Theme four: Island Mountains

Cuspair 4: Na Stoban

Our iconic mountains are unlike any ‘normal’ mountain range. Each one stands alone, rising sharply from the lumpy lowland, like solitary islands. The extraordinary silhouettes can seem imposing at first, but over time they become familiar – like old friends.

Most of these peaks are not high enough to qualify as ‘Munros’ like the mountains so popular