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Suilven by Boat!

Suilven by Boat!

Postby Suilven_Boatman » Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:19 am

Route description: Suilven

Fionas included on this walk: Suilven

Date walked: 11/01/2012

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This report relates back to walking I did back in the Autumn of 2010! OK, so better late than never! But I promised myself that I’d do this as my way of saying thank you to all you HW contributors out there for the wonderful reports, the beautiful photos and the inspiration for my four month walkabout around some of the 'lumpier and loftier' parts of the UK. I used this site a lot during my wanderings through Scotland and it gave me much enjoyment, laughs, insight, useful information and invaluable local knowledge. I'll be back to Oz soon so this will probably be my one and only post, but it’s by way of saying thanks’ to all of you for sharing!

A special mention goes to ‘Soulminer’ – whom I met on the summit of Suilven one spectacular sunny afternoon. This one’s from the Suilven Boatman - G’day cobber! Photo's not nearly as good as yours - maybe I need a new camera - or a photography class :? Not sure I've got the picture file attachment figured out with this post and not able to reduce file size at the moment so will be interesting!!

As a professional yacht captain for the past 20 years, I was somewhat discombobulated to find myself, back in July 2010, suddenly without a boat and a yearning desire to find a little space, fresh air and a change in perspective (read: mid life crisis! :sick: ) I returned to the UK and found myself being drawn almost subconsciously into the hills. I’d been staying with friends near Manchester and was supposed to be heading for another offer of a bed for a few nights in Harrogate. But I never made it! The gravitational pull of the great Cumbrian Mountains became too much to resist – and the hills held me captivated for the next four months, continually drawing me further north. I just couldn’t dag myself away!

From Scafell, Helvellyn, Blencathra and the Langdale Pikes, to Glencoe, Ben Nevis and Aonach Eagach (AAAAAHH!!). The magnificent Isle of Skye, the Torridon Range and An Teallach, to Suilven, Ben More and north to Ben Loyal – to name a few fond memories. I don’t know what it is about Suilven, can’t quite put my finger on it, but it certainly holds a special place. 8)

I was using the Inchnadamph Hotel at the eastern end of Loch Assynt as a base to explore the area. Judging by all the trophy fish on the walls, the hotel usually caters more toward anglers than walkers and their season was coming to a close. They were locking the doors and rolling down the shutters the following week for the winter. Simple, no fuss, good ale, :crazy: and good company at the bar. Wonderful. Highly recommended. (Not sure if that’s allowed on HW?)

I had looked at both the recognised walk-in routes - each of which is not an inconsiderable hike in itself before you get to the serious upy-n-downy bit. And of course you just know it’s going to seem an even longer slog on the hike out! Access to the northern side of Suilven starting from the Glencansip Lodge is the more direct and shorter option at just over 5 miles. For me however, as a keen “quasi-semi-amateur” photographer, light was the deal clincher. With the October sun dipping ever lower each day, the northern flank would be in constant shadow whilst the southern side would be bathed in glorious autumn sunshine all day. (As you can tell I’m an eternal optimist! :lol: ) The route to the south starting at the Kirkaig river bridge car park is the longer route to be sure at over 6.5 miles, and meanders around a bit, but I’m always ready to go the extra mile for a few good happy snaps!

So the following morning at 0800 I was sitting on a picnic table on the banks of the river Kirkaig enjoying a leisurely morning cuppa from my trusty thermos – although a particularly stiff SE wind howling down the valley was creating something of a proverbial storm in my coffee cup and seemed intent on making me wear most of it! :lol: However – beautiful clear blue skies and a good forecast.

Another bonus to this route in is the beautiful River Kirkaig which the path follows for the first few kilometres – I’m sure some of those fish on the walls back at the hotel still have relatives in this neighborhood. :( After an initial short stretch on sealed macadam, the path wends through some beautiful open beach woodland - climbing steadily but not arduously. About two miles upstream and only a short detour off the main track are the Kirkaig Falls which a well worth a visit.
Falls of Kirkaig.JPG
Falls of Kirkaig

Once upstream from the falls the scenery changes from the merely sublime to the absolutely fabulous as you are soon rewarded with some stunning views of Suilven rising upwards over the waters of Loch Fionn. The track becomes increasingly boggy where the River Kirkaig drains from the loch – but it is possible to cut north across the little headland formed between the river and the Loch and cut a little distance and some bog-stomping.
Suilven (1).JPG

Suilven over Loch Fionn (1).JPG
Suilven over Loch Fionn

Suilven over Loch Fionn.JPG
Suilven over Loch Fionn

The path then takes you back around the western end of the Loch before turning again towards the increasingly imposing massif as Suilven towers higher above. While following the Loch shore is relatively flat, the going can become very boggy. Shortly after passing under the rocky crags of Creag a Chorie Mhoire, a noticeably larger rock cairn marks an otherwise indistinct fork which takes you up to higher ground and a more direct approach to the base of Suilven. I took this option, and while it’s by no means bog free, it’s probably easier than continuing along the Loch shore and then up the heavily eroded Alltarn Freana. While it’s hard to make out any continuous path here, and there are a few small streams to cross – it’s easy just to aim the low saddle of Suilven (if you've got the vis!)
Cloud Roll over Cul Mor & Inverpolly (1).JPG
Roll Cloud over Cul Mor & Inverpolly

