My first visit to the far northern reaches of Scotland was primarily to see the vast open landscapes; the most wild parts of the United Kingdom.
The district of Assynt lies within Sutherland county, a wide parish with dotted specks of small settlements. There is a roll call of famous Scottish mountains that lie in this area, names that roll off the tongue and into your imagination; Quinag, Stac Pollaich, Ben More Assynt, Suilven.
Suilven is perhaps the most remarkable of these great peaks. I’ve been drawn to see it since finding a picture of it in a magazine when I was a teenager. Two great towering domes, linked but rising alone and untouched from the lunar like landscapes that surrounds. It is unlike any other mountain.
As a prelude to hiking up the mountain the following day, we hiked an 8 mile circuit around the attractive Cam Loch, a few miles south from the hamlet of Elphin.
Our bible for this walk (and the trip to Sutherland overall), Chris Townsend’s excellent Northwest Scotland walking guide, describes the origins of the name. Cam meaning ‘crooked’ or ‘distorted’, and with the ‘twisting shoreline with its many bays and promontories’ in front of us, it was easy to see why.
The going was rough and tough over the bumpy ground and sometimes boggy marsh. Beyond the first mile after leaving the car, there was no clear path, only well worn lines through the grass and heather.
The navigation wasn’t an issue. In these open access areas, the only plan was to head towards Suilven, it’s distinctive presence acting as our guide whilst we kept the loch on our left. Once at the loch end, we would turn left, around the loch and back to the road.
We saw one other person all day, the lone presence of a sole fisherman on the loch shore. Our passing went unnoticed, and we continued on, the views and landscapes were ours once again, and only disrupted by the occasional and unexpected clatter of wings and jump from a grouse hidden in the undergrowth escaping our advances. In truth, the sudden movement meant we were probably more ruffled.
At the loch end, we could get a great picture of Suilven ahead of us. Our route would be from the other side of our current location, from the west, and the small harbour town of Lochinver. We could see the steep sharp route we would take, up the short sharp slopes to the col between the two peaks, the pointy eastern peak and the round, slightly taller western summit. I was looking forward to seeing the view of this amazing landscape from higher.