It could be argued that my trip to Assynt this year began on the toilet. It sounded like I was emptying buckets of water down the khazi but the reality was that me and the rest of our household were struck down with norovirus or something equally nasty and I was spewing my guts up and defecating through the eye of the proverbial needle. As I sat there, quite literally in a shit state I realised my plan to drive 8 hours up to Gairloch later that week and do some wild camping and fishing was well and truly fucked. I’d booked my base campsite months earlier to ensure I had a civilised bracket to my night or 2 out in the hills. I initially rang them up to nudge the dates back a few days but as I got nearer a perfect storm of the D&V at home and Covid problems at work meant I just couldn’t justify leaving all my responsibilities behind so I cancelled entirely. It was however a few days before I could face putting the rucksack back in the loft and the Wester Ross maps back in the box.
Fast forward a few weeks and I have another green card and a fresh plan! It revolves around My Favourite Mountain in Assynt. If you’ve read my previous Assynt posts you’ll know which one it is. In fact if you have even a cursory knowledge of Assynt you’ll know where I was headed so I’ll just omit the name to spare it the attention of the riff raff via Google searches, it will be our little secret. From here on in I will refer to the mountain as MFM. I would drive up to Lochinver, doss in a B&B and then walk out from there to fish the lochs around MFM and wild camp 1, maybe 2 nights then come home. Everything was dragged back out of the loft, technical clothes washed, flies tied, it was (and I’ve riffed on this before) like that bit in Excalibur when Arthur gets his Mojo back. Guards! Knights! Squires!
On the morning of my departure the B&B owner messages me to advise the drains are blocked and she’s cancelling all bookings but I can still come. I’m slightly confused, and concerned what may await me but press on regardless. The drive up is a dream with almost no traffic – 9 hours from Leeds to Lochinver including 3 stops. I even made it past Ilkley without needing a piss! I don’t mind long solo drives, they are a good opportunity to clear the brain by concentrating only on driving and whatever is blasting out of the speakers. The nearer I get to Assynt the more I run through a complex set of emotions that culminate in a worry that maybe it’s lost some of it’s appeal to me, maybe some of the magic has worn off and then POW RIGHT IN THE KISSER there they are. Stac Polly, Canisp, Suilven, Quinaig et al. Today, as is often the case they are wrapped in clouds and only revealed in subdued glimpses of dark, dulled rock but it’s still there, I’m still getting the fizz in the bottom of my stomach as I head towards Lochinver hunched forward over the steering wheel to get a better view of my old friends. That fizz we first got in 2007 when we drove into the ‘Geopark’ in my old Mondeo after the longest drive any of us had done and started seeing the Inverpolly greats, the dark and slightly sinister shapes of Suilven and co. contrasting with the quartz tops of Conival and Ben Mor Assynt. It was like driving into Lord of the Rings meets Valley of the Gwangi. None of us knew such scenery could be found in Britain!
Anyway, back to the present day. I checked into my B&B then went on the hunt for scran, the only place open for food at about 7:30pm was the fish and chip van at Achmelvich campsite because, as noted on one of the reviews for my B&B on Booking.com, “Lochinver is a dead place. There is nothing happening here. If you do the NC500 avoid at all costs“. Good riddance you fools! Alas the chippy could not take anymore orders so I headed back to my digs to break out the emergency Beans & Sausages. On my way back I grabbed some pics as the sun had come out to play. I could write reams about these mountains, just look at them. I practically worship them, so one would think that early man must surely have assigned some sort of spiritual meaning to them. Did they climb them whilst wrapped in a bearskin rug, dragging their life partner behind them? Am I getting carried away? I fear I am.
I head over to the chandlery to get my South Zone permit then into the cafe for a slap up Scottish breakfast. I peer out at the low cloud base and mizzle and accept this isn’t going to be one of those missions where I get to stare at MFM on my way in. Bit of a blow but never mind. Onwards and upwards…to the pie shop! I load up with a steak and ale pie to leave in the B&B for my return and a chicken curry pie for my mission, along with a rhubarb and strawberry for dessert. By the time I set off on foot from Lochinver, my pack once again weighs around 40lbs with all the food and drink but my Fjallraven Kajka 65 can take it. It’s a weighty beast – someone put a post on a Facebook wild camping group bragging abut how little their fully loaded pack weighed as they were about to set off and it was not far off the unloaded weight of mine. Wankers.
I could probably describe the walk to MFM in more detail than the daily walk I make to take my son to nursery but to be fair the latter doesn’t feature some of the oldest rocks on the planet. Nor does it have ancient preserved tree remains, heather, bog myrtle, deer, orchids or giant hairy caterpillars!
It’s not called the long walk for nothing mind, and with my heavy pack I was knackered by the time I got to the loch which was to be my basecamp feature. First things first, brew on and some scran. On my walk in I’d passed several early risers heading back into Lochinver after summitting the mountain. I could have ctrl+c/ctrl+v the same 2 sentences all day long in reply to the same question.
Me to them “Get any views? Haha”
Them to me “Hahaha. Not a thing. Haha. You going up?”
