For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!
Assynt and neighbouring Coigach make up one of the most remarkable landscapes in the Scottish Highlands. The mountains are like something out of a fairy tale – although not particularly high, they rise up steeply, straight out of the surrounding moorland, and are like nothing else in the UK. Add an equally amazing coastline with cliffs, sea stacks and hidden sandy beaches and you have just found the perfect destination for hiking and mountain walking.
Stac Pollaidh is one of the iconic peaks of Assynt, which seems strange for such a small hill that only just scrapes in to be classed as a UK mountain, at a lowly altitude of 612 metres (2008 ft). Height isn’t the only criteria to become an iconic peak though – character counts for a lot, and Stac Pollaidh has character in buckets!
That character makes Stac Pollaidh one of the most recognisable and popular hills in the Highlands. There are two summits, connected by a rocky crest – the lower one (551 metres/1808 ft) on the eastern end of the ridge and easily accessible to hikers, with the higher 612 metre summit to the west and accessible only by a precarious scramble, making it one of the most inaccessible summits on the British mainland.
We first came here in May 2017 (see post #229) but missed out on the ‘iconic peak with buckets of character’ thing – the summit was clouded over, and we ended up having a walk round the mountain instead. It remained on the ‘to do’ list though, and we were back again in September 2021 – low cloud and mist swirled over and round the jagged crest, but we decided to give it a go.
The surrounding peaks were cloud-free as we set out from Loch Lurgainn, with the sky overcast but with occasional breaks, allowing the sun through. The route doesn’t waste any time in gaining height and before long we were passing under the east shoulder of Stac Pollaidh, with Cul Beag now behind us and Suilven coming into view.
The ‘normal’ approach to the East Summit takes a direct line up the steep hillside (shown in red on the map above). I had read that sections of this path were quite eroded, so we carried on heading round the hill until we reached another path that doubles back and traverses in at an easier angle (shown in blue). The diversion dropped us in nicely below the final rocks of the East Summit.
From below, the final rocky section to the top looked as though it might be ‘a bit interesting’ for Chris, who doesn’t like big drops, but once started, it was quite easy, and the summit soon popped into view. As Border Collie ‘Mist’ gets older, I often clip a leash into her hill-harness for safety when on potentially hazardous ground, but the Collie was more interested in checking out sandwich scrounging opportunities.
The summit was a good a place as any for a food and coffee break. On the descent to the gap in the ridge, we could see the other route heading for the West Summit, but this was probably going to be a bit too exciting for Chris and ‘Mist’, so we followed the traverse route back to the main path.
Back on familiar ground, we turned the corner round the western side of the mountain, before starting to lose height down to the car park. It always pays to stay alert, and on the skyline I could see a dot in the distance. It was a long way off, but I thought I could pick out antlers. It wasn’t until I downloaded the images later that I got a proper look – a young red deer stag.
We parked up near Knockan Crag on the A835, and as the evening came on, we had a great view of Stac Pollaidh through the gap between Cul Beag and the lower hill of An Laogh – once again, the zoom lens was put to good use, giving a close-up view of the East Summit of Stac Pollaidh. It had been four years since our aborted misty trip, but the return had been well worthwhile.