Whether it’s the picturesque seaside town of Lochinver, the distinctive shape of the mountain towering above the surrounding wilderness or the sheer distance from anything resembling the daily grind, there’s something about Suilven that calls to us. I answered her call, fell in love and she’s here in my heart to stay.
I first became aware of Suilven through watching the film Edie during a long haul flight. Edie is an 83 year old woman who travelled from England to Suilven to find herself before it’s too late. Set against the stunning backdrop of Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, her story is as beautiful as it is inspiring. No stranger to the mountains of Scotland or the rigours and rewards of climbing them, I was hooked on the idea of climbing Suilven before the titles started rolling at the end of that film.
Suilven is about 6 miles inland from the small Highland Town of Lochinver which nestles on the North West Coast of Scotland north of Ullapool. The nearest city is Inverness and the drive takes about 2 hours from there. Drive along a country road out of Lochinver towards the Glensip Lodge and park the car at the public Car Park. You walk from there.
With a 5 mile walk in and back out and climbing the mountain in between, Suilven Summit is at a height of 2,398ft, this is a long day for the day tripper. We decided to walk in, camp up for the night at the foot of the mountain and then climb and walk out the next day. The balance is that you carry a heavier load over the undulating terrain of the walk in/out but you have more time to enjoy the incredible area you are in.
Almost constantly from the start of the trail you can see Suilven. Her distinctive humped ridge shape rising steeply above the surrounding heather, bogs and lochans. The rout in, approaching the mountain from the north, follows a clear, stony track over undulating terrain before crossing a bridge above a river. From there, the ascent begins although there are two steep climbs ascending about 300ft before you reach the base of the mountain. We carried our gear up onto the top of the first climb and then camped beside a small lochan for the night.
As the sun goes down and the stars come out, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re on the surface of the moon. You truly are sitting in one of the most remote and beautiful parts of the world.
Early next morning, we made the next ascent to the base of the mountain where the climbing and the drama really starts. You start by ascending the steep sides of the mountain climbing about 1,000ft on a stony path to reach a bealach. Reaching the narrow bealach the view to the south across Assynt to the sea is staggering.
Turning right and continuing our ascent from the bealach, the climb now has a bit of everything. There’s some easy scrambling with varying degrees of exposure and, all the while, the most incredible views of Assynt and Scotland’s north west coastline. Just before the final summit push, you drop down through the rocks onto a narrow ridge which drops steeply away on both sides. Perhaps not the best for those who don’t like heights. Absolutely mouth watering if you don’t mind heights and like a wee bit of adventure.
The easy scrambling continues from there until you start to level out at the broad dome on which Suilven’t highest point sits. Looking to your right from the cairn, you can see the full length of the path from the coast at Lochinver, past the Glensip Lodge and out to the foot of the mountain.
With weak and sore knees and quite tired by this point, I was not looking forward to the steep descent. I have to say however that the path is well enough constructed that it’s easy enough to keep your balance and pace the descent to your needs. It was over before I knew it and we were soon sitting on the banks of one of the lochans at the foot of the mountain eating lunch.
Though remote, Suilven is a very popular mountain and we passed a steady stream of people walking in both directions as we broke camp, packed up and started heading back to the Glensip Lodge. The sheer beauty of this wilderness stays with you every step as you walk and, even tired and carrying the extra weight of my camping equipment, I couldn’t help revelling in it.
Of course the movies tend to make people and places more glamorous and beautiful than reality but this was not the case for Suilven, Assynt or the Scottish Highlands. Edie was filmed completely on location and I’m pretty sure all the cameraman had to do to capture the beauty was open his eyes. That’s how it was for me in any case. I had high expectations for the beauty of that mountain and they were exceeded with every step. I know that climb will stay in my heart for a long time to come.