Wednesday 27 September 2017

A Visit to Assynt with the John Muir Trust and an ascent of Cul Mor

Sail Gharbh, Quinag

Every September the trustees and staff of the John Muir Trust have a meeting close to one of the Trust’s estates so we can meet local staff and local people and see what’s happening on Trust land. There's also more time to talk to other trustees and staff members than at most meetings. This year the meeting was at Inchnadamph in Assynt next to the Quinag estate.

The weekend forecast was for mixed weather. There was some beautiful sunshine on Saturday morning – timed to coincide with our formal indoor meeting. Trying to ignore the sunshine and the wonderful view (I deliberately sat with my back to it to avoid distraction) we discussed many topics and made some potentially significant decisions. 

On the Quinag estate, Loch Cairnbawn in the distance

The meeting was positive but I think we were all relieved to get out into the now fading sunshine for a windy walk on the northern part of the Quinag estate above Loch Cairnbawn with Property Manager Don O’Driscoll. Here we looked at the slowly regenerating forest with too many of the tiny birches pushing through the heather heavily browsed by deer. From a small knoll we stared down to the loch where the white arrows of gannets flashed over the wind-driven waves and two kayakers struggled to make headway against the gale. To the south the huge prow of Sail Gharbh, one of Quinag’s three summits rose above a denser part of the Ardvar woodlands and I thought back to my splendid walk and camp on the mountain two years earlier. 

Hillside discussion
The following day dawned windy and cloudy. Determined to climb a hill while here I decided on Cul Mor as it doesn’t require a long walk-in and it didn’t look like a day I’d want to spend too many hours out. After an early lunch or perhaps more correctly second breakfast of a tasty cheese toastie and mug of coffee in The Elphin Tearooms I headed up the hill. The wind had dropped now, making for a sweaty ascent as the air was humid and warm. Soon I was in wet cloud, a familiar place this month, having experienced the same conditions in Coire na Ciste and on Braeriach, Beinn a’Chaorainn and Beinn Teallach. I don’t need this much navigation practice! 

A brief view on Cul Mor

In the hidden corries below the rocky slopes of the hill stags were bellowing and grunting. The land was brown and yellow and faded red. Autumn was here. From the descent I had one sight of the summit before the clouds closed in again.

My one view of Cul Mor

There was no real rain but the air was so wet I was drenched by the time I was back at the car. A drive to Ullapool, a quick change into dry clothing, and I was at The Ceilidh Place for a reviving meal. Then came the drive home and with it the rain, torrential rain with much surface water and spray. An unpleasant drive but as always I wondered why I didn’t visit the North-West more often. I’ll be back soon I promised myself.

Cul Beag from the start of the ascent of Cul Mor


  1. If my appetite needed whetting Chris, that did it! Looking forward to a week based in Kylesku in mid-October. Maybe see you up there 😊

  2. Climbed Cul Mor last Saturday and managed to summit before the clouds came down. Truly stunning views and equally stunning cake and tea and the Elphin Tearooms afterwards.