Ah, lunch-break is it? Nice one, forget reading the Metro. Get out your sarnies and put your feet up ‘cos it’s time for another Assynt blog!
This year’s Assynt Blog has not come easy. In a sense, that is in keeping with this year’s fishing holiday because we struggled to string together enough people to even have one this year. How times change!
The first annual fishing holiday was in 1997 and consisted of myself, Phil and a caravan in Moffat, a delightful town in Southern Scotland surrounded by big wholesome rolling hills and actually, not an awful lot of fishing. A couple of years later Phil’s brother Stu started coming with us after he had rediscovered the joys of fishing. These were happy, carefree days as you can see…
1997 through to 2003 were all Moffat holidays, then a break from tradition in 2004 saw us head over to Ireland to spend a week fishing Loch Sheelin. The weather was terrible and the fishing was even worse with a grand tally of one brown trout and 3 pike off Sheelin between us. Upon my return I discovered I had cancer. What a holiday! In 2005 Stu had the audacity to come up with the destination for our fishing holiday. To be fair, a week in the Lakes should have been good but it was during the school holidays and the place was heaving. By the time Stu was ready to set off from Leeds to meet us up in the Lakes we’d already abandoned the idea and driven up to Moffat because that’s what we wanted to do.
2006 we ventured further afield and spent a (mutually agreed) week in Glencoe which was a fantastic eye opener, we caught more fish in the first hour of the first day than we usually caught in an entire week in Moffat and the weather was glorious.
2007 we penetrated even deeper into Scotland to spend a week in Assynt and OH MY GOD we’d died and gone to heaven. 2008 saw a sojourn into Gairloch but 2008 saw us scurrying back to Assynt. As did 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012…
2010 to 2013 saw additional parties joining us on each holiday (Stevo and ‘Smithers’ ) which added a great new dynamic but by 2013 the cracks in the coallition were beginning to show. Phil got married then had a baby so he was out. Smithers couldn’t face another week of peering out of rain lashed windows or getting marched around the Highlands by Oberleutnant Count von Tittenstein. At least we picked up FNG mountain enthusiast Tom for 2013 but then this year Stevo left the unit with his folder boldly stamped LMF to take up watching ladies tennis.
So, 2014. Discussions between myself, Tom and Stu resulted in a repeat booking at our regular Lochinver holiday cottage although Tom and I had a bit of a hankering for the Torridons again. Problem is, the fishing isn’t so good around that area so Assynt won out in the end. Again! A bold plan was formed to depart Leeds at 6am, get to Glencoe for midday and do a hillwalk instead of just turning up at teatime, going straight into the Clachaig and getting pissed up. If you’ve ever read any of my blog posts before you’ll know that the idea of a 6am departure was laughably unlikely and indeed it came to pass we were late but did manage to get to Red Squirrel for 2pm which is impressive enough. We did still manage to shake things up as well by deciding to get our Fort William fix out of the way early rather than leaving it to Saturday morning. All outdoor shops were frequented but I bought nothing, a real turn up for the books. I have to say ‘Fort Bill’ felt a little more upbeat than my last visit and there are some new shops, bars etc so hopefully things are picking up.
Anyway, back into the normal routine and we were plotted up in the Clachaig by 6pm. Here’s the usual photo 🙂
A good night was had as usual and we got chatting to a slightly drunk- barefoot- fiercely- pro-independence-French-Canadian- hitchhiker. You know the type, I’m sure! I tried to speak fluent Canuck with him by saying ‘what’s it all aboot eh?” at the end of all my sentences but he didn’t seem to understand. Strange people, eh?
Saturday morning I woke up as people always wake up in tents, hungover and bursting for a piss but reluctant to crawl out of a toasty warm sleeping bag and out into the rain. However we had to crack on so it was shower, brew, wet tents packed away and then into the Glencoe Cafe for a slap up breakfast, before a steady drive up to Inverness. Another break from routine – we park up in Inverness city Centre and visit Graham’s of Inverness tackle shop! Not a bad place, bit of an all-round man cave really. I nipped over the road to use the public loo and was delighted to see ‘Heroin central’ scratched into the door.
Dingbat Dingwall Tesco for the big shop. I drop £50 on personal whisky (Talisker) and crisps (Monster Munch) in conjunction with £50 towards joint shop (Pot Noodles and beer). Actually, that’s gotta be the smallest bill ever! The excitement is mounting now, I have renewed vigour for Assynt as I can’t wait to see Tom’s face when he gets those first ever Inverpolly views.
