Saturday breakfast at the Old Smiddy was outstanding. Home made bread, jams and locally sourced produce made up the bulk of the menu. A handy feature of B&B breakfasts is that you can skip lunch so there is less weight in the rucksack. On the down side there is a tendency to instantly double your self weight, which is not ideal before a hill walk. It was fortunate we had a few miles to cover in the Santa Fe before we would be forced into action. As the sun blazed down over Gruinard Bay we said our farewells to both our genial hosts and fellow guests, pointed the “tank” north and rumbled onto the quiet A road.
We had a very pleasant drive up to Ullapool. The weather was beyond expectation, yesterday’s chilly breeze having almost disappeared and the sun now splitting the sky. As we stood at the viewpoint to the east of the town the pristine white buildings of the west coast port contrasted starkly against the deep blue waters of Loch Broom. It felt surreal for a Scottish spring. I fully expected to hear the irresistible foot twitching sounds of the bouzouki and to catch the mouth watering Mediterranean smells of rosemary and garlic barbequed fish. Maybe I would need lunch after all.
A few miles north of Ullapool we caught our first clear sight of today’s destination.
Stac Pollaidh. This was a walk one month short of 30 years in the making. In May 1979 we had stood below the hill taking a photograph of our sky blue “biscuit tin” (Citroen Dyane) with Stac Pollaidh in the background. They were almost identical in profile…and both probably moved at about the same speed.
The car park beside Loch Lurgainn was chock-a-block when we arrived, but we were lucky. We had only been hanging around for a minute or so when one walking group returned and gave us their parking space. The Fatdog was by now impatient to get on the move.
The path is in great shape with a lot of money having been spent on it in recent years. Staircases of pitched stone took us upwards fairly quickly but the views and the sunshine turned the walk into a gentle stroll. The path forms a circular route around the hill gaining height until it reaches its highest point around the “back” near the north west corner (about the 500m contour). We opted to take the path around the east shoulder of the hill and once on the far side take the spur to the summit ridge. This looked the shortest route to the top. The plan was then to complete the circumnavigation of Stac Pollaidh by continuing westwards, once back at the main circular path.
During the first 30 minutes or so the views were mainly to the south over Loch Lugainn to the Corbett, Ben More Coigach. This is a complex shaped hill which I have the notion to visit in the future.
As we began to wind our way around to the back of the hill the view north could only be described as stunningly captivating. Mountains whose names had become so familiar to me over the past 3 years now stood proudly to attention awaiting their first inspection. Suilven, Canisp, Cul Mor and distant Quinag, every one an individual character, every one a memory from someone else’s day out. But this time it was our day out! These tall iconic shaped lumps of rock looked as if they had been thrust randomly upwards through the wild Assynt landscape to reach for the sky above. I had waited a long time to see this…it was worth the wait.
It was now crunch time for J. She isn’t a hill walker so I fully expected her to want to take a seat with a view and wait until the Fatdog and I did a quick toddle up the spur path to the summit ridge. She was having none of it. She wasn’t to be left behind and so the 3 of us started up the steep stone built staircase towards the top.
I thought we might be in a bit of trouble when we met a girl coming down complaining of suffering slightly from a bit of vertigo. I could see J’s mouth tighten a little but the path wasn’t over steep and the ridge was close. Minutes later we had dropped the packs and were sitting on Stac Pollaidh’s saddle in bright west coast sunshine.
Did we go to the summit? I think you’ve already guessed the answer to that one. This view was more than enough. Maybe I could have done it with J looking after FD but to be honest it just didn’t matter. The 3 of us had done what we set out to do. A simple hill path…but the walk of a lifetime.
We chilled out on the ridge for a while as people came and went. It’s a busy little hill on a Saturday. Apparently the Fatdog became quite distressed as I disappeared up the summit path to take a few photos back towards the saddle. Usually she doesn’t bother about me at all in the house but on this trip, even when I left the room at the hotel or the B&B, she would start to cry. I suspect she was only concerned that a possible food source might go missing.
A look at the watch told me it was time to go search for food before heading home. Reluctantly we began our descent down to the main path and then followed it westwards for a better sea view.
It was quiet around this side of the hill, in fact we didn’t meet anyone at all as we worked our way around Stac Pollaidh and back to the car.
To round off our trip we followed the road west towards Achultibuie.
We started this “Unexpected Journey” eating seafood on the terrace of the Loch Leven Seafood Café nr Glencoe. It seems only fitting we end it here, eating seafood at the Fuaran Bar looking out to the Summer Isles in glorious Assynt.