Bespoke day on Suilven, 5 October 2019

A blog post from one of our mountain adventures in the Scottish hills and mountains. A bespoke day for a group of friends to bag the iconic peak of Suilven in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. Christine Menhennet was leading.

Bespoke day on Suilven


'To push boundaries and step out of our comfort zones', these were the declared aims of the ladies comprising Team Suilven when we met in the Walkers' Car Park just west of Canisp Lodge. Most of our usual clients are fairly experienced mountaineers, familiar with the beinns, bogs and burns of our glorious landscape but not so this group of lovely ladies for several of whom, explained organiser Jill, layering, walking with poles and peeing in the outdoors were entirely new concepts. Big respect from me then, that they, or rather Jill, had set a 23Km tour of Suilven as their next challenge in pushing those boundaries, and as a first step in training for a Machu Picchu trek!

After introductions and adjustments to straps, laces, poles and layers, we set off from the car park at a healthy pace, my main intention being to be off the hill and on the return track before the forecast heavy rain came in. For now, the weather was bright and breezy, the distant but magnificent pillar of Suilven pushed against a scudding sky and the chat was animated.

It's a fair hike along an undulating track before cutting off for the hill, so we paused at intervals and took time to compare the flowers and foliage of three different heather types and crush and sniff the aromatic leaves of bog myrtle; we saw wild swans on a lochan and heard the guttural squawk of red grouse. At the path junction for Suileag Bothy we paused again to talk a little about the Scottish bothy culture but my chat was cut short by the awesome guest appearance of not one, not two, but three golden eagles soaring silently above us, their wing tips angled like airplane ailerons as they circled ever higher into the blue. Just as we were about to move off again, a sprightly gentleman strode down the bothy path; I knew from the previous night's camper van gossip that this soul had celebrated his 85th birthday the day before, with a lone trip up Suilven and a night in the bothy; he was both amazed and delighted when we surprised him with this advanced knowledge and was very happy to pose for photos with our own, 58th-birthday lady, Jacqui!

Despite the morning's excitements we arrived on schedule at the hill path junction and so took a five minute break for the most varied sweety offer I have ever seen - from midget gems, boilers and jelly babies to chocolate covered cashews, sugared mango and chocolate limes! We then struck off across the moor for the foot of Suilven; now the hard work began !

Moving steadily, the ladies proved that, whilst not experienced mountaineers, they were well fit and able for the climb. Nearly £0.25m has been spent on the recent path restoration of the hill's north slopes and the many stone pitched steps, cross drains and berms are a testament to the skill and toughness of specialist contractors. Now and again we heard the primeval roar of rutting stags and occasionally spotted their camouflaged forms moving effortlessly across the rusting slopes.

It was a tad breezier than forecast on arrival at the col - and, as forecast, the wind was increasing. We agreed on a short lunch stop (and birthday celebration!) out of the wind and whilst eating, took in the ancient beauty of the lochan bespattered landscape stretched out before us. Leaving all but essential kit at the col, we headed west along the ridge for the summit, pausing for a minute to consider Destitution Wall - a stunning piece of craft with a sad story, and also to ensure an understanding of how to balance safely in the increasingly strong wind, which by now was giving us quite a buffeting and making the going slow. Our time up top was brief and we arrived back at the col comfort zones well tested, windswept and happy - but by now, a little behind schedule.

There have been no path repairs to the southern descent; it's a steep, sustained and pretty chossy affair which required the ladies to take their time, adopt a variety of interesting descent techniques and use some colourful language - but we arrived on kinder ground eventually, the only damage being Julia's snapped walking pole!

We enjoyed more sweeties and had a roundup of Fit-Bit statistics before continuing with a steady south westerly tromp across the tussocky wilderness, listening out for the stags and trying to ignore the gathering rain clouds. We could only do this for so long however and eventually, were driven to waterproofs including a rather spectacular rain cape modelled for us by Nicola!

On reaching the Fionn Loch, the path swings westwards winding muddily through bogs, across burns and round outcrops; the rain was on, tiredness was setting in and thoughts were turning to cocktail hour - a tad too early I decided, and so I set the ladies the task of taking it in turns to path-find by way of distraction! Nicola thought communal singing would help the pace and broke out into a jaunty rendering of The Twelve Days of Christmas claiming this was the only song she knew - we never heard a stag roar after this!

We paused briefly at the very pretty Falls of Kirkaig before contouring along the top of the dramatic gorge then dropping into damp, fungi scented birch woods; our other, nonbirthday Jackie was on a mission at this point and took a strong lead, whilst I supported the rear of the group by threatening some back jokes.

I think it was with some considerable relief to all the ladies that in the dying daylight, we suddenly emerged from the trees onto the road at Inverkirkaig and tromped the last 100m into the car park. There is no doubt that the group had achieved their aim of pushing boundaries and stepping out of comfort zones and had done so with grace and great good humour; their Prosecco that night was well earned and Machu Picchu will be a doddle!

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