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Nearly There…

Guest blog by Chris Goodman, Path Project Officer for the John Muir Trust, from 14th July 2017. It’s been a busy few months on Suilven but the path work for this year is now drawing to a close. Since April, two path contractors, about 10 staff and a helicopter have all been involved in moving hundreds of tonnes of materials around to improve the Suilven path. What was once a trampled route across boggy ground, up to 30m wide in places, is now a robust but natural looking path that you can walk without sinking up to your knees in. The work has been undertaken as part of the Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape Partnership (CALLP) Scheme with the aim of halting the ongoing loss of vegetation and erosion of soil along the path line. As there was no real ‘path’ as such to Suilven, just an evolved route across the moorland, this has involved substantial work to lay a proper path surface which walkers will use and want to stick to. Contractors A.C.T. Heritage and Arran Footpaths have done

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Reflections

Guest blog by Chris Goodman, Path Project Officer for the John Muir Trust, from 10th July 2017. 15 years ago I wrote a postcard to my folks from Torridon where I was working for a path team at the time. The card read, ‘when the weather is good there can be few better ways to spend a day than doing path work on a hill in the North West Highlands’. Since then I’ve shifted rolls to project managing path work and am more often office based than out on the hill but over the last few months Andy, Mark, Scott, Donald, Alec, Shirkie, Johny and Rab have been doing what I used to – walking miles out onto the hill, toiling away, shifting tonnes of rocks and soil, building a rugged mountain path using technical understanding and an artistic nature based creativity to make it look ‘right’, to make it look like their work belongs on the side of Suilven. There’s a different perspective on the world from up there, away from the man made landscape and all of our

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The Start of Something

Guest blog by Chris Goodman, Path Project Officer for the John Muir Trust, from 6th June 2017. After four years of preparation I can’t believe the path work on Suilven has flown by so quickly. Arran Footpaths have now finished this year’s work on the higher sections of Suilven while A.C.T. Heritage are half way through their work on the lower path. It feels like it’s all whizzed by in a storm of activity and action but that’s quite often the way with path work – once contractors are on site it’s all hands on deck and a race to the finish. But it’s also felt like a real privilege to be involved with the whole process and spend more time out there, getting to know Suilven. Spending more time lower down on Suilven I’ve noticed things that I’ve just walked past before, chiff chaffs singing from trees near the start of the path, primroses in flower a bit further along, birch, rowan and aspen growing from inaccessible ledges and gullies and Merlin calling flying over the Bealach. It’s easy

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Footprints

Guest blog by Mandy Haggith, Director of Assynt Foundation. As I climb up into the hills, along paths like the one up Suilven, I’m sure I’m not the only one to reflect not only on my literal footprints, but also on my wider impacts on the world. There’s something about getting out into nature that helps us ponder the big questions.  As I look down across the splendid Assynt landscape – a cnocan-lochan tapestry studded with jewels – I feel closer to the earth and don’t want anything to damage it. A big walk gives us time to think things through, to shape directions we will pursue when we return to normal life, to clarify our aspirations and work out our next steps. Ideally we have time in the day to achieve a state of animal simplicity, simply moving our bodies and using all our senses to observe what we encounter – the texture of lichens, the sound of a ptarmigan, the pineapple (or is it coconut?) fragrance of gorse wafting up from Glencanisp on a warm breeze, and the

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So Many Views of Suilven

Guest blog by Mandy Haggith, Director of Assynt Foundation. Over the twelve years since the local community has owned Glencanisp Lodge, with its splendid views of Suilven, I have run seventeen retreat weeks for creative writers. Every one of the participants falls in love with the mountain and it has inspired no end of wonderful writing. Even people who have not written poetry since schooldays find themselves coming back from a walk with the words of a new poem ringing in their ears. I tell them that the Assynt landscape is littered with verse – Norman MacCaig found many of the good ones, but there are any amount of new poems out there, waiting for unsuspecting poets to trip over them and bring them home. MacCaig’s classic poem, ‘Climbing Suilven’ is engraved on a stone at the start of the walk from Inver Kirkaig up the river towards the mountain, just under the bookshop, Achins, where you can buy his collected poems!   I nod and nod to my own shadow and thrust A mountain down and down. Between my

