Ever since I completed my three day ramble up the Unapool Burn, I’ve been conscious that I thoroughly enjoyed the journey and wanted another one. I’ve never been one to do long distance footpaths, and it’s maybe because it’s someone else’s idea and I imagine I’d feel like a spectator rather than a participant. Or maybe that’s just nonsense. Anyhow, I’m lucky enough to live in Assynt these days, a place of opportunity if you want to be outside. And I do.
Quinag is one of my favourite mountains, and it’s one of the closest. It has a three-armed summit ridge, and very different landscape on each side.
On the top, it is, in fact, the top of the world! Don’t take my word for it.
Of course, most of the mountains of Assynt and Coigach feel like that, because they’re separate entities, all with astounding views.
I understand they’re called “nunataks”, as they’re the bits of the Earth that were left sticking out of the glacier when it gouged the land surface about two thousand feet lower to where my house is.
And they’re mostly sandstone. That’s a lot of sand that got turned to stone. And where’s the stuff that’s missing? The space between the mountains? It can’t all be on Clashnessie beach.
So I want to get to know Quinag a bit better, and do another “photo-essay”, and I’m looking at a map.
I could walk around it; all the way around it. Not in one go, but in a few day trips. Yes, that would float my boat.
I’m wondering how to put a little order in my disorganised head, and I realise that there is only one rocky crag that seems to block the way for a walk along the 1000 foot contour, about 305 metres in new money. I know that this could go wrong; there might be other obstacles I haven’t noticed, but I also know that I’m highly likely to wander off track too. Easily distracted, perhaps. It doesn’t help that I’m not actually bothered about the numbers either, artificial concepts that they are. Quinag doesn’t know how tall it is, and neither do the ptarmigans that creep around in the rocks up there.
16th July 2018. Here we go. As soon as I get out the van and start walking, then I know I’m committed to do it. I take my GPS machine with me and head up to the 305 metre level.
Today, I’ve decided to start with a walk along the western flank of Sail Ghorm, setting out from the road near to Ardvar. I’ve chosen this section as there aren’t too many water features; we’ve had so little rain this summer that the burns, lochs and falls are (in my opinion) not at their best right now. The start of the walk up to the shoulder is one I’ve done before, climbing up onto Sail Ghorm from the end.
One thousand feet sounds quite high; it’s a big number! However, here it’s not anywhere near the main stone crags, it’s quite a lush grassy terrace. I use the word “terrace” loosely…..
The weather’s a bit mixed; a few miles away, Nedd and Drumbeg seem to be in constant sunshine, but it’s very overcast as I arrive at “305”, and remains partly cloudy all day with big dollops of grey skies coming fro Suilven direction. But it doesn’t rain, and there is patchy sunshine too. I stop for coffee, and later for lunch, not because I’m hungry, but to wait on weather.
I stick to “305” as best I can, until the inevitable. I’m gazing up at an amazingly awesome pair of gullies that run vertically to the summit ridge, and realise that the right hand one has a grassy tongue reaching right into it. About twenty minutes later and I’m at 475 metres; whoops. The sun is burning through the clouds; I touch the rocks and take some pictures. Turning around, the heather that I clambered through for the last few yards becomes awfully slippy, so I sit down and slide down on my backside before I fall over.
Approaching the narrowest part of the Glen Leraig path, I recognise a crag I’d walked to from the opposite side, and decide that this is a good place to turn around. Before I do, I visit a couple of scars caused by water ripping open the surface of the planet, presumably after heavy rain up above. The first one looks quite recent and appears bare until I get there and find plants have colonised it pretty well. The second looks like a giant green zip fastener.
Dropping down to the footpath, I take the easy option until I get level with Loch an Leothaid, where I turn right up the hill to get back to my van. Incredibly, there is a bit of a path up here too, and I’m guessing that it was “constructed” years ago, and might have been an important route. Higher up, the path disappears, and I finish as I started across the rough peaty grassland.
There we go; another grand day out, and a project launched. Not only have I used the GPS today, but I’ve also recorded my thoughts periodically on my phone’s voice recorder, in case I forget to concentrate. Now I’ve written this and realise I haven’t listened to them anyway.