As we drive up to Ledmore junction I can barely contain myself as the first glimpses of those iconic shapes open up through the cloud and drizzle but when I glance at Tom – he’s not impressed. Damn, the Torridons have spoiled him! I get a sinking feeling that he’s not going to ‘get’ this place.
At the Cottage I come second in the largely redundant straw-drawing then we unpack and round off the night with a few beers and a BBQ.
Relentless rain, a 2 breakfast day! A struggle to get motivated but myself and Stu manage to drag ourselves out of the cottage to go buy our weekly permits and then scoot up to the car park opposite Quinag. Full waterproofs are deployed and we squelch our way up to Bealach a’ Chornaidh which is normally a piece of p*ss to find but we almost get lost as the track peters out and we can’t see beyond our noses in the clag. Lochside, we tackle up and Stu’s mood blackens with the ever deteriorating weather. I remain surprisingly chipper and decide to fish the deeper water around the other side despite it entailing fishing into the wind and rain. Perseverance like this is rewarded dear reader!
Naturally, I was instead rewarded with f*ck all whilst Stu managed to connect with a few fish despite fishing the ‘easy’ side. A strange feeling I’m being watched from the buttresses of Quinag is finally explained when Tom appears out of the mist having basically clambered down a cliff face to say hello before ambling off again. I schlepp round to pick up Stu and we head back to the car and into Lochinver for a pint in the Caberfeidh. The mood is subdued back in the cottage as we begin to confront the prospect of a full week of rain.
Another 2 breakfast morning as rain stifles motivation. Tom wants to go do Ben Hope (the most Northerly Munro) and I almost go with him but I’ve already done it and also need to catch a Goddamn fish after yesterday’s debacle. A day’s fishing with Stu it is then…hmm, where shall we go? The Inchnadamph boat on Loch Awe is booked up for 2 weeks, my my this place has got busy, it never used to be like this! I know blogs like mine contribute a little to the increase in anglers visiting Assynt but seeing as they actively want more anglers up there and there are hundreds of lochs to go at I’ll sleep easy.Luckily we source a boat from the Inver Lodge albeit at £20. The Lodge looks lovely but at £215 a night for a double room I can’t see myself ever staying there!
When we get to Loch Awe it’s overcast and cool but not cold. This could go either way, although the lack of rising fish doesn’t fill us with enthusiasm. I put up a cast with a Green Peter on Point and Bob’s Bob fly on dropper which gets me a few offers but Stu gets the first fish. Then another. Grrr. Is this gonna be like yesterday?
Thankfully not as I finally connect with and land a nice brownie. The heat was now on, most drifts were productive and we were hitting good sized fish, bigger than normal for this loch with the largest around the pound mark. They appeared to be located in bands, feeding on Mayfly as we usually drifted with very little action for ages than encountered frantic activity followed by nothing again. Superb fun though and we had a few double hook ups. Just look at those fantastic markings, never fails to amaze me.
Has anyone written a definitive explanation for the variations in trout patterns? I have always assumed much of it is down to adapting to match the terrain they operate over but actually…how in God’s name does that happen?!
Towards the end of the session the wind dropped and fish began rising all around us. They were harder to catch under these conditions but when I pulled off a pearler of a cast and my size 18 winged olive dry was subsequently taken in a slow, laconic head and tail rise – I knew my day was rounded off perfectly.
We dropped the key off back at the hotel and treated ourselves to an outrageously expensive bottle of beer surrounded by German Porsche drivers who were staying here whilst on their Grand Tour of Scotland.
We return to the cottage to find Tom had managed to squeeze in Ben Hope and another mountain…which one Tom, I can’t remember?!
An important day, perhaps the fulcrum of the whole holiday. We’re off to Suilven because a) we love it b) Tom needs to climb it and c) we want to camp on that bad boy. I start assembling my pack for the mission and begin to question my decision to bring the Force 10 Assault tent. It’s a bomb-proof 4-season tent designed for base-camp Everest but it also happens to weigh just shy of 4 kilos. Lumped in with a sleeping bag, Thermarest, stove, gas, whiskey, food, fishing waistcoat & tackle, torch, batteries, jacket, fleece, gloves, spare clothes, DSLR, phone, gps, maps, compass, whistle, first aid kit, survival blanket, mug, cutlery, teddy bear and Hello Kitty onesie it all starts to weigh a metric shit-ton.
