Suilven sits proudly in Assynt in the Northwest corner of the Scottish Highlands. It is set among some of the wildest and most remote mountain and coastal scenery in Scotland. However, despite its beautiful surroundings it still manages to steal the show. Suilven may only be 731 metres high but its character, prominence and beauty makes it as captivating and spectacular as any Munro in Scotland.
A birthday treat at Suilven
For my 35th birthday this year, we decided we wanted to summit this special mountain. We had admired Suilven from afar for a long time. Once you get into its range it dominates the surrounding landscape with its distinctive outline. From all directions Suilven looks an almost impossible climb and it’s difficult to fathom that it’s not a Munro. It is not until you get closer that you get a slightly different perspective of the mountain. When you gaze up from its base you can see that it is indeed climbable, if a little steep!
Here is the walk Highlands route for climbing Suilven
Once we had set our minds on climbing Suilven we needed to find some accommodation. The usual hostel option wasn’t going to cut it for my birthday so we booked to stay in Stoer Lighthouse for a long weekend! In addition to climbing Suilven, we wanted to spend time exploring Lochinver, Achmelvich, Clachtoll and Clashnessie.
Stoer lighthouse dates from the 18th century and the keepers house is now split into 2 x 2-bedroom apartments. They are both identical, but we opted for the top apartment to make the most of the truly stunning view across the North Atlantic towards Lewis. The sunsets were magical. The lighthouse was the perfect base for us and added to the excitement of our weekend. It was definitely a birthday to remember!
We set off early for Suilven after a night of birthday fun at Stoer. Stoer Lighthouse was about a 30 minute drive from the mighty Suilven. We arrived at 8am and parked at the small parking area before Glencanisp lodge. There isn’t much space here (maybe enough for up to 10 cars) but luckily, we arrived in enough time to get a space.
The Long Walk in
We walked along the road to Glencanisp Lodge which follows by Loch Druim Suardalain. When we got to the lodge, we noticed an honesty box and a sign up welcoming walkers. Parking here would knock a bit of time of your walk. The walk into the base of Suilven is very long and if we had known it was a possibility we would have chosen to park here. There is usually an honesty shop here too, but it wasn’t open when we were there.
The path across the dramatic Assynt landscape is long but well maintained and easy going. We passed a couple of lochans and after about 3km there was a path to the left that leads to the Suileag Bothy. Some walkers choose to stay here the night before climbing Suilven. Happy with our slightly more luxurious lodgings we continued on towards the base of the fantastic mountain that now rose before us ominously. One of the members of the group was fairly new to hiking and she began to doubt whether it would be possible for her to make it.
After a few more miles walking down the same path we came to a cairn indicating to take a side path to the right in order to reach the base of Suilven. A good path has been constructed in recent years. I’ve read that this part was once boggy which made for quite a slog but luckily the path makes it a lot easier now. At this point we were treated to a side view of Suilvens rocky ridge.
The path to the bealach is where the real ascent begins. The ascent up the side of Suilven is very steep and eroded. We lost our footing on a few occasions and I have to say there were more than a couple of breaks on the way up. Our group of 5 all walked at our own pace and came together at designated spots. As there was a range of fitness levels this worked well for us. The route gets a little more scrambly and steep as you approach the main ridge and the path narrows so you may have to wait for people coming down the mountain. To be fair we took any opportunity to rest! From the narrow ridge the views of Cul Mor, Stac Pollaidh and the mountains of Coigach are magnificent. Reaching the bealach felt in some ways more significant than the summit itself.
As you continue along the bealach you come to an old but impressive stone wall which runs across the middle of the mountain covering incredibly steep ground. You can’t help but wonder where it came from, who built it and what its purpose was. It must have been a very treacherous job to build as the mountain is so remote and the boulders on the wall are huge.
I later discovered that the wall has links back to the time of the potato famine in the Highlands in 1840. This was a very difficult time for people and many families were forced to emigrate due to famine and the treatment they received from landowners. The wall is thought to have been built in exchange for famine relief during this time.
The Final Scramble
The walk from the bealach up to Suilven’s summit involves a couples of minor scrambles but it is fairly straight forward for more experienced walkers. The most inexperienced member of our group struggled on this section due to the exposure and drops in some sections. However, with some gently cajoling and comradery they managed to make it to the top! And they were so happy that they did. The panoramic views are amazing in all directions and such is the distraction that we were at the cairn before we knew it!
Suilven truly is a wonderful mountain in every way. It’s iconic shape dominates the landscape for miles. Its ascent is steep and tricky. Its bealach narrow and dramatic. With views to die for!
We certainly were not disappointed after climbing Suilven, despite the fact that we had built it up for years. Next time you are visiting Lochinver or the surrounding area we highly recommend you give it a try! The climb can take between 7-10 hours, in part due to the long walk in. We recommend you set off early and give yourself plenty of time to enjoy this unique hike.
If you want a bigger challenge why not read about the day we climbed 7 munros here.
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