A Scottish Summer: Coigach and Assynt

A Scottish Summer: Coigach and Assynt

The quick snatched session is an art form alien to a lot of climbers. It was alien to me too. There was a time in my twenties where every day at the crag was a full day. No time limits, no dramas. Fancy heading somewhere further afield? No problem. Want to stand around all day belaying? No problem. Three different crags in a day? Easy. Did I realise what a gift this was? Of course not. However those of us with families and children know how valuable time on rock is, and at no point is that time more at a premium than during the dreaded summer family vacation.

Dreaded, I should point out, not because you've got to spend time with your family. Not because you won't have, on the face of it, a great time. But dreaded because no matter what you're doing or where you are, that nagging urge to climb, that itch, is still there. The obsession that took hold many years ago is inescapable. You can try to ignore it, as I have done. Go somewhere nice, no rock, just have a relaxing time you tell yourself. Doesn't work. Five days into the trip you'll be pacing that hotel looking for a doorframe sturdy enough to deadhang from. That kids' playground climbing frame out the back looks appealing.

Your other half recognises the symptoms well by now. You're edgy, lying on a beach in paradise but strangely discontent. The food is amazing, but you're eating too much, and now scared you're going to come back heavy and out of condition. First session down the climbing wall you'll probably go too hard and injure yourself. Been there, done that. Never again.

So every year those of us with families juggle the same old conundrum: Where to go on vacation to have a good time and yet still scratch that peculiar itch to climb on rocks. It’s got to be somewhere suitable for the kids, somewhere relaxing, somewhere with plenty to do, beaches, great views, accessible and crucially somewhere with some climbing. It's always a jugging act, to strike a balance, but luckily there are a few places that fit the bill.

In the far north west corner of Scotland lies the small town of Ullapool, the access point for both ferries to the Outer Hebrides but also the dramatic landscape just north along the main road to Durness. The area offers a few choice options for the hopelessly rock-addicted parent. Many are thankfully relatively accessible, with some crags and boulders literally roadside. The crags of Reiff and Ardmair, being hard coarse sandstone, bear an uncanny resemblance to the familiar gritstone of the Pennines further south in England. I commented to a Scottish local that Reiff was like Burbage by the sea (he of course retorted that Burbage was actually like an inland Reiff). When climbing at Reiff-In-The-Woods below the iconic Stac Pollaidh you could, if you closed your eyes, be at Caley in Yorkshire. Further north again the white sands and shallow blue bays of Achmelvich are hemmed in by a set of fine vertical walls of solid gneiss, where on a fine day you could be forgiven for thinking you were in northern Sardinia.

You may bump into some other climbers, you may not. Even when it gets busy by local standards it's a far cry from the gridlocked single track roads of Skye in high summer. Distances are big and the roads weave around mountains and lochs seemingly forever. The sense of space in the north west is profound. Unlike the mountains further south surrounding deep glacial valleys, the mountains of the Assynt and Coigach areas are isolated and prominent, rising up from rolling moorland dotted with inlets and lochans. It's something of a magnet for artists and photographers. You could come here every year, at any time of the year, and not get tired of the landscape. Many of them come, put down roots, and never leave. Even looking through the eyes of the family climber looking to snatch a quick session, it's not difficult to see why.

Photo Editor