I knock up some ham and mustard sarnies (again, I’ve made sarnies every day it seems) then head into Lochinver to buy some more shit. I’ve forgotten my hip-flask so have to buy some kind of ethical vegetarian life-bottle to use as a suitable replacement.Whilst on the highstreet I see one of these (see pic), first time since I was about 10. “I am right Tom aren’t I? This is a slow worm..not an adder?” I questioned as I gingerly picked it up to cart it off to the nearest patch of woodland away from the road.”I know it’s a slow worm and yet..there’s a nagging doubt..” Thankfully my lizard / snake spotting skills were accurate.
We pull up at the car park on the road to Glen Canisp Lodge and un-ass ourselves into glorious sunshine. Can you beat a warm sunny day in the Highlands? No, of course you can’t you idiot. A clear, clean heat, the smell of heather and grass. Stillness with just occasional sounds of a skylark up above you or bees down in the flowers and a tumbling burn in the background to sew it all together. Set against this gentle symphony of nature we have the spectacular image of Tom dressed up as some kind of 3rd rate transformer whilst Sula Bheinn looms menacingly behind.
The clegs are out and I get bitten whilst taking this photo and Stu picks up a tick after 5 minutes – something always has to come along and spoil the idyll! We set off at a good pace and soon catch up and overtake a couple of young lads out walking. We say hello but eye them with suspicion – could they also be planning to camp on Suilven? Nah, they only have medium sized packs and no sign of tents thankfully. Spectacularly selfish of us but we want the mountain to ourselves tonight! In fact there’s a lot of people out doing the walk to Suilven today but this is the popular route – we normally come from t’other side via Fionn. It’s a fantastic walk which I’m sure many of you are familiar with by now. It takes you past the ‘Glen Loch’ which makes for a great foreground
then roughly follows a river punctuated with numerous lochans with Suilven always there, dominating the views until Canisp really starts to get in on the action.
At a footbridge you turn away from this river and head over Glencanisp forest towards your target but the only trees you’ll see are hundreds, maybe thousands of years old petrified specimens in the peat.
After a couple of hours we’re brewing up lochside ‘somewhere in the vicinity of Suilven’ and crack on with a bit of fishing. It’s not long before Stu’s into a fish, as evidenced below!
I eventually get casting and also manage a few fish, 2 came to a hybrid Loch Ordie/Bob’s Bob fly and one was on a Dunkeld (bright day bright fly!). As always they are impeccably marked.
Stage 1 is over! We’ve caught some fish, time’s knocking on and we need to get up that hill with all our shit. Tackle is packed away and we’re off to begin the steep pull up to the col…notch..bealach..saddle..whatever.
It’s a hard slog getting up there with a full warload but it felt good to finally get up onto the saddle and now, everytime I get there I think of that poem by Norman MacCaig
I nod and nod to my own shadow and thrust
A mountain down and down.
Between my feet a loch shines in the brown,
It’s silver paper crinkled and edged with rust.
My lungs say No;
But down and down this treadmill hill must go.
Parishes dwindle. But my parish is
This stone, that tuft, this stone
And the cramped quarters of my flesh and bone.
I claw that tall horizon down to this;
My shadow jumps huge miles away from me.
I suggest we go visit the Meall Meadhonach end instead of the usual rush to Caisteal Leath which also means Tom gets the full impact of Suilven. It’s an easy walk up the first pinnacle, a straightforward scramble up the second but when we got a proper look at the final summit it became clear the rumours are true, there is a bit of a ‘bad step’ to negotiate which we decided to leave for another time.
Time to pitch our tents! We head back over to the true summit but as we crest onto the plateau a shocking sight awaits us – the 2 guys we saw earlier are also camping on Suilven! I feel a momentary blip of outrage then quickly recover my senses and head over to say hello. They turn out to be 2 thoroughly decent sorts, up here for the photography, one is half-Italian half Scottish and the other is Spanish. It actually adds a kind of ‘event’ feeling to the evening as we all run around going crazy taking photos of the sun setting over the sea.
