Suilven is one of Scotland’s most recognisable mountains and especially the north west summit Caisteal Liath (Grey Castle). There are two other summits: Meall Meadhonach (Middle Round Hill) and Meal Beag (Little Round Hill). Formed of Torridonian sandstone sitting on the landscape of Lewisian Gneiss, this mountain should be on any serious fell walkers bucket list.
The most common route of ascent starts from the end of a public road that leads to Glencanisp Lodge which was bought by the local community with the help of the John Muir Trust under the name of the Assynt Foundation.
This route starts from Glencanisp Lodge and is in total a 20k round trip which can take the best part of the day. I managed to do this route in just over five hours and never hung around for too long given the severe wind at the summit. Some people cycle part of the way before dumping the bike and walking the rest of the way, but for purists the walk is the favoured choice.
Looking at Suilven from the north west it is rather impressive to say the least and although it is only 731m high, it looks much more intimidating due to the lay of the land. It actually looks like it is impossible to ascent without ropes, but do not let that put you off, given the route to the summit ascends via a gully in the middle of the mountain.
Starting from the small car park just before Glencanisp Lodge (Arrive early given it can only accommodate around 20 cars, or otherwise it is a walk from Lochinver) Follow the road down to the lodge which will take you past an honesty shop which is full of chocolate, crisps etc. Then follow the path which is south east into the woods before it opens up with impressive views of Suilven in the distance.
The path is long and easy to walk with a few relatively steep parts along the way, but nothing too demanding. You will pass through fenced Deer gates before eventually coming to a footbridge a good few mile further on. After passing the footbridge keep walking and look for the path to the right that will lead you up rougher ground towards Suilven. If you miss the path you will end up near Loch na Gainimh and will have to turn around.
This is where the walking now starts to get a little more difficult as you navigate your way up towards Loch a’ Choire Dubh. The path is not great and can be difficult underfoot. Once at the loch, make your way around the right-hand side path which passes by Loch na Barrack.
You will now be able to see the route up Bealach Mor which looks a little intimidating, but once you start to make your way up the path, it is not too bad. The path is good in places and eroded in others and in places you will need to use your hands. Before you know it you will reach the top which opens up some of the best views of Assynt. Canisp looks amazing to the north east and Cul Mor to the south and Stac Pollaidh to the SSW.
You will now head right NNW to reach Caisteal Liath which offers a few false summits and a pass on the northern side which is exposed on both sides. On the day I did Suilven the mountain weather service gave 10mph winds and was completely wrong, and especially at this pass. It was more like 40/50mph winds and I have since found out it’s known as “the beast”. Every time I tried to cross the pass the wind was howling across it and I had to wait several minutes to make a safe crossing.
There is now a steep climb up towards the summit plateau which is a scramble in places and has one more exposed part which caused me problems in the elements before finally reaching the summit. Unfortunately for me the cloud line meant I had no visibility. Without the wind I doubt it would have felt as nervy as it did but it was howling non-stop.
I had planned to walk the ridgeline across to Meall Beag but given the conditions and knowing there were more tricky scrambles and exposed parts I decided to give it a miss. The problem with walking solo is there is nobody to raise the alarm if anything were to happen to me, so common sense prevailed and I made my way back down the mountain.
On my way back the weather improved and the cloud broke free from the summit which was just my luck, but it was what it was and the gamble you take playing on Scottish mountains. A word of caution if you are only used to places like the Lake District and Snowdonia. Scottish mountains are much more difficult to ascend and there is always somewhere along the route which may strike fear into you so make sure you are competent and confident about heights and ability.
Given the location of Suilven, this makes it a once in a lifetime bucket list mountain if you live south of Scotland. I would highly recommend taking a trip to the north west highlands and having a go at this iconic lump of ice age rock.