Now if all this sounds just a little too straight forward – Suilven and I were becoming embroiled in a wee game of peek-a-boo to keep us both amused and to help pass the time. Here’s how the game worked. Stunning and majestic new vistas would reveal themselves at every turn, but the two peaks would be tantalizingly obscured in cloud. I’d be walking along and would glance up to see the twin peaks gloriously cloud free – so I’d stop – remove my pack – dig out the camera bag (don’t like walking with it free) – get the camera out of its bag - only to look up to find the peaks in cloud once again and Old Suilven l.h.a.o!! :lol: So I’d sit down and wait a few minutes, look the other way or pretend to be having a snooze or something. No foolin’ Old Suilven of course. Finally out of patience, I’d pack the camera and sling my pack and start walking again. Ten minutes later we’d repeat the whole process! I think we must have played half a dozen hands – I won a couple but Old Suilven slam dunked the match! Memo to self: maybe you’ve been walking solo too long!! :lol:

As you can probably tell I’d been so engrossed during the walk in, and enjoying every minute - the river, the falls, the Lochs the peek-a-boo, that time got the better of me and well before I got to the lower scree slopes I figured that I wouldn’t have time to do the actual upy-n-downy bit! I love spending quality appreciation time on the summits when I climb, so while I could have easily run up and bagged the summit (Ha! I jest! :lol: ) and been home for supper– to me that would have been somehow disrespectful to Old Suilven! :D

I’d have to return in a day or two, keep the camera locked away, and no more peek-a-boo! Oh the joys of no job – no schedule – and nowhere else I have to be!! :D I think the bank manger’s getting a little nervous though!

I retraced my steps – the only change was a little bog-hopping short-cut. At the very western end of Loch Fionn, rather than follow the path back along the shore – I struck out southeast to cut across and rejoin the main path again near the Falls of Kirkaig. A lot of knee deep boggy stuff and probably saved some time but wouldn’t recommend it! :(

This was a fantastic walk – even without the summit – and a great approach route to Suilven – just don’t get involved in her shenanigans! :crazy: Hmmmm...her? Are mountains male or female I wonder? Boats are always female – utterly entrancing but somewhat unpredictable! :D Seems to me that mountains have the same qualities........???

Back at the Hotel, while enjoying a few pints at the bar with the owner and recounting the days adventure – he mentioned that he kept a few boats on Loch Veyatie for his fishing clients. Ah Ha!!! One of those light bulb moments! :idea: I was welcome to use one for my second visit to Suilven. Boating AND walking! What a grand idea! Normally I would have treated this as tantamount to cheating but seeing as I had already done the full walk-in on my previous endeavour any guilt was quickly assuaged. :D

So, following a lovely interlude to Sandwood Bay, on yet another picture postcard perfect morning, I was packing the car up for another days hiking: walking boots, check – map and compass, check – walking poles, check – 4hp outboard motor and fuel can, check!! :o I soon found myself in the early morning sunshine putt-putting down Loch Veyatie in what I can only describe in the Aussie vernacular as a ‘plastic tinnie’ with the small 4hp outboard motor slung on the transom; whistling a happy tune with Old Suilven once again in my sights. From where I planned to leave the boat I would have less than a two mile walk to the foot of the scree slope on Suilven’s southern flank. A sneaky amphibious assault!
Sandwood Bay.JPG
Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay (5).JPG
Sandwood Bay

Loch Veyatie & Suilven.JPG
Loch Veyatie & Suilven

At its western end, Loch Veyatie narrows down into a small channel, Uidh Fhearna, that eventually flows on into Loch Fionne and hence to the River Kirkaig. I imagine the water levels in these Lochs vary considerably with the seasons snow melt and rainfall, however I was completely unprepared for the increasingly strong current that was fast drawing me into the narrow channel, and I suddenly found myself bumping in a very un-seaman-like manner across the extensive shallow rocky bar at its mouth – luckily I managed to pull the motor up in time and not damage the prop! About halfway across the bar we came to a grinding ignominious halt. Well, that’s a tad embarrassing I thought :oops: – looking around furtively for any potential witnesses - think I might have got away with it though! :D

Being only a relatively light plastic hull, I was able to use one of the heavy wooden ores to help punt myself across the bar into deeper water beyond and finally secured the boat to the northern bank. I sat and scratched my head for a few minutes – I knew that getting the boat back across the shallow bar against the current on the way home was going to be a bit of a problem – but hey – I’d deal with that later! Old Suilven awaits!

