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Suileag Bothy

Bothies are shelters, or huts available for use by walkers and trampers. They are mostly quite bare with no electricity or running water, though being in Scotland there is most likely a handy burn nearby. There is no charge and no booking system - it's a first come first in scenario and in my opinion best done in the shoulder seasons (less tourists and no midges).

I chose this walk from Scottish Bothy Walks by Geoff Allan, primarily because it was open during stalking season and the closest to Ullapool. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to scale its peak, Suilven, an amazing Corbett, due to weather but I was looking forward to the first days off the boat after 3 months continuously living aboard.

I set off, catching a local minibus service from Ullapool to Lochinver through a magical landscape of incredible landforms that are part of the Northwest Highlands Geopark, it was like riding through a picture book, my eyes couldn't get enough of the shapes and colours that rushed past. I think the bus driver took pity on me seeing how heavy my pack was and to my delight drove me to the trail head, far off his normal route! So nice. I think those first three (extra) miles would have seriously discouraged me. The track to the bothy is an easy, undulating, well maintained path through peat and heather along lochs and rushing tea coloured burns.

First glimpse of Suilven.

I made many resolutions for subsequent treks during the 2 hour walk to the bothy, mostly pertaining to what to pack, pack weight limits etc. The weather was mild and dry but overcast, not a bad day for attempting the peak. Exhausted by the heavy pack, I decided to try the peak on a following day. I had planned to stay over the weekend, about 4 days in total.

Suliven, majestic and of many moods.
The sheer scale of this corbett is incomprehensible unless you are standing in front of it, tower-like it rises sheer from it's base, often obscured by clouds.

Looking west, back toward the sea.

Suileag bothy is at the meeting of two paths, one approaches from the main road but requires you to ford a river, not possible when it is in spate.

On arrival at the bothy I discovered there were people already in residence and had left their things for a hike. I settled into the other of the two rooms, the one with the fireplace and wood floor, regretting that I didn't bring any fuel (as if I could have carried anything additional to what I had!) The couple returned after having come down from Suliven peak, collected their things and left so I had the bothy to myself. A few hours later another, older couple walking their dog arrived and made a cup of tea, they were very nice and we chatted for a bit before they returned to Lochinver. I started to feel 'in residence' in this stone hut in a lovely landscape. Three hikers arrived later that day and settled into the other room, it got dark and I settled in for the evening.

The stags came close to the hut to eat the grass. I drew my water from the burn in the distance, whisky coloured liquid, sweet and fresh.

Unexpectedly, at about 9PM a boisterous group of 6 international university students turned up with two bags of fuel, a bottle of whiskey, a box of beer and more. They joined me in the room with the fireplace and it got cosy quite quickly. I didn't mind the company at all, it got fairly boisterous but I enjoyed visiting with them, it took me back to my uni days in Vienna and I was entertained. Bothy rules stipulate that you take care of bodily needs far away from the hut so I was a bit annoyed at the three girls who left wads of toilet paper all around the hut that I had to clean up the next day after they left the next day.

All vacated the hut and I was in sole possession again. There was a small amount of firewood left but I thought to save that for the evening. A young woman and here very cute springer spaniel came in from the rain, she was a junior doctor whose parents live in NZ, of all places. She left slightly drier that when she arrived. Later the sun came out a bit and the rain dried so I went for a walk to see how far the start of the ascent was, Suilven had been obscured by mists and clouds since shortly after I arrived at the bothy (no point trying to go up).

After this short time the peacefulness of this landscape with its rushing burns and changing moods permeated my bones in an indescribable way. Fulfilment. That night there was the roaring of stags close around the hut.

A place of rushing burns

In the early morning and near distance I saw three stags cropping grass below the hut, unusual I thought that three males would be together in this time of competition. I saw no does.

It was another day of rain and I was not inspired to venture out further than need be after getting soaked in the early morning getting water and taking care of business. I hunkered inside, wearing my warmest clothes and drinking hot beverages. This was my last day and I had a little wood left to burn in the evening but it turned out it was damp so it was intermittently cheerful and not a bit warm. There were no visitors or other guests that day. At about 10 PM I got a fright, a cyclist turned up in the dark and torrential rain. He bunked down in the other room and I went back to my knitting.

The whole area is riddled walking tracks, some not passable when you need to ford rivers in spate, best to know that before you go!

Behind the wall of mist is the start of the ascent to Suilven, completely hidden.

I lay awake listening to stags roaring around the bothy, quite close by. The early hours were punctuated by the staccato sound of heavy rain on the tin roof and I groaned inwardly as I nestled further into my thick sleeping bag. Later, fortified by coffee, I cleaned up and packed my pack which was delightfully lighter than it started out. The rain had eased into a misty sort of drizzle and I struck out for Lochinver.

This return trip was much faster and when I got the the lodge, I decided to take a different route back having ascertained that I had several hours before my bus. One of my visitors and told me about the track that returned to Lochinver along the river Inver and that sounded promising for mushroom gathering. The river Inver is a salmon river and has many places for fisher people to stand and cast. I am told that fishing licences are very expensive and you even have to put the fish back! Hmmmm.

From the lodge I climbed up a steep hill and traversed a high peaty, boggy area so full of stags to that I felt compelled to sing as a I went in order to let them know I was coming (surprising one can be dodgy). They might have fled at my tuneless sound but the only ones I came across were high up on the hills. Eventually I got to the river and enjoyed easy walking along the well maintained path that followed it into town.

With just 20 minutes to spare I waited for the bus to Ullapool, feeling invigorated and refreshed from my bothy retreat, in spite of not being able to climb Suilven. I figure I'll get another shot at it sometime and for what its worth, only the one pair actually went up the peak.

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