Me to them “Nah, don’t think so, been up about 5 times before. No point going up again when there’s no views. Haha. Enjoy the rest of your day”
I leant against a slab of rock whilst savouring my brew and eyed up my favourite mountain, or rather, imagined it as I remembered it because it was completely socked in. Yup, no point going tonight, complete waste of time.
I tackled up my trusty Wychwood Quest 4 piece #6 with a Black Pennell on point and a Bob’s Bob fly on the dropper and began working my way around the diminutive but tantalising loch. The water is clear and you can see it shelve off quickly which always instils the feeling there are monster fish lurking in there even though I’m 99% sure there’s nothing bigger than a pound in this loch! It took a longer than usual time before I connected with my first fish of the day and when it did arrive (via a number of lost fish) I noticed straight away it didn’t have the distinctive markings I was expecting to see on a trout from this loch. As always though, just a stunning creation.
It was half an hour before I got a fish that had been created using the usual template. My God those markings! It looks like it belongs on Corrib or something. Shame about the mark on its head though, wonder if that was caused by an angler?
There followed some good sport with a lot of fish hooked and enough landed to call the session a success although even just one would have been enough. Probably. I did contemplate heading out to another loch that had a reputation for larger specimens but it struck me I didn’t have a net with me which sounded like a sure fire recipe for disaster.
I retired for another brew (3 in one cappuccinos are a camping Godsend) and gazed upon My Favourite Mountain and as the clouds began to lift to give me that full broadside of Torridonian sandstone goodness I realised the summit sirens’ call has seduced me once more. Ah shit, it’s got to be done. The fizz had got me, despite having already been up at least 5 times I got all giddy and quickly put together a few things to take up. The lid of my Fjallraven rucksack can be detached and worn as a waist pack, I fucking love my gadgets! Loch to summit cairn should be around 45 minutes and using my ‘expert’ weather eye I reckoned I had a sufficient window to get up and along to the summit before the clouds drifted in from the sea. As I began the climb the views looked promising and the giddiness increased.
Approximately 25 minutes later as I crested the bealach the clouds rolled in solid and turned the walk away from being some kind of Instagram mountain money shot to a “well it’s just nice to get some exercise” type thing.
Doesn’t matter how many times I do a solo, it still gets the butterflies going a bit when you’re in the middle of nowhere, on a mountain and visibility drops to nowt. I made my way along the ridge line, through the daft dry stone wall and semi-scrambled up the lower battlements of the ‘castle’ before once more reaching the summit of this incredible mountain. I could see the summit cairn and that was about it!
Quick couple of phone calls, bang down some trusty Lucozade Orange then head back down again. Definitely closed the rings on my Apple watch today. Maybe in the past I would have almost balked at the idea of being able to get phone signal up on a mountain out in the wilderness, that it was somehow not roughing it enough. Significant responsibilities mean it’s a welcome relief to the ability to get in touch with civilisation when needed.
Back down lochside, I deemed it late enough to pitch my tent so as to avoid the critical eye of Wild Camping Nazis who will berate you on the Internet for putting your tent up too early and creating an eyesore. To be fair, no one was gonna see my tent unless they tripped over the bastard thing in this clag. Anyway tent up, another brew down and time to have a few more chucks before starting the evening routine.
The morning was just as dreich as the previous day but such is life. After breakfast I had another session on the loch with more beautiful Assynt brownies coming to say hello and earn their place in my blog before ‘breaking camp’ as the more authentic types tend to say. I fished the adjacent loch on my way out which seemed to be rammed with small but deranged trout before regaining the path which took me back down to the main stalkers path.
I made my way down this path until the turn off for the famous bothy which was the perfect location for lunch. Today’s menu was super-noodles followed by crisps and smashed Lochinver Rhubarb pie for dessert, washed down with a Kenco 3 in 1 and some Lucozade.
The myriad visitors have left their mark, quite literally all over the walls but to be fair it was fairly good natured graffiti on the whole, with no sexual diagrams or ‘be here at 2pm for a good seeing to’ to be found. Lord knows I looked long enough.
The time came for the penultimate stage of my journey which was to walk a mile out behind the bothy to visit some lochs which I’ve been meaning to fish for years. Upon reaching them I wasn’t exactly instilled with confidence they would be home to anything other than very small fish. In fact I bypassed the first 2 and went straight to the furthest away because we all know the furthest away fishes best, in just the same way you’ll definitely catch a bigger fish if you cast just that little bit further.
There was much tussocky goodness around here which made tramping around the loch harder than expected. As suspected, the several fish I caught were straight outta tiddler town but as always a very welcome sight
Civilisation was already beckoning so I made my last cast and went to put the rod away only to discover that 2 sections were absolutely welded together and would not come apart for love nor money. They are still sat in the hallway at home thusly, I tried every method you can imagine to no avail so in the end had to part with some hard-earned for replacement sections.
The walk back to Lochinver doesn’t get any easier, especially with the mother of all packs on your back but when I got back the relief of slumping on my B&B bed with a tea and the emergency pie I’d left in the fridge was blissful. It’s odd to think you’ve just recharged your batteries by tiring yourself out. It’s even odder to perform a 900 mile round trip to do it, in dubious weather, and with the knowledge you will almost certainly catch fish no bigger than half a pound or so. Cannot wait to do it again!