Guest blog by Mandy Haggith, a director of the Assynt Foundation. Find out more about the Suilven Path Project here
What’s different about Suilven?
Suilven is often described as an ‘iconic’ mountain, and it is certainly distinctive, with its long side-profile and sugar-loaf mounded summit. From different angles it looks like an elephant, or a camel, or a whale. From the sea it is an unmistakable marker post for finding your way into the safe harbour of Lochinver, and its name may result from this, translating from the Gaelic as ‘Eye Mountain’ (suil is eye, ven a corruption of bhein, from ben) suggesting that it’s the mountain to navigate by.
But Suilven is not just an intriguing-looking hill, it is politically iconic as well. What’s different about Suilven is that it is one of just a few of Scotland’s mountains that belong to the local people. In 2005, Assynt Foundation bought it, along with Canisp, Cul Mòr and Cul Beag, as part of a community-buyout of two large (44,000 acre) hunting estates and the ‘big house’, Glencanisp Lodge.
This was the first substantial purchase under the terms of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, which gave local communities the right to register an interest in land and have an opportunity to buy it before it goes for sale on the open market. We bought the mountains with money from various sources who gave it because community-ownership was seen as ‘in the national interest’. We bought the mountains on behalf of everyone, so because we now own them, in a way this means that you do too. I like to think of Suilven as the icon of what it means to own a mountain.
Since the community took ownership, Suilven hasn’t changed one bit, but local people and visitors can now enjoy it in ways that weren’t possible before we bought it. Instead of tip-toeing through the private grounds of a rich family on your approach to the mountain, you can feel welcome to stroll through the Glencanisp Lodge grounds. We have an honesty shop where you can get a hot drink, snacks and other ‘Suilveneer’ goodies at any hour of the day or night. Chris Goodman has his wood carving workshop and Fergus Stewart, an internationally famous potter, has his kiln, studio and gallery there. The Lodge has been used for all kinds of community and creative events, from weddings to fun-days, from writing retreats to fishing festivals, and everyone is welcome to stay for B&B. We have also built an arts studio, with a stunning view of the mountain, and we look forward to much more creative activity around the Lodge in years to come.
We’re also committed to enhancing the environment. We monitor and protect our precious wildlife, such as the golden eagles, ring ouzels, divers, pine martens and otters, and we offer people guided opportunities to spot them. We have improved the state of our wetlands by blocking artificial drainage to re-wet bogs. We are restoring native woodlands to areas where they have degraded or disappeared because of burning, sheep grazing and the excessive numbers of deer maintained by the hunting regime of the past. Deer also cause soil erosion and damage to other habitats like upland heaths, so much of our land management activity revolves around deer control. And of course we have infrastructure including roads, fences and paths to maintain.
All of this costs more than we can really afford. If you’d like to find out more about what we do or how to become a member please visit our web-site.
I think it’s fair to say that the current work to upgrade the path up Suilven is also a result of community ownership, thanks to Assynt Foundation being part of the CALL Partnership. The improved path will bring a more enjoyable walking experience and much pleasure to many local people and visitors and it will protect rare bryophytes and other biodiversity on the mountain. The project is also bringing social and economic benefits through local employment, learning and business.
Thanks to Chris Goodman, project manager, the fundraisers at JMT and all the path builders for their hard, hard, work. We hope that lots of people will get involved in watching the path develop. Feel free to comment and share pictures in the honesty shop at Glencanisp Lodge, or post a picture on our ‘Shoot a path-builder’ Flickr site or join the chat on social media .
And remember, Suilven’s yours too.
Suilven, the iconic community mountain.