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Changes

Guest blog and photography by Chris Puddephatt from 31st May 2017. It’s six weeks since my first visit on that cold, wet, muddy day and the landscape was still wearing its brown winter cloak. Not anymore! Lots of green lushness and flowers blooming. Heath spotted orchids line the track, and there’s sundew in the wet ditches at the sides. I see lots of walkers today, all taking advantage of the perfect conditions for a trip to the top. Joining Andy and Mark, they’re making pace across the peat, the finished work snaking back like a ribbon. Every one of the walkers uses it. The path is making their journey easier and drier. Of course, the main benefit is that they’re not trampling across a wide swathe of boggy ground any more, and the recovery has already started. Watching Andy drive the digger, I can see he’s no novice; whether it’s gravelly top dressing or turf, each bucketful arrives with amazing precision. I set up my camera to record a time-lapse sequence and sit down for a while. It’s going to take

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A Cheeky Raven and Cheeky Dippers

Guest blog and photography by Chris Puddephatt from 27th May 2017. It’s looking like a lovely day, and I’m walking in with the “top path team”, as I think it’s my last opportunity to shoot work at the Bealach for this season. The journey is becoming familiar now. A few miles later and we’re off the track and chatting to the “lower path team” briefly before the final assault on the North Face. This part of the journey always splits the field, as we all have our own speed up the gully. Part way up the gully, I see Rab with his head down in a tiny burn; he signals that I should be quiet, and I’m thinking that he’s found some wildlife. I’m totally fascinated when I find out that he’s making a sound recording of the water trickling its way down hill, and that its part of a collection he’s compiling on his travels. Every recording is unique, he explains. Yes, he’s properly appreciating something that we all take for granted, and I love the idea. At the ridge,

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Why would anyone do that?

Guest blog by Chris Goodman, Path Project Officer for the John Muir Trust, from 17th May 2017. I’m stood on the Bealach Mor on the ridge of Suilven with path contractor Scott Murdoch. It’s mid-April, the first day of the Suilven path repair work and we’re looking over the site. But Scott’s attention is drawn by a stone wall on the ridge a couple of hundred yards from us and he’s gazing towards it. It’s some bit of work, a substantial wall that’s withstood decades of gale force winds and drifting snow. You can tell Scott’s impressed by it. ‘Wow, can you imagine walking up here every day to build that?’ he says and then adds, ‘Why would anyone do that?’ I turn to look at him and begin to speak but then he catches my eye and we burst out laughing. Scott and his team will be walking up here every day for the next month to build a path, not that different in the big scheme of things to building a wall – why would you do that? It’s

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A Hole Lode of Peat

Guest blog and photography by Chris Puddephatt from 18th May 2017. A heavier rucksack for the long walk today; I’m taking a tripod and a heavier camera with the intention of getting a time-lapse sequence. I’ve set the camera to take one photo every second for one hour, and this should turn into two minutes of time-lapse. Just got to get there first, and find a suitable section of path work to point the camera at. And no rain for that particular hour either. In the car park, Chris Goodman pedals his way to meet me, whilst I get bitten by a couple of midges. Local entrepreneur Marianne has sold me the new credit-card-sized Smidge just in time! Me & Chris spend the next 2 hours walking and blethering. That’s a new word for a Sassenach like me, and I’m finding that I like it. Up at the path, Andy and Mark have made a lovely job of the first section from the track. We find them about 200 yards in, scratching their heads: they need to find some more gravelly

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Suilven: Stone for the Mountain

Guest blog and photography by Chris Puddephatt from 2nd May 2017. The better weather I was hoping for; a lovely sunny day for the airlift of the bagged stone! Incredibly only a few days since the blizzard, and look at it! Amazing. OMG! Riding in the helicopter! Lucky, lucky, lucky! Safety briefing; yellow jacket and hard hat. And sunscreen. The chopper ferries bags of stone from the boulder field very quickly. I know it’s going to be expensive, but this is so efficient. Andy’s got a list and knows which bag goes where; that’ll save additional work moving it again. We start on the lower path, contrary to the master plan, as the weather still needs time to clear on the ridge. Bag after bag turns up. This is a welcome easy day for Andy, just holding a clipboard and standing around in the sunshine. Oh yes, he also waves his arms around a bit, directing the helicopter where to drop the next bag. A few walkers come past, directed through by the marshall when it’s safe to proceed. A lovely

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