Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Assynt - The summer walkers

In Scotland "summer" is a loose term that defines the time of year rather than the weather which is more often driech and cold than hot and sunny. And so it was when Rob and I had an early summer holiday walking some hills in the far north.

Our first peak was Quinag, the "milking pail" in Gaelic. Like the other Assynt hills, it rises from the landscape in splendid isolation from its neighbours with a certain degree of drama. All the Assynt peaks have their own unique mountain character but common features are steep, plunging sides and bizarre rock arrangements. We set out for Quinag on a firm path that crossed the moor. The sunshine and the blue sky above might have fooled us into thinking it was summer had it not been for a chill breeze that kept the temperature down and the jackets on.

As we approached Quinag, it struck me how it was a mountain of two halves, cut in the middle by a shallow bealach. To the right of the bealach we climbed the rounded, whaleback top of Sail Garbh where our view stretched over the other Assynt peaks rising from a land studded with sparkling lochans that fell away to the blue of the Atlantic. To the left of the bealach we continued over Spidean Coinich, a much narrower and shaplier peak. We focussed our view on our feet more as we crossed airy, rocky places that plunged to a blue-green lochan nestled in the corrie below.

We moved further north from Quinag and on a grey evening lit by the occasional late ray of sun, we walked into a mountain called Arkle. The track passed an old, boarded-up cottage and I loved how the greys and browns of the walls and roof mirrored the colours in the hills behind. It was as if the cottage had grown with the landscape. Beyond the cottage the trail passed right through the middle of a huge erratic boulder, split into two by primeval elements, and entered a wood filled with the call of a cuckoo. We pitched the tent and named the place Cuckoo Wood.

Next morning the tent was unzipped to a grey, cold day with a stiff northwesterly blowing through. We plodded up Arkle. Mist thickened as heathery slopes gave way to a bizarre feature where we found ourselves walking across a huge plateau covered with small, round pebbles. In the mist we could see nothing else to give us a frame of reference so it was a surreal experience crossing that place. On the far side of this plateau, the ridge narrowed and our route crossed a series of rocky slabs with drops either side, helpfully hidden in the mist. An easy, broad walk then took us onto to the summit. 

In the dense clag there was only the slightest suggestion of a view and in the cold and wind, only the merest hint of summer.

Fact File
Route for Quinag: We parked in a car park on the A894 at NC232273 and on the opposite side of the road followed an obvious path towards the bealach on Quinag. From the bealach a clear path led up to Sail Garbh. We returned to the bealach and continued east along Spidean Coinich, descending its east slabby ridge to pick up the outward route.
Route for Arkle: We parked off the A838 at NC297402, just south of Loch Stack. We followed the track to the cottage marked at Lone and on into the forestry beyond where we pitched the tent. We continued along the path beside the Allt Horn and turned off to climb Arkle's southeast flank to the point marked at 758m. We then followed the curving ridge round to the northwest top marked at 787m. We returned the same way.
Tip: You can hear "The Summer Walkers" by Runrig at this link - click here.


  1. What an awesome place to go hillwalking! Thanks again for sharing. We're basking in our 90 days of 90 degrees here and the sun is shining. Your weather would take a bit of getting used to. I love the extremes, -20F or +90F. Middling with rain, not so much

  2. PS I really liked the music link, so much so it's now on my playlist! 😄