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Diary of a trip to Assynt – week 2

Saturday May 30th

This middle Saturday of our holiday saw us packing up, cleaning the cottage and moving a few miles south to the beautiful sandy bay of Achmelvich where we’d booked a caravan for our second week.  It was kind of strange as we normally stay in one place for the two weeks.  As it turned out, it was of course, one of the best days, weather-wise, of the whole holiday but as we had the car packed full of our gear we weren’t keen on leaving it in a lay-by all day while we went on a big walk. Instead we had a very lazy day, visiting the fabulous bookshop and cafe a few miles outside Lochinver and then having a very relaxed lunch at a fine restaurant in the village.    By the time we’d finished there and done a bit of shopping for the next week’s food supplies, it was time to move into the caravan.  The weather was starting to deteriorate as we unpacked the car and we decided to grab a quick walk along the fabulous beach before the much forecast heavy rain and unseasonable gales arrived!

Sunday 31st May

Rain and much rattling of the caravan as the forecasted winds wiped out any chance of heading into the hills again.  More reading, eating and drinking ….well, it was a holiday!

Monday 1st June

Still the forecasts were for high winds up top and heavy showers, so, determined to get some walking done, we headed into the wonderful “rock garden” country just to the north of Achmelvich.  It’s a wild, rocky and complex area of low hills and lochs.  We clambered up four of these little rocky hills, each one giving fine if rather grey views of the famous Assynt sky-line.  Despite the blustery conditions all of these amazing hills were clear.   We spent about five hours wandering through and over this strange little landscape and never got higher than about 120m…. just shows you, you don’t always need to be up a big hill to have fine views.

Assynt sky line from a hillside

Assynt sky-line

Tuesday 2nd June

Yet more heavy rain, very low cloud and high winds.  Another inactive day saw us drive down to Ullapool, for more food and bookshop visiting!  Had some amazing views on the way back, with the huge dark clouds eating up the familiar Assynt peaks.  Very dramatic at times ….and very wet too!

Towards Cul Beag,

Heavy weather, towards Cul Beag,

Wednesday 3rd June

Finally a hint of slightly better conditions, especially on the lower hills to the west.  Decided to enjoy the fine views from the path that circles the rocky little peak of Stac Pollaidh.  We’ve walked this before and it’s a very popular walk…. but what the heck ….the views are just spectacular.  We certainly made the right choice as the bigger hills of Conival and Ben More Assynt were shrouded most of the day and the winds, even at the modest height we reached, were very strong.

From Below Stac Pollaidh

From Below Stac Pollaidh

On the north side of the hill I stopped and tried to make a sound recording.  We’d found a sheltered spot but could hear the wind rushing and roaring around the rocky towers that make up Stac Pollaidh.  It would have been perfect…..except that as I said  earlier, it is a very popular place and of course, just as I got the recorder working, several other walkers came along, talking at what seemed to be the top of their voices!  On my second attempt, I thought all was going well, only to hear the voices of some serious climbers making their way along the ridge above.  Hopefully everyone enjoyed their time on or around this amazing hill ….it just wasn’t the place for recording silence!

Stac Pollaidh

Stac Pollaidh

Thursday 4th June

At last, at last, we had a break in the low cloud, high winds and rain.  We decided to head up towards Conival, (one of the two Assynt Munros) but instead of following the main path we’d taken back in 2006, Nita suggested we cut up the side of an adjoining hill and make our way to a prominent point at 850m that I’d painted on several occasions in the past.  It would give big views into the north east facing slopes of Conival and Ben More Assynt.  According to the forecast, we had until about 16.00 before the cloud and rain returned and so an early start was required.  We started walking from Inchnadamph at just before seven o’clock in the morning and after a kilometre or so we left the main path and struck up the side of the hill.  As with much of the Assynt landscape the ground was very rough but I always prefer walking across open hillsides and away from paths so this was just fantastic.  We quickly got huge views back across the beautiful Loch Assynt to Quinag ….and all this in patchy bright sunshine…..couldn’t believe our eyes!

Overlooking Loch Assynt, June 4th 2015

Overlooking Loch Assynt

Higher up, the slopes became very steep and rocky, with Nita picking a careful route through the worst of these.  It was a long hard haul before finally the angle of the slope eased and we emerged onto a wild broad rock strewn ridge.  It was difficult up there to walk in a straight line as we had to follow leads of grass and moss to get through the boulder fields.  Slowly though we got closer to our objective and despite the weather starting to close in much earlier than expected, we got some great views across to the two Munros.

The rocky landscape of Conival and Ben More Assynt

The rocky landscape of Conival and Ben More Assynt

Before the rain started, we grabbed some photos and donned the waterproofs and made our way across to the main walker’s path.  This lead down through a very steep rocky little section and we found the rock very slippery here once it was wet.  Not sure what the rock was but it was certainly different to the stuff we walked on the previous week just across the way on Canisp …that was like walking on Velcro!  Not wanting to tramp back on a busy and eroded path, as soon as we were down the steepest bit, we abandoned it and made a circular route back before regaining the main track not far from Inchnadamph.  This wasn’t without concern however as it meant we were on the wrong side of a big stream and relying on the footbridge marked on the 1:25000 to still be in place.  As experience on Canisp the previous week had shown ….footbridges aren’t always permanent fixtures.  Luckily on this occasion ….it was still there.  A great sigh of relief as we saw it and a very pleasant if damp walk back to the car.

Below Conival, a steep descent

Below Conival, a steep descent

Friday 5th June

Yes, you’ve guessed it, more very heavy rain and so a return to the restaurant in Lochinver and then an hour or so packing.  Towards the middle of the afternoon the rain finally stopped and the sun came out.  We were able to enjoy a final walk along the white sandy beach ….a fine end to a fine, if rather damp trip to Assynt.  It was a holiday of much weather which if not so great for the walking, will definitely give me some new subject matter for paintings.