Falling in love with the Assynt landscape

07 August 2019
Stac Pollaidh, mountain in North West Highlands of Scotland
Stac Polly: tackle one of the peaks in a 2.5 mile circular walk.

The Assynt area is on every geologist’s bucket list! We have wonderful mountain landscapes here, not to mention the UNESCO Global Geopark and the Rock Stop Café.

Here’s Tanja on her love for this part of Sutherland, what first brought her here, and the inspiring geology, sunsets and surroundings.


Holidays in the North West

Sutherland summers

Kylesku is on the fringes of Assynt in the North West Highlands.

I’ve been coming here since my teens, when I used to visit with my father. Ever since the age of about thirteen. We used to go camping just north of Ullapool at Ardmair Point.

We would arrive in July and August for a few weeks every year, and use it as a base to go and explore. I always joke about it, because I’m not quite sure how that experience as a teenager has translated into a complete love of the place. If you can imagine July/August, yes, it’s the middle of summer, but it’s also the height of the midgie season and you’re sharing a two-person tent with your snoring father!

Yet when I left school, I came back again a few times, then started work in the corporate world of the southeast of England, and didn’t come for a few years. I began to get a longing to visit this area.

I also had the opportunity to bring Sonia, my partner, here to experience the place. She’d never been here at all. The only way I can describe it, as an adult coming back to somewhere like this, is it’s a very vibey place.

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The ancient geology of Assynt

For some people, Assynt probably has almost a religious connotation, but it doesn’t have to. I would describe it as very soulful. That’s because the landscape that you’re looking at is just so old.

We’re in the heart of the Geopark here and some of the geology goes back billions of years, almost to the time that the Earth was formed. There’s a rolling Lewisian Gneiss landscape, and in amongst it you get these Torridonian sandstone hills like Quinag and Stac Pollaidh, and all the rest of it, rising up out of nowhere.

They’re very old, too. Maybe just under a billion years old. They’re so iconic, and I think that’s what really does it. I’ve travelled around the Alps a lot, but when you look at the mountain ranges in the Alps, they’re a lot younger. They’re a bit higher, but you don’t get that sort of sense of individuality from each of the hills. Whereas, here, you know exactly which hill you’re looking at, because they all have their own character, their own shape. They’re so distinctive.

Perspective, space and freedom

With this landscape, you get a sense of perspective and space and freedom. It’s like pressing control-alt-delete in your brain. That’s really what it’s like, and so important because the world now is so crazy and hectic. We face some real challenges as a world and as a civilisation and yet you come here, and it strips that away. It brings out what’s really important.

When you see people arriving here, there’s just this sense of being able to breathe. Within a few minutes of them arriving, you just get the sense of relaxation and peace and everything is okay. 

You can be in this landscape and feel utterly insignificant as a human being. I think that’s quite good for us!
Sunset on Foinaven and Arkle
Sunset on Foinaven and Arkle, captured by Tanja Lister.

Assynt colours

Sunrise and sunset

When you’re at the top of the mountain pass behind us, and you’re looking out over the whole of the northwest of Scotland, with Quinag, the hill that’s behind the hotel, just on your left-hand side, you see this vastness unfolding in front of you.

You see the sea on the one hand. It’s just amazing. Where the hotel is situated as you come down this little road, just before you get to Kylesku Bridge - I recommend that everyone goes to see it, because it really gives you a sense of place.

We’re facing eastwards, so it’s a very different sunset experience, because we don’t get the classic sunset. You do on the bridge, where you see the sun go down and the reflected light and all the rest of it, which is amazing.

What you see here at the hotel is the reflected sunlight off the hills, and that’s actually as beautiful and surprising. Particularly in the autumn time, when the colours are already quite red and copper and fiery. If you can imagine a very vivid sunset, it’s like the hills are just burning. It’s just amazing. It’s an amazing colour. The air is so clear a lot of the time and it’s just unbelievable.

Even after ten years of being here now, you find your gaze being drawn out to what’s happening out there, in any weather. You get the reflected light on the hills and in the water and, again, we get the most fantastic sunrises here.

It changes throughout the year, depending on the position of the sun. You find yourself being very conscious of what time of year it is here. Whereas, when you’re in a city, the seasons all merge into one.

 

Elemental landscapes

North-West Highland weather

It is very elemental here. You find yourself having to think about the weather and the season and the light, and the position of the sun, and what time of day it is, because during the winter you might only get three, four hours of proper daylight.

In our first year here, we woke up at six in the morning to find the colour of the water on the loch in front of the hotel just vivid pink. It was like a child had got a colouring book and got the pinkest pen and drawn that instead of the water! I can’t describe it. It was the most amazing thing. You maybe see that only three or four times a year.

The sunrises are particularly dramatic, even in wild weather. People often expect the weather to be worse than it actually is. What can really surprise visitors is the wind. When it’s windy here, you need to take action, because it’s really, really windy. It’s an experience in its own right.

Seeing this landscape in the sunshine, like it was yesterday, is amazing. Equally amazing, but for completely different reasons, is seeing it in all weathers, because it’s all part of the landscape. The rain isn’t bothersome – it’s actually an awesome experience just to see it happening, because it’s actually part of the landscape.

You don’t feel that sense of annoyance and irritation about rain. You’re just wearing the wrong clothes! Here, you’ve just got to get out there and experience it and enjoy it. That’s what it’s all about.

See more about Assynt landscape and geology.

Oldshoremore bay, Sutherland , in winter
The beaches are beautiful at all times of year. Tanja, owner and director at Kylesku Hotel, loves getting out in all weathers with her camera.