#322 – An Old Man and a Big Hill for the Fairies (The Old Man of Stoer and Sithean Mor)

The Old Man of Stoer, all 60 metres (197 ft) of it ….
….and the small, flat summit of Sithean Mor, all 161 metres (528 ft) of it!

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

The North West Highlands of Scotland (Stoer at the red flag just above centre)

May 2022 was our second visit to Stoer in Assynt, featuring the famous sea stack known as the ‘Old Man of Stoer’.  The first visit had been in September 2020, after the first Covid-19 lockdown had been lifted.   Very soon afterwards, a new lockdown was introduced back home in North Wales, with movement being confined to the county of residence.  In Scotland, however, there were no restrictions, so we stayed up there for over five weeks before worsening October weather finally drove us back south.

North Assynt, with the route on the far left (red flag)

The weather at Stoer on the couple of days of our first visit in 2020 had been a bit ‘gnarly’ – the photo of the Old Man of Stoer at the top of this post gives an idea of the conditions, and it was one of our few bad weather days on the trip – the location where that photo was taken was as far as we got before baling out and giving it up as a bad job.

Closer view of the route

A return visit had always been on the cards, and May 2022 saw us back at the car park for the Stoer Head lighthouse, which was also the start point for the walk.  The route was modest enough at 6.4 kms (4 miles) with no lofty heights to climb, so it would also be easy on Border Collie ‘Mist’ who was still enjoying her walks at the grand old age of 14.  The problem was, somebody had turned the wind machine on full!

Starting out from Stoer Head lighthouse
Looking back to the lighthouse
Looking north along the coast

It had been lashing down with rain all night, and it was still blowing a hoolie the next morning.  In fact, it was so windy that I nearly wimped out, but my missus wanted to stretch her legs, as did ‘Mist’, so I was out-voted.   Sure enough, the rain had already ceased and the wind was starting to drop, so I couldn’t really justify my lack of enthusiasm.

The crossing of the steep little gully © W Robison
The Old Man comes into view, seen from the path above the cliffs
The Old Man, as seen two years earlier in grimmer weather

The walk along the cliff top towards Stoer Point and the Old Man is interesting enough, especially if you like sea views – there’s lots of sea hereabouts! The main feature of note on the landward side was a steep little gully that lay directly across our path, diverting us inland for a short distance to a set of steps. Once beyond the gully it wasn’t long before the Old Man came into view – this time the weather was encouraging enough to continue towards the sea stack.

Looking down to the Old man ….
…. and an even closer view
Rock climbers on the summit of the Old Man © Julien Paren

Sea stacks are formed by erosion, when a cliff forms a rock natural arch which eventually collapses, leaving a column of rock.  The Old Man is made of Torridon Sandstone and has been eroded by weather over a long period of time.  It may be that one day it will collapse into the sea, but in the meantime, it makes a good focal point for hikers to visit, together with six rock climbs (ranging from VS 5a to E4 6a for those who like to know these things).  Getting on and off the climbs is far from simple, and involves either a swim or a rope manoeuvre known as a Tyrolean Traverse.

Having finished with the Old Man. It’s on to Sithean Mor (the Big Fairy Hill)
Approaching the summit
At last – the top!
The mountains of Assynt lurking under the clouds
The Assynt mountains seen on a better day © Lise Jarvis

Neither dog nor humans showed any inclination to climb to the top of the stack, so we turned inland for the highest bit of ground for miles – Sithean Mor (pronounced ‘sheen more’) which tops out at 161 metres (528 ft).  Sithean Mor translates as ‘The Big Fairy Hill’ but there were no fairies in evidence on this trip – perhaps fairies don’t like bad weather either.  In the distance, we could see the mountains of Assynt under cloud cover, but we had a few miles to travel that day so we made our soggy way back to the van – it was time to head for home.

It’s time to make our soggy way home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock, except the images where indicated otherwise, which are taken from the Geograph Project and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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3 Responses to #322 – An Old Man and a Big Hill for the Fairies (The Old Man of Stoer and Sithean Mor)

  1. Although VS is a tad too hard for me, I have to say the finish looks very easy indeed (just under the climbers)! I’m really amazed that, after we spent a week up at Durness a few years ago, we never got out to see that stack or lighthouse. I wonder why we missed it?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha – the top looks OK but you wanna see the bottom bit. Or perhaps not 🙂

      The fairy hill was OK but surrounded by bog. Still, it got us out in the fresh air for a while.


      • I’ve read about it in Tom Patey’s book (your blog’s namesake!) The fulmars sound most offputting spewing foul stuff all over both yourself and the holds!


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