Elphin is a small village in Sutherland in the region of Assynt about 15 miles north of Ullapool. This area is one of the most spectacular hillwalking regions in Scotland. Although boasting only two Munros, the lesser (in height only) hills of Suilven, Quinag, Cul Mor and several others create a unique and captivating landscape. The Club visited the area in June 2016 staying at the splendid Naismith Hut. Although this an excellent hut, it is fairly small and this time round on 31st May/1st June accommodation was booked at Taigh nam Famh, the club hut of the Grampian Speleological Group, a caving group. This hut sleeps up to 20 people, is very modern by hut standards and has an excellent conservatory which looks out directly towards the shapely bulk of Suilven.
Bill Dallas, Deb Dallas, John Calder, Raymond Evenden, James Fraser, George Henderson, Susan Henderson, Jim Hughes, Duncan MacLeod, Tina MacLeod, Paul McGrandles, Alyn McNaughton, Neil Morrison, Norrie Shand, Lorn Smith, Gerry Weir
Yet again, the weather was refusing to play nice and no one was tempted out onto the hills on the way north on Friday – and the forecast on Saturday wasn’t looking much better.
Norrie had a cunning ploy to get out of climbing any hills at the weekend by leaving his rucksack at home. Unfortunately for him he only got as far as Inverness before his wife discovered his kit and arrangements were made for Gerry and Lorn to pick it up on their way through Pitlochry later.
The Forty-Five Friday club didn’t need the weather’s help to engage in their usual pre-weekend activities as they stopped to sample the beer in the Caledonian Hotel in Ullapool.
The spacious and bright conservatory proved an excellent gathering place as members congregated, cooked their suppers, quenched their thirsts and – with a little help from their friends – took on sufficient calories for the following day. Repartee and a few tunes whiled the hours away until everyone drifted off to bed.
Neil wasn’t able to make it up on the Friday night but an early start on Saturday morning saw him motor north to take on the area’s two Munros, Ben More Assynt and Conival from Inchnadamph. John and Alyn also had a traverse of these two hills on their agenda. A bit of map and compass work was required on Ben More’s rocky summit in order to locate its South Ridge. Here the quartzite they had been on up until this point quickly changed to gneiss. The rain had rendered the lichenous rock slippery as an eel. This combined with a westerly gale blowing gave the exposed wee scramble along this ridge some added bonus points.
While Alyn was at peace on the mountain, John was definitely without piece on the mountain as he had left his carefully prepared egg mayo rolls back in the hut. In times like these you find out who your real pals are, and Alyn generously passed his buddy a peanut butter sandwich to fuel the 20k trek. Lesson learned!
George and Susan were to continue their 3rd Munro round by heading back down the road to the Fannichs where the mountains of Sgurr nan Each, Sgurr nan Clach Geala and Meall a’ Chrasgaidh were waiting to be ticked off. They were joined on their quest by Duncan and Tina who also had these hills on their “to do” list. Despite the squally conditions and the lack of views, they reported an enjoyable day out with a “mission accomplished” rubber stamp on their return.
It appeared that Bill had been set a practical exercise as part of his Mountain Rescue training agenda – “Find three old codgers and guide them round a scrambly mountain ridge in a gale without losing any of them”. With this in mind he headed the short distance north with James, Norrie and Gerry in tow to traverse the three Corbett peaks of Quinag, a complex but superb mountain overlooking Loch Assynt. Just in case, Bill also brought along his German Pointer, Lia so that any stragglers could be sniffed out. Most parties traversing Quinag complete three Corbetts, but James, at least, managed a tally of four as, having been put temporarily in charge of navigation decided to lead the party back up Sail Garbh despite having ascended it an hour and a half earlier. His promotion was quickly rescinded.
Gerry was confused by the regular re-ascent of the cairned 745m point and ended up with six separate summit selfies! They finally manged to navigate themselves off the final Corbett and returned to the car before successfully navigating their way to the Altnacealgach Motel where the rehydration process was started.
If the area is great for hillwalkers, then it is equally enjoyable for cyclists with miles of single track road and superb coastal views. Jim and Raymond accompanied Paul on his electric bike for a tour of the area, heading out towards the Summer Isles which sit just off the Coigach peninsula. Time out was taken to celebrate Jim’s birthday. Unfortunately, they could not afford a whisky as old as him.
Lorn also took to two wheels as he set off for an extended cycle tour of Assynt, crossing paths with the others during the course of day. He put in a lot of miles as he drank in the panoramas opening up around him. When finally returning to the hut though he did find a novel way of cooling down his overheated engine parts.
Deb had been enjoying a day touring around the area with Ullapool’s main shopping centre having major appeal! An even greater attraction lay in wait following the drive round Assynt to Lochinver where the Lochinver Larder sits with an array of pies fit for a king, or a hungry hillwalker at least.
Norrie having seen his 2-day curry disappear in 5 minutes the previous evening managed to put on his finest puppy-dog face and blag one of Deb’s pies – plus all the trimmings. There was some mention of repayment amounting to a bottle of prosecco at the next meet but there is no evidence of a signed contract.
During the evening a birthday cake and a round of drams were produced in celebration of Jim’s birthday – unlike his early days, he was able to celebrate this one in colour.
Despite the poor weather during the day, in typical west coast fashion, a fine evening ensued with the sun setting in the west over Suilven proving a glorious backdrop. A competitive edge emerged as members tried to outdo each other with the best picture. Efforts ranged from a few swivelling their shoulders round on the armchairs to those (Raymond and Lorn) scaling the hill behind the hut to get the full panorama. There were quite a few excellent contenders but the gold medal (and this meet’s feature photo) goes to Lorn as a reward for his trek up the higher viewpoint.
Norrie, peeved by events elsewhere, snuck off for an early night leaving Gerry to pluck a few tunes in the lounge before he too retired.
A few members though stayed up well into the early hours. When Tina finally crawled into her bed she treated the others in her semi-sleep to what sounded like a robust exchange between an English-speaking laird and a Gaelic poacher before she finally drifted off.
With home a fair way off for everyone, nobody planned to stay in the area on Sunday and cars were packed and pointed South by mid-morning. Despite the weather it was once again an excellent meet and no doubt a return to this area will be on the cards at some time in future.