North of Ullapool the landscape changes. Gone are the high mountains and deep valleys of the Highlands. Instead there is lumpy gneiss moorland sprinkled with tiny lochans, with majestic peaks such as Suilven and Quinag rising above the moors in spectacular isolation. This is the far north of Scotland.
We climbed Quinag first. There is a good path up to the main summit at 808m but the traverse of all 4 peaks looked better and it turned out to be our favourite walk. There was no path to the first peak but walking was easy over large quartzite covered slabs. A narrow ridge led to the second peak, then steeply down to a col and up again to the third peak. Finally a broad rocky ridge to the fourth and highest summit and descent down the normal path. The first peak was shrouded in mist but by the time we got to the third peak the mist had cleared to reveal impressive views southwards over the flattish moorland to the majestic Suilven and further to the blue sea. From the final summit we had a great view north to the rather beautiful Kylesku road bridge which opened in 1984 and replaced the ferry on the main route north.
Next we climbed Stac Pollaidh on a beautiful sunny day. We followed the well made path and hoards of people to the col and then continued along the ridge alone. We tried to follow the crest of the ridge as much as possible, over gendarmes and down into exposed gaps on the grippy Torridonian sandstone. The scramble was given a grade 3 which was about right and we moved together on a short rope with coils round our shoulders which I could use to lower Hannah down some of the more vertical drops. A few people walked on the eroded paths below us, but no-one joined us on the ridge. We reached the west summit and to our dismay heard a drone. Nooooo!! Peace shattered. I bit my tongue and smiled at the people concerned, cursing them silently. Noisy drones on mountain summits irritate me, but no point starting an argument. Eventually they moved on and we sat alone on the summit, enjoying the sun and the incredible views.
The last time I was this far north I was 20. My brother Jim and I spent a wet week one August hitching lifts and staying in bothies. We climbed Suilven from Suileag bothy in the pouring rain and didn’t see a thing. We walked from Dundonell to Kinlochewe through the remote Fisherfield Forest in 3 days of continuous rain. We endured horrendous midges in Torridon and spent a night on the floor of the public toilets at Shin Falls after failing to hitch a lift anywhere. The week was so bad that it put me off returning for almost 30 years.
The last mountain for Hannah and I was Cul Mor which we climbed one afternoon after a wet and windy morning. We followed a good stalkers’ path halfway up and then scrambled up a steep slope directly to the top. The sky had turned hazy and started to look thundery so we made a hasty descent.
And so ended a superb week of walking and scrambling, helped by the incredible weather. Thanks to my daughter Hannah for her sense of humour, boundless energy and good natured willingness to accompany me up hills. Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on earth if you can avoid the rain and the midges 😀.