We had hoped to sit around drinking whiskey, shooting the shit and truly savouring our mountain-top campsite but despite it being midsummer and the tail end of a hot day it was absolutely baltic at 731 metres above sea-level. Instead we were fully togged up in all our clothing, every last bit, whilst yamming down our Lochinver pies before scurrying off into our tents. What a memorable view though! Stu managed to get a great shot of me and Tom which we have chosen to use as the front cover of our next concept album <provisionally titled Distant Callings of a Distant Eagle From Far Away in the Far Distance>
I hunkered down inside my tent listening to something on a guy line fluttering against the flysheet in the wind. It was mildly infuriating and stopped me from getting off to sleep but not enough to prize me out of my cosy warm sleeping bag. Consequently, when my alarm went off at about 4:20 I felt somewhat tired but it was worth it to open my tent door and just catch the sun coming up behind Quinag.
I stumbled out into the freezing cold and began shooting whilst still half asleep, the scene was inspirational but I simply couldn’t capture what was going on around me. Still, you get the idea.
Not quite the cloud inversion I was hoping to witness but still a splendid vista
We packed away the tents early in an effort to tidy up the top of Suilven then knocked up a quick brew to wake us up. I filmed the ritual tea-break, bizarrely.
The adventure wasn’t over yet though! Firstly, we had the strenuous task of getting back down off the mountain which is hard on the knees with all that crap on your back. Once at the bottom we decided to push on to investigate Suilag bothy as it sounded like a great place to have another brew and more importantly something to eat! Upon arriving at the bothy it became clear our (my?) plan was a shit hot plan all things considered.
The weather was glorious by now and the bone chilling cold from the night before was well and truly vanquished as we plotted up outside and cooked up some anemic, sweated bacon in impact-hardened stale baps and made 3 cups of tea out of our one remaining emergency tea-bag.
There we sat, soaking up the sun, eating a breakfast that defied it’s humble origins looking out onto a perfectly framed picture of last night’s campsite.
The scene was then <unbelievably!> topped off by a perfectly timed and positioned Tornado GR4 flypast at low level especially for us! It doesn’t get much better than this. The walk back to the car was as long as ever but our reward was waiting in the Caberfeidh in the shape of a well earned pint followed by an extended period of relaxation back at the ranch, soaking up the magnificent sun.
Wednesday evening was a rather different affair to Tuesday evening. We scoured away the grime from our mountain madness, slipped into our best frocks and drove up to the Kylesku hotel (helicopters can land outside the hotel with prior arrangement, in case you were wondering) for a slap up meal – my fish and chips were absolutely bang on. A couple of beers then back home, whiskey, bed, out like a light.
Well what a surprise, I make the sandwiches again. I also make us a round of bacon and egg bastards as well. I’m increasingly taking on the role of responsible adult here, a kind of ersatz Phil <see Assynt blogs 2009 through to 2012 if you don’t know who Phil is>. What is the world coming to? Anyway, today’s plan. Stu is off to fish Beinne Reidhe (a lonely hill loch that me and Phil fished on a non fishing holiday) whilst myself and Tom are off to do Ben More Assynt and Conival
The weather is glorious again! But no relaxation here, we’re off at Tom’s pace as we set from Inchnadamph car park and follow the River Traligill along a beautiful gorge before a steep pull up the side of the Alt a Choinne Mhill onto a bit of a saddle.
From here it’s pretty much rock-tastic all the way up onto the summit of Conival which is at 987 metres. The views from this first peak are stunning.
We left Conival to traverse the very aesthetically appealing ridge that links it to Ben Mor Assynt.
Prior to coming away I’d been reading a Walk Highlands trip report of a day out on An Teallach (I’d been mulling over a return visit to do the pinnacles) and was rather jealous of some fossilised ferns they’d discovered. Well, lucky me, I managed to find some up on this ridge!
In the photo below we’re on the ridge looking North over to Na Tuadhan which is part of the Ben More Thrust (another example of a thrust can be found up at Kylesku) which you can clearly see slanting up the rock face,
The summit of Ben More Assynt itself is another mess of smashed up rock which maybe sounds like I don’t like that sort of thing but this is not so! Mountains should have angry summits like this, inhospitable, barren, bleak. I think it’s Conival you usually see from the road, but it has that same distinctive quartzite icing as Ben More Assynt and really stands out among the rest of Assynt’s dark gneissy Krakens.
