Ben More Coigach – Assynt (“The big hill of Assynt”)

Big Al enjoying the space on the  West Ridge.

Big Al enjoying the space on the West Ridge. After this photo the poles were put away and we had fun on the wee sandstone outcrops with great view to the Summer Isles.

I have been so busy with preparation for my lectures to the RAF Team Leaders Course at RAF Valley in North Wales. I am sure few know what time goes into an hour s chat.They can take me ages to try to sort out at times this one in particular is on the history of RAF Mountain Rescue and I am trying to give it a new twist. 70 years of amazing people experiences and some great research into the past, I was stuck behind a desk for a week! I was so glad when an old friend Al Barnyard offered me a day out on the hills yesterday. Logic said no, the long journey South was pending but I am so glad I went what a day we had. Al works offshore has a busy life with a lovely wife, two great kids and his part time work for a catalog as a mountaineering model! He treasures a day out even with an old fellow to slow him down. We spent many years in the rescue together and he is solid mountaineer. He wanted to go to Assynt to me it was a done deal, even better he offered to drive. It was going to be a normal start but that was soon changed and I met him in Nairn at 0700. The road was busy with farm vehicles finishing a good harvest but we were soon in among the hills and enjoying the views. How I love this drive, the stories were soon going and after Ullapool we were really among old friends these familiar hills. Ben Mor Coigach dominates the view from the North this was our hill for the day. I have climbed it several times usually blasting along as we did in youth, today it would be much slower and like a good dram savored   Its weathered gullies and steep sandstone make this an impressive mountain. . Assynt is full of hidden gems and every hill is a great experience and all have some incredible views and  so much solitude. From the Stac Polly turn off you leave the A835 and on to the narrow road that gives outstanding views of the Summer Isles and so many neglected mountains. We were soon down near the sea past the little village of Auchiltibue and on to the end of the road at Culnacraig and parked in the tiny car park.

Big Al enjoying the scramble on the wonderful Assynt Sandstone.

Big Al enjoying the scramble on the wonderful Assynt Sandstone.

The weather was fine and after two and a bit hours it was great to get out and stretch the legs, we had planned to go up by the West ridge and the ground was dry and wonderful walking. Traversing round to the ridge was easy and the ridge great fun Al taking the harder lines and me just having fun on the rock. We saw a small herd of deer and the a few of the summer flowers still hanging in there. The views were outstanding, the light on Loch Broom and the Summer Isles was as always impressive,ever changing as it does on the West. Even better we saw no one just the odd “stone chapp” bird we were in a mountain heaven. Al let me stop and enjoy the view regularly, take photos and drink it all in it was pretty warm and sticky at times so we stopped and enjoyed the day.  A fine mist came in a bit later and the rock got wet and damp very quick, we had to watch where we put our feet as we moved across this lovely ridge with it contorted sandstone. It is so easy to relax and a slip could be serious. The rock and grass gets slippy at this time of year as the hills get ready for winter but we were so engrossed with the day  and it was so much fun.

Big Al drinks it all in.  "The mountains and the sea means so much to me!"

Big Al drinks it all in. “The mountains and the sea means so much to me!”

We were soon on the top of Garbh Choireachan and it got damper a bit of mist covered the summit. We passed several more sandstone towers even slipper now in the mizzle and the wet lichen more care needed but we were soon on the summit where we saw two others coming up from Sgurr an Fhidheir. We had lunch and a bit of a chat and then set off across a barren plateau, heavily eroded by the weather and wind. What a change from the rugged ridge  to this plateau but the mist cleared and the views as we rounded the Corrie of the lochs, hidden beaches and remote cliffs were stunning.

The amazing North Buttress of Sgurr an Fhidhleir and the Fiddler's Nose forst attempted in 1907 and climbed in summer in 1962.

The amazing North Buttress of Sgurr an Fhidhleir and the Fiddler’s Nose forst attempted in 1907 and climbed in summer in 1962.

We followed the rim of the Corrie and the views got better the amazing North Buttress of Sgurr an Fiddler and the Fiddlers Nose looked incredible. A huge 1000 foot serious climb of Alpine stature and another climb I failed on, terrified by poor belays, bad climbing and awful route finding. In winter it is graded as 7/8 climbed on frozen turf and in an amazing situation and what a climb.  This is another special place and the views  to Beinn an Eoin and it wonderful cliffs (you must climb this hill) and Stac Polly were wonderful.


From here it was a easy descent great for tired knees and the most incredible views again of the Summer Isles like someone had painted them a tinted blue. We wandered down drinking it all in, the views were amazing, the West Coast light again doing its best and what a lovely walk off. We were soon back at the car and then the drive back, stopping for photos all the way. The light was going but the views got better and better and to me this was heaven no driving  big Al driving and stopping in lots of places to capture the ever changing light. This lovely land was not blighted by wind – farms it is still nearly as God made it, we must try to keep it as it is, imagine these views blighted by man’s greed?

We were soon in Inverness and back in the traffic and I picked up the car at Nairn and headed home. The body was a bit sore and after some food and a bit of TV it was an early night. The back, knees and old age were sorted by the magic of the mountains what a day one of the finest, not huge but savored, great company, a great wee hill and the magic of Assynt. I am in love again!

Now lets get this lecture completed and then hopefully a drive to Wales and a few hours in the mountains of Wales, what a life?

 What can one say about Assynt?

What can one say about Assynt? This place is very special to me – Thanks Big Al – where next?

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ben More Coigach – Assynt (“The big hill of Assynt”)

  1. cliff medley says:

    You make it sound so idyllic and sadly i know it really is. Such a shame we all can’t sample the delights of the far north as often. Its the eastern hills for me next year and i will have to wait till 2015 for the far north again, maybe i should retire? Keep enjoying it after a life in public service its the least you deserve, I’m green with envy!


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