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If you intend to climb Stac Pollaidh for the first time, then read on. This little tale is really how not to climb Stac Pollaidh (or Polly). The north-west of Scotland gains much of its bare and spare character from the improbable shape of the hills. They are, let's face it, a weird lot, but in a good way. The spectacular profiles of Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor, Suilven and the others can stop you in your tracks as you journey here.
Sometimes, I've found myself explaining in guidebooks and brochures that they are Torridonian sandstone peaks that are all but eroded away; and that they sit on a plinth of tough and ancient Lewisian gneiss. It's easier to suggest looking at the interpretative material at Knockan, north of Ullapool, within the designated North West Highlands Geopark.
(Above) The summit ridge of Stac Polly, with Cul Beag beyond. Easy to reach, if you go the proper way, but all the top paths are eroded on this popular walk. Just take good care....
With a seaboard open to prevailing Atlantic south-westerlies, here you can sometimes have days of low cloud and rain, so that you never see the tops. On the other hand, it can be magical. It was, for example, on the day we thought we would climb Stac Pollaidh(29th April 2007). For all its 2000ft / 600-odd (very odd) metres, Stac Polly (or Pollaidh for the purists - you can tell I really can't decide) offers some easy scrambling for walkers looking for a bit of adventure.
To help you climb Stac Pollaidh, there is a very well-constructed path now (which I don't remember from my youth) lacking only an electrically operated stair-lift for the less fit. The path takes you round to the shady side of the hill, then up to the col at the eastern end. There are spectacular views over the Coigach peaks southwards, the Assynt hills to the north and the big Beinn Dearg Group, uhmm, over there somewhere.
So far, so good; and if we'd all stopped at that point, that would have been an easy half-day rewarded with a sensational panorama. Johanna decided to stay on the col with the dogs, sensible girl. But no, memories from giddy youth of sauntering over the pinnacles drove me on, in the company of another tourism professional but self-confessed novice mountain scrambler. We went all round the hill, below the crags, and had a real close-up of how fast the sandstone pinnacles are eroding.
(Above) Cul Beag (the mountain) and Loch Lurgainn (the lake) from the top of Stac Polly. The access road is just visible by the edge of the loch.
(Left) Are you quite sure this is the usual way up Stac Pollaidh? Actually, no.
And at this point, I'm a little sheepish, because, near the west end of the hill, to climb Stac Pollaidh to the very top, we committed ourselves to a steep and very loose gully topped by still smooth-faced Torridonian sandstone: a little too near the vertical for a casual stroll.
I suppose it was what the climbing guides call an easy scramble. We were blessed with a beautiful day and had plenty of time - yet we went the wrong way to reach the top. It was just a wee reminder that Scotland's hills demand respect. Stac Pollaidh is not a Munro - but for spectacle and entertainment it beats many of them. Visit soon, before walkers' boots and natural erosion level it completely!
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Scotland in Three Days