drumrunie

Ullapool to Clachtoll

Day 5 of GWC S3 Projects 2009

I slept really well last night and boy did I need it - I think we all did. After a good breakfast, it was full waterproofs on, as the weather had taken a turn for the worse (worst!). We had been blessed with the sun for the past few days and I really couldn’t believe that we were yet to see rain… until this morning where the rain was well and truly here; almost back with a vengeance. We left Ullapool behind us and headed further north on the A835 in the driving wind and rain. Looking at the sky, and being in Scotland, I was confident that the rain wouldn’t be pounding on us for the entire day. To make matters worse, it was rather chilly; especially with the strong wind. Our plan was to just keep going and stop as little as possible to avoid getting cold. The kids soldiered on and it was quite a scenic cycle (even in the bad weather) along to the turning at Drumrunie. The pack was now widely spread out and each staff member was keeping a close eye on the kids at various points in the pack.

Now heading along to the Aird of Coigach, we passed under Cul Beag and as we wound our way around Loch Lurgainn, Stac Pollaidh came out of the clouds and into view. It was just the motivation we needed and before I knew it we were all taking a breather at the turning for the back road to Lochinver. We briefed the kids about the road ahead through Inverkirkaig and that unfortunately it was going to be rather up and down… and up and down.

The mighty Suilven

Eh?!

We set off through the Inverpolly Forest and the group became quickly stretched once again. The rain had now passed and the sun was trying hard to make an appearance for the first time that day. A good thing about the terrain being up and down was the shelter that it gave from the wind - things were certainly looking up after a minging start to the day. We had a couple of steep climbs en route to Inverkirkaig and I noticed some of the smaller girls getting off their bikes to push them up - despite me telling them that it was actually more effort to do that! We met JD at the parking area just along the road from the book shop to get the group back together and to have a quick breather. I was hoping to pop into the book shop but it was closed - gutted! For anyone who is ever in the area, I can’t recommend it enough. The quality and range of books are truly exceptional and considering the location; quite remarkable.

It was a rather chilly spot so we pushed on with another couple of climbs on the narrow road and then a nice run down into Lochinver. We knew it would be rude not to visit the amazing pie shop, so the staff headed straight there for a spot of lunch. As the kids were quite chilly, they were over the moon when we ordered them a round of hot chocolates! Again, if you’re in the area; you simply MUST visit the pie shop. Not far to go now, and just one more push up the final climb out of Lochinver. We turned off onto the B869 and headed up the hill on the poorly maintained road to Clachtoll. On nearing the top of the hill I spotted the viewpoint at the side of the road and pulled the lads in to wait for the others to catch up. We could now see the campsite below us; our destination and our home for the night. The kids were tired now and far more spread out than before but they were still doing brilliantly and certainly didn’t show any signs of giving up. I set the kids of in the usual staggered formation for the steep run down into Clachtoll. When we arrived I noted that by now the wind had really gathered momentum and was howling towards the shore. I saw that the campsite was fairly sheltered from the sea by the higher dunes, but was completely exposed on the other flank. I was pretty sure we were going to be in for a windy night. Sure enough, the kids struggled to put up the tents in the strong wind - even with everyone helping it was a loosing battle. We decided to get some grub into us first and then come back to that one. However, it was even stronger when we tried again after tea. To be honest, the tents were quite old and were of poor quality. I tried using large rocks to anchor the guy lines but this simply put more strain on the poles and fabric and it wasn’t long before a pole snapped and gave in to the relentless battering. It was the first of many and soon there was only 3 tents left fully standing. Time for plan B: we spoke to the campsite owner and he agreed to let the lads kip down in a wooden storage hut that was on the site and we still had a strong tent (pitched behind the van for additional shelter) for the girls. Obviously my Mountain Equipment tent was still standing strong! JD was adamant that he was sleeping in the van and was happy enough. We made a check of the kids, said goodnight, and turned into our sleeping bags for what I can only describe as the single worst night in a tent… ever!

Distance for the day: 36 miles Total Distance so far: 162 miles Route for the day:

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Stac Pollaidh
Day 1 of GWC S3 Projects 2008. We hit the road at 9 am and started the long drive to Achininver, a total of 8 boys, 8 girls, 4 staff, 10 days and nothing but the outdoors ahead. After what seemed like an eternity, we passed through Ullapool and headed north towards Sutherland. It was the furthest North (in Scotland) I had been so I was psyched as the landscape ahead of us opened up to reveal the jagged peaks rising majestically from the wilderness. It was mid-afternoon when we turned off the A835 at Drumrunie and headed west towards Achiltibuie. Stac Pollaidh came into view in the glorious sunshine as we passed along the shore of Loch Lurgainn, deep in the shadows of Cul Beag. The car-park was rammed due to the gorgeous weather, but we managed to squeeze our mini bus and transit into a space at the back. We helped the kids gear up and, after a bit of a faff, we paused to gaze up at the heavily weathered Torridonian sandstone crest of Stac Pollaidh.

Stac Pollaidh from the roadside car-park.

We headed straight for it; a short climb before the new path swung to the right in an anticlockwise direction. At the first pause, a look to the east gave a magestic view of Cul Beag in all it’s glory.

Cul Beag from the east

Continuing up and around the east side of Stac Pollaidh, the magnificent view north over the Inverpolly Forest appeared over the horizon. It was at this moment, I was treated to my first sighting of Suilven. I recognised it instantly from all the pictures I’d seen in my favourite books, but it was better than I could have imagined.

Suilven and Canisp

Our aim was to circle Stac Pollaidh and take in the views. We had a large group of mixed abilities and unknown quantities so we wanted to avoid any ‘bad steps’ on the ridge, and we were short of time. We strode on around the west side of the ridge and the next vista greeted us… the Summer Isles.

Summer Isles from Stac Pollaidh

In front of us, the Summer Isles and to our left, the weathered sandstone pinnacles of Stac Pollaidh. I’m not sure the kids knew where to look, and neither did I.

The pinnacles of Stac Pollaidh The pinnacles of Stac Pollaidh

As we headed back down towards the car park, obviously I couldn’t resist a pose on top of a boulder :-S

Poser

Back at the mini bus we looked around at the beaming faces of the kids; they knew that had been something special. You don’t get views like that everyday… not a bad hill for a Graham.

I hope there’s room for us…

Time to head to Achininver and get the group settled in. A short drive through Achiltibuie and we had reached the sign at the end of the road: “YOUTH HOSTEL ½ MILE”. Time to put the kids to good use, all hands on deck to cart all the gear down the track to the hostel. It’s worth the walk down the rough path though, what a setting… with the views out to the Summer Isles.

Achininver - what a setting…

Achininver