After a spot of lunch (and the upsetting realisation you can see a wind farm from here…even here, one of the most remote places in Scotland 🙁 ) we checked the map and decided to extend our walk and go visit an aircraft crash site. The wreckage in question belongs to an Avro Anson ( N9857) which crashed just North of Beinn an Fhurain on a shockingly bad day in April 1941. An account of what happened can be found here. This is the same site that Count Johan von Tittenstein and the Mincing Millionaire stumbled upon by accident on a hill loch mission a few years ago. Tom suggested a more direct ‘short cut’ that slewed diagonally down the side of the jagged, awkward, steep scree covered ridge and I foolishly agreed. Lithe young Tom floated daintily across the quartzite whilst I blundered, stumbled and skidded my way across on a tide of expletives. I’ve indicated the route we took more as a ‘I wouldn’t if I were you’ than a recommendation.
We passed the long, thin loch pictured earlier which looks like a swimming pool in a quarry, strange place – I wonder if it has any fish in it – then descended down to what is marked on the map as Imir Fada.
The shallow ‘valley’ where the wreckage and crew remain felt like (on the day we were there) a very peaceful place. Some substantial parts of the Anson remain including engines and undercarriage.
After having a good look around, and a read of the memorial, we continued on past Loch nan Cuaran and picked up the stalker’s path that leads all the way back down to Inchnadamph. Whilst on said path I managed to spot what I think is a common newt.
Back at the ranch we got a debrief off Stu who’d had a torrid time fording the River Loanan then struggling up to Beinn Reidh over relentless broke dick dog terrain, only to be rewarded with a blank. Pretty much an identical experience to when myself and Phil went up. Like most nights in the cottage we rounded off with a hearty meal of Bombay Bad Boy, Tunnocks and whiskey.
Tom’s still fired up for big hills and heads off to do Stac Pollaidh and Quinag whilst me and Stu decide to finish off the week with a day on that Assynt classic, Sionascaig. I revolt and decide I’m making no more sandwiches so we swing buy the Panini wagon in Lochinver then onto the Inverpolly estate for permits and fuel tank.
If you’ve never fished Sionascaig then I suggest you do it because it really gets you in amongst the hills of Assynt. Suilven, Cul Mor, Cul Beag, Stac Pollaidh are all laid out before you whilst you ‘loch style’ your way down past various little islands hopefully finding bands of fish.
Our initial drifts weren’t productive, not helped by an uncooperative drogue and diminishing temperatures. Eventually we did hit some fish which, as is almost always the case with wild browns, were found not far off the bank.
I’ve never had a red letter day on this loch but it doesn’t matter when you’ve got such magnificent scenery to distract you – this is a great view of Stac Polly.
We had a few fish each, enough to make the day a successful close to the week’s angling. When we reconvene at our cottage we plan not a wild night of debauchery but a quiet meal at newly opened ‘Peet’s Restaurant’ in Lochinver to see out our week. This is what happens when creeping middle age sets in! Mighty fine meal though 🙂
The holiday wasn’t quite over, there still remained the drive back down to Red Squirrel campsite in Glencoe and another night in the Clachaig. As always Saturday morning is a frantic couple of hours loading up the cars and cleaning the cottage followed by the slightly shell shocked ‘how on earth has a week gone?’ feeling coupled with a slight achy sadness to be leaving Assynt. As much as we tried to avoid it happening, the bolt-on Glencoe ending just feels like we’re going through the motions.Gone is the feverish excitement to be felt at the start of a week away, replaced instead with the thought of Monday morning back at work, another long drive and the realities of Leeds compared to North West Highlands.
So I’m back at my desk, dreaming of Assynt, and fly fishing remote hill lochs, getting pissed up in the Clachaig etc. It makes me wonder – I don’t get what the fuck is wrong with the world. It..we…are slip-sliding inexorably into a black hole from which we may never truly recover, all down to hate filled human beings. We anglers, hill walkers, climbers, whatever – outdoorsy sorts – we have it right. We work to live and support ourselves and make a happy life for ourselves and/or family then spend our spare time and effort either dreaming of our hobbies or doing our hobbies. For us this is beautiful landscapes, hills, trees, mountains, rivers, lakes, stars, fresh air, wild animals, whiskey, banter, whatever. These are good things, things you should aspire to, share with others or just fill your own life with it. Why isn’t everyone like this? Absolute fucking madness!