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Early July 2015 - Stornoway and Assynt

The start of the school holidays in Stornoway coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Stornoway Port Authority. They had arranged a mini festival with various local craft and produce stalls arranged along the quay adjacent to the pontoons. The RNLI lifeboat was moved close to the pontoon ramp to give tours inside and out. This was an opportunity for us to try out the set of signal flags that Judith made over the winter and have Innisfree "dressed overall" (left). We also dug out the union jack red-white-blue bunting to add to the jollities.

Two days later the Red Arrows put on a spectacular display over the harbour. It was a grey day with intermittent drizzle that fortuitously stopped just before the display started. The low cloud dictated the low-level display with close formation flying, high speed crossovers and corkscrews. The grey skies made a good backdrop for the red and blue smoke though camouflaged the white.

The following day a strong southerly wind gave us an exhilarating passage due east across the Minch to Loch Drumbeg (below). It was good visibility making navigation easy as the distinctive mountains of Assynt could be seen as soon as we left Stornoway harbour. Our landfall was just north of the Old Man of Stoer (see more pictures) and as we sailed past the wind off the land felt like a warm fan heater, the contrast to the chill wind over the sea had us removing fleeces and woolly hats. Eight hours after leaving the Stornoway pontoons we we happy to be swinging to anchor in the first real sunshine of the season. Unfortunately we have become acclimatised to "feels-like" temperatures of less than 10°C so walking the following day in 24°C+ was unbearably hot. Thankfully Drumbeg has a convenient hotel just up from the anchorage so at the end of the walk we each downed two quick pints of water before a slow pint of ale. Typically the draft ale was "Summer Hare" brewed about 15 miles from home by Bath Ales! But it was most enjoyable all the same.

The hot spell of weather did not last and the following day the short trip around to Lochinver was back to normal with cold grey conditions and the cloud base just above sea level. It then changed again to blue skies with a light breeze keeping the temperatures down and so perfect conditions for a walk along the coast to the Altanabradhan Meal Mill (left). Part of the stream was diverted to run under the building and powered a vertically mounted paddle that turned a top mill stone mounted over a fixed lower stone with an iron frame. (diagram in more pictures). Only the stone walls and race remain with several mill stones laying around, some even used as stepping stones to cross the stream. The mills were owned by the landowner and tenants paid for their use with a portion of their corn.

The breeze was funneled up the valley and it made a most pleasant spot for lunch. The countryside is very typical of the area which is characterised by rocks poking out of the covering layer of heather and bracken. The rock is Lewisian Gneiss which at 3000 million years old is the oldest rocks in Britain. The path rolled up and down across the landscape with the final rise providing the classic view below of Lochinver and the Assynt peaks behind. These were carved by glaciers from softer Torridon Sandstone (1000 million years).

We chose a cool dry day to climb Suilven. This starts with a two hour walk along a stalkers path to the base of mountain. The area is part of the Assynt Estate and as it is deer stalking season we first had to check it was safe to continue. We were most amused to see their home made post box (right) made using wood from an old fruit crate with sliced up green wellies layered like roof tiles to make it waterproof. To reach the base of the mountain the route leaves the stalkers path and crosses an area of very wet ground. Judith was leading the way and stepped on an area that was not as solid as it looked, sinking up to mid calf in thick peaty mud (left). It was a good test of her boots which kept her feet dry, but the trousers and top of the socks will never be the same again having a permanent brown tinge.

The final significant climb is up a steep gully that looked worse than it was. The ridge is very narrow so there were no false horizons and the sudden view over the other side is magical. Norman MacCaig captured it in is poem "Climbing Suilven" as "And Suddenly, My shadow jumps huge miles away from me.". The view in all directions is stunning, though the ridge was a bit narrow in places for Judith's nonexistent head for heights. The banner #89 shows the view east and south along the ridge, and below is the view from the rounded summit at the western end (see also more pictures for larger images).

We are in no hurry to move on and intend to spend several more days exploring the area - not to mention listening to the first Ashes cricket match between England and Australia which starts this week.