulties like the seasoned walkers they are, our group made light work of the over 1100m of total ascent.
We first took in Sail Ghorm before a lunch stop, then completed the 3 Corbetts with Sail Gharbh. Views below the clouds were to be found from the bealachs and the sun came through early in the afternoon. A pleasant finish down past Lochan Bealach Cornaibh and we were back at the car park not long after 3pm. All that was left was dinner at the Scourie Lodge and a beer or two to cap off a really enjoyable trip.
Our Hillwalking Holidays
If you like the look of this or any of our hillwalking holidays you can find out more on their individual trek pages. If you would like to have a chat to help you decide what might be most suitable to you then send an email to email@example.com and we can arrange a suitable time for a phone call.