As the OS maps show, there is a track that follows along the north side of the channel – however this was extremely boggy and difficult going, so I soon struck out away from the track onto higher and I hoped firmer ground. The terrain here is typical Lewisian Gneiss - steep and broken and difficult to plot an easy route through, and also takes you across the steep sided Glennan a Mhadaidh, before joining the main trail heading up the Alltan Fearna. On my return I did follow the very eroded track down the Alltan Fearna, angling over to the eastern side of the valley and following the lower contours around to try to avoid the worst of the marshy ground. In hindsight this is probably the better option.

Once on the lower scree slopes it’s a thigh burning but not too long of a scramble up to the low saddle of the Bealch Mor. As you might expect the footing here is very loose and care is required. The final climb, past that very mysterious dry stone wall, to the western and highest of the two summits, Caisteal Liath, at 731m requires only some minimal scrambling before you arrive at the summit Cairn and a very agreeable flat grassy plateau.
Suilven Summit (4).JPG
Suilven Summit

Suilven Summit (5).JPG
Suilven Summit

It was a perfect day with very little wind. The views north across Assynt to Canisp and Quinag and south to Col Mor and Inverpolly Forest take your breath away. I must have dawdled for a couple of hours just soaking up the grandeur. There are some nice little rocky perches above the south face where you can just sit with your back against the warm rocks, face towards the sun, your feet dangling into space, sitting on the edge of the world! 8) I’m chocking up just thinking about it!

I was a little concerned about getting the boat back across the bar so started my decent without climbing the slightly lower eastern peak, Meall Meadhonach, at 723m. I figured I’d be back again someday – besides, I’d heard it was a wee bit scary – so why ruin a perfect day? :lol:

I returned to the boat via the Alltan Fearna and tried unsuccessfully to punt my way back through the shallows but the current was just too strong. In the end there was nothing for it but remove the socks, wade in and do a little man hauling!! Davey Crocket style! :lol: :clap: Soon back at the hotel with roaring log fire to thaw out my icy toes, a few social ales, and a couple of amusing little tales to tell! Can’t think when I’ve had a much more enjoyable day in the hills!
Homeward (1).JPG

Maybe I was just lucky with the weather in 2010 – seemed to have so many lovely sunny days – but I’d recommend anyone go hiking in the Scottish highlands during the Autumn season. Fewer people, cooler and no bugs! Perfect! Just don’t stick your head above the ridgeline!! :-D

Happy New Year and Happy Trails everyone! :D
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby StevenF » Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:05 am

"... which was nice" Pictures are more than good enough for me :-)

I"m planning a trip to Scotland and was wondering if it was worth going up to Interpolly just to climb Suilven, but now I'm convinced!
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby Steve B » Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:55 am

Thanks for the report. Glad you enjoyed your time in the hills, your seem to have got to some of the best bits, in my opinion, of Scotland and the weather to go with it.
Enjoy your future adventures.
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby Johnny Corbett » Wed Jan 11, 2012 10:40 am

Hope August 2012 is as nice as this. Photos are stunning :D
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby kev_russ » Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:28 am

Bootiful pics :)
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby pollyh33 » Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:33 am

Stunning :shock:

Forget the bank manager, please keep doing this!!! :lol: :lol:
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby soulminer » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:10 pm

Glad you eventually posted some photos Neil :) A fine report with some even finer attachments.You certainly will not run out of conversation back home with a 'holiday' like that for subject matter :lol:
A stunning day indeed, and very nice to have met you :thumbup:
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby RuthMac » Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:13 pm

Lovely pics and very amusing account :lol: The Inchnadamph Hotel is also a magnet for geologists : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inchnadamph. Spent a field trip up there many years ago which included skinny dipping in the short stretch of river that runs down to the loch nearby. :crazy: OK - it was 4th July and we were celebrating a colleague's birthday! We also managed to drink the bar dry of Guinness amongst other beverages 8) :lol: Glad you enjoyed it and Haste Ye Back :D PS If you want crew with a very little sailing experience, I'm your woman :!: :thumbup:
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby Fudgie » Wed Jan 11, 2012 3:36 pm

That was a great read. Some wonderful pictures but also a good bit of story telling and you should be proud of your achievement.
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby kevsbald » Wed Jan 11, 2012 6:01 pm

WOTM for me.
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby Alastair S » Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:50 pm

Super report with even better photos - love it :thumbup:
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby yokehead » Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:54 pm

Stunning stuff, love it. 8)

Now b****r off back to Oz.... :mrgreen: :lol:
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby SusieThePensioner » Wed Jan 11, 2012 10:05 pm

A great report and some fantastic photos :thumbup:

We stayed in Lochinver during the last week in September 2010 and had fabulous weather :D
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby rocket-ron » Wed Jan 11, 2012 10:39 pm

[size=200]WOW [/size] thats all i can say
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Re: Suilven by Boat!

Postby ChrisW » Thu Jan 12, 2012 6:37 am

Fantastic report SB, don't be trying to wriggle out of writing any more :lol: get yourself over to the 'Outside Scotland' section and put up some wanderings from the Southern Hemisphere :wink: join the ever growing WH international community :D
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