Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Glories of Assynt

Just before we departed for our holiday I read this about our destination. It’s considerably more erudite than I could ever be. I am not sure people realise quite how far away Assynt is, but it’s a good 13 hour drive if done continuously from my home and it definitely has an “other worldly” feel to it. We chose to break ours up with an overnight in Glasgow. It was still a relief to arrive at the cottage late on the Saturday afternoon and see my brother and his family who were across from Aberdeen for a few days camping.

I have to be honest and say that the two weeks in splendid isolation was exactly what I needed to recharge the batteries. As if to underline how isolated the area is when we attended Mass, celebrated by the irrepressible octogenarian Monsignor Basil, we doubled the congregation and halved the average age!

Lily and I attempted to go wild camping on Ben More Assynt, but were thwarted as Lily ran out of steam just before the bealach. It speaks volumes of her fatigue that I pitched the tent mid-afternoon and she crawled in, ate her lunch and promptly fell very soundly asleep. Over an hour later she awoke and it was clear that the best option was to head back down, despite her protestations that we could finish the job the next day. It would have been easy to figuratively crack the whip and get us up to the summit, but I wanted Lily to enjoy the experience and want to grow to love the outdoors – we will have many other opportunities to wild camp. Thankfully she appeared to survive the experience with no loss of enthusiasm for future adventure.

I managed to do a bit of climbing on the sea rocks, of which there are many, however, not as much as I had hoped. Guy also visited us and it was during this time we decided to experience a bothy for the first time. Lily was desperate to join us and to be honest I was a bit nervous of taking her given the Spartan nature of their reputation has, so when the opportunity to do a reconnaissance mission presented itself I took it. What a superb place it was, it even had a dart board! 

The walk into the bothy at the base of Suilven was without incident albeit it was very, very windy. We had even managed to pick up a set of darts from one of these wee shops you find in villages that seem to have all sorts of games in them – I could tell they had been in stock for a while with the pictures of Jocky Wilson and John Lowe adorning them! To say Lily was thrilled with the place would be an understatement. I was able to carry in some logs so once it got a bit chilly we got a fire going and after a few rounds of darts (which I won remarkably!) we ate our simple, but delicious pasta dinner. Initially Lily wanted to have one of the rooms on her own, but the solitude and wind led to her bravado deserting her and she asked if I could share her room (sweet!) Guy and I shared a dram of Laphroig watching a beautiful moon pass over Suilven and realising that exactly a year from that point we ought to be summiting The Matterhorn. As Guy pointed out we would be reflecting the night in the bothy when we did that.

I got little sleep as the wind howled but it was a great experience for us all, even to the extent that Lily thought it was the highlight of the holiday and was so effusive that her younger sister wants to go next time as does, even more remarkably, Debbie too!!!! Lily decided not to tackle Suilven the next day as the winds continued to be very strong, so again my ambition for getting height was thwarted, but I couldn’t blame her. Guy gave it ago but had to turn back before the summit and the cloud had dropped so we missed nothing.

Next day was Stac Pollaidh and it’s fair to say I have never experienced so many midges in my life, they were awful. They were so bad that in swallowing some Debs had cause to vomit. Once in the breeze and out of the trees it was much more pleasant and we enjoyed a pleasant stroll around the base, whilst Guy summited the Eastern Buttress before scrambling across the traverse to the higher Western Buttress. In his words, “I could have played up there all day the scrambling was so good!”, no wonder it’s often referred to as Scotland’s best small mountain.

As Guy departed the end of a fabulous break loomed, but not before I visited surely the smallest castle in the world, made of concrete and fits one at a squeeze on the nearby Achmelvich Beach.

Apparently it was built by an eccentric who stayed there one night before abandoning it - all very bizarre.

On the final day I got up Quinag, what a great wee mountain that is too. It proved to me beyond doubt that height isn’t everything. All in all it was a great way to bring the holiday to a close.

Now back in the metropolis that is the South East it’s less than a year until The Matterhorn. Guy and I have a winter expedition planned for February, a summer jaunt (to get out of here when the Queen’s Birthday celebrations are on) next June and a family trip to Skye later this month all part of the training towards the ultimate goal.

As a bit of a footnote, I really wanted to see the recently released Everest in the cinema. Unsurprisingly Lily wanted to go with me, but I was concerned when Natalie also expressed a desire to go. Thankfully that prompted Debs to join us as Nat lasted barely 10 minutes before her upset led first to tears then the exit with her mum and Lily took the opportunity to join her. They grabbed some dinner and Natalie in particular had to be convinced by Wikipedia and other such resources that Everest was considerably bigger than The Matterhorn! Most expensive film I have ever watched, but thoroughly enjoyable as a climber.

Finally, it shouldn’t be too long before the opportunity to sponsor me becomes available, watch this space!

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