Caught by the River

Nick's Pics

Nick Small | 20th April 2012

Stac Pollaidh and Assynt. Words & pictures by Nick Small.

When I was in my early teens we took a family holiday, meandering up Scotland’s west coast. It was Easter, reasonably bright and breezy and mercifully too early for the midges.

We did Fort William, made it half way up Ben Nevis, looked at Skye and found ourselves in Ullapool. There wasn’t much to shout about in Ullapool for a teenager, though I do have a recollection of sitting on a cold quayside, the stench of herring in my nostrils, watching mute fishermen dealing with their catch whilst seagulls punctuated the near silence with plaintive shrieks. I think the place appealed to my sense of melancholy.

One afternoon we drove to Stac Pollaidh. It’s a diminutive mountain of around 2000ft with a shape which would have reminded me of Close Encounters, had Spielberg actually got around to making the film by then. We spent some time on one of Loch Lurgainn’s sandy beaches at the foot of the mountain, looking up at its craggy, serrated summit ridge. Then we climbed it.

We didn’t make it to the top, merely to the shoulder of the hill. We stopped there, awestruck. The view which opened out in front of us was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Suilven and Cul Mor rising precipitously from a vast boggy wilderness, apparently untainted by humanity. Not only did I feel insignificant (unusual for this cocky little bugger) but, more unsettling, as though I had no place being there. This feeling was reinforced by a rapidly encroaching Atlantic weather front which hastened our descent.

That moment though….that view…has remained as one of my life’s most vivid and potent memories.

Last week, some thirty odd years on, I had occasion to revisit Stac Pollaidh to make a little film for the BBC. This time, the rugged beauty of the Assynt landscape inspired only wonder and joy. I took a few photos along the way.

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