Assynt memories and the incredible words of Norman MacCaig.

During this latest lockdown the memories come flooding back. One of my favourite areas is Assynt in the far North West of this wonderful country. Over the years I have visited here so many time’s. How o wish I could go there now? To me it was a bolt hole for me during an awful period when I was posted down South in the RAF.

More recently I was so lucky to have the use of the SMC Naismith hut near Inchnadampth. Often I was the only one there midweek I had this incredible place to myself. After a couple or even one day there I would have to drive back through the night to Innsworth near Gloucester. It’s a long trip but my time in the South was fuelled by my trips to Assynt. I hated leaving such a place it was why I left at night.

The hills of Assynt and Ciogach are unique and you rarely saw anyone else on these hills.

I loved the drive from Ullapool from the first time I visited in the early 70’s. The mountains are incredible they stand out like something surreal many of the hills are surrounded by the sea and these wonderful peaks. In these days I was chasing Munro’s and missing the other great hills.

There is something about Stac Pollaidh that when you see it how can such a mountain be so small yet it has so many adventures. The shattered pillars on the ridge and the wee step that bars many from the true summit. Yet on this lovely wee mountain or any other of these great mountains it brings the incredible words of Norman MaCaig the poet to the mind.

Stac Polly

“Glaciers, grinding West, gouged out

these valleys, rasping the brown sandstone,

and left, on the hard rock below –

the ruffled foreland –

this frieze of mountains, filed

on the blue air –

Stac Pollaidh

Cul Beag, Cul Mor, Suilven,

Canisp –

a frieze and

a litany. “

“Who owns this landscape?

Has owning anything to do with love?

For it and I have a love-affair, so nearly human

we even have quarrels.

When I intrude too confidently

it rebuffs me with a wind like a hand

or puts in my way

a quaking bog or loch

where no loch should be.

Or I turn stonily

away, refusing to notice

the rouged rocks, the mascara

under a dripping ledge, even

the tossed, the stony limbs waiting.”

How I love these words and how they describe these mountains.

I am amazed how few folk know this poem.

It is full of many meanings to me not just the beauty of the area but the ownership of a land. The politics of who owns them yet sadly I was never taught this at school. It is now.

These words to me are spiritual and beautifully crafted. I have a cd of Norman MacCaig reciting these poems?

He makes you think Is it right that someone can own such a place? Just for them ?

We are so lucky to have the right of responsible access in Scotland. So many countries do not. Never forget it was fought hard for by a joint political agreement on the Scottish Government working together . Let’s never lose it we are the envy of many other nations.

Is this land not to be looked after for the future generations to appreciate? How do we keep it going.

So many questions so few answers?

Stac Polly

A few years ago my great pal Pete Greening and his lass Ally had a great week at Elphin. They had good weather and had climbed walked and enjoyed this incredible place. This was Ally’s first visit she now loves it they had a magical cottage with views of Suilven from the windows. I was invited up had a great day with them ending up on Stac Polly one I will never forget. I met them on as they came off one of the classics scrambles Lurgain Edge. There are so many great ways up these hills.

Pete and Ally they are lucky they live in Cornwall another wonderful place but can be so busy. It is great that people still appreciate the wildness of Assynt and how important it is to us all.

I love to live up here especially my time on the hills all these things I never take for granted especially now .

Every time I visit I learn new things. This is so true especially today during the Covid Shutdown! There are so many other great days Cul Mor, Cul Beag, Fionaven and others.

The old memorial in Assynt now replaced

There are only two Munro’s on the immediate area Ben More Assynt and Conival again superb hills. Yet they hold the incredible story of a plane crash during the war. The crew are buried high on the mountain. It’s a sad tale yet it shows the solitude of this place that it was not located for 6 weeks after a huge storm. It is a place of poignant beauty. I have climbed these hills on many occasions but the ones that I remember are on my big walks of Scotland. Once on the summit you can see the last mountain Ben Hope where a good friend Andy Nisbet was killed recently with his climbing partner.

The new memorial

From the Crash site on Conival and the aircraft memorial you can see the wonderful Quinag another superb mountain with three Corbett tops. In winter it’s a fine expedition and has a few great routes on summer band winter on it. With lots of routes still to do ?

Another favourite Suliven stands out like a great battleship defended by a long walk in. I have had so many adventures here and the Eastern summit is “sporting “as is rock climbing on the Western buttress. I doubt even today you will rarely see anyone climbing here? The famine wall on the ridge tells another story of this place of the hardship and suffering of the locals and is a constant reminder to what happened here.

The famine Wall

From the SMC hut at Elphin from the window you can awake to the view of this grand hill. The sunrises and sunsets can be spectacular here.

As for the climbing here there is so much to do in the area from sea cliffs to the mountain routes and you will rarely see anyone else but that is for another day!

A great way to discover new ways up these hills!
Suiliven looking majestic.

How I and many miss this place yet this wee blog just touches the surface of a great area.

Let’s look after it and thank those who live here and care for this spectacular landscape and its history.

Let’s not forget the Assynt mountain Rescue Team who cover a vast area and are all unsung heroes !

Assynt MRT great folk up at the crash site !

Assynt Mountain Rescue works with the Police, Coastguard and other agencies in Sutherland and Caithness, volunteering to provide search and rescue support. The team can be on call any time, any day, and in any type of weather. All our volunteers share a love for hillwalking, mountaineering, rock climbing, snow and ice-climbing, caving and generally being in the outdoors. 

We rely on voluntary support and funding to provide this service. We work out of two bases – our main rescue post is at Inchnadamph, and we have a mobile unit at Thurso.

All our volunteers come from Caithness and Sutherland – including our dog Mollie! As a specially trained search and rescue dog, Mollie and her handler Charlie work throughout Scotland as part of the Search And Rescue Dog Association (SARDA). Meanwhile, on the human front, our 30 strong team train together once a month throughout the year. We are trained to work together on searches and rescues in winter or summer conditions.

We work with other agencies such as the Coastguard, or the RAF and neighbouring Mountain Rescue Teams. 

Donations and Fundraising

We are a charity that relies on funding from generous donations and our own fundraising activities. Our voluntary work requires us to be fully equipped and ready at any time to help anyone in need. We are always grateful for any donation, small or large, which can be made through our JustGiving website, or directly to any team member. 

Gift Aid may also be appropriate for the donor which increases the amount of money we receive. Recently our most welcome donation is from the Order of St John who donated the majority of the cost of our new Land Rover.

To me it is a “love affair “ with this area as Norman MacCaig says. But how we miss it but we will get back.

Stay happy,stay well, stay safe.

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 and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Corbetts and other hills, Enviroment, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, People, Recomended books and Guides, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Assynt memories and the incredible words of Norman MacCaig.

  1. alan says:

    Fascinating blog! Yes it is a wonderful area. And it was lovely to read McCaig’s poetry again. A real wordsmith Also beautiful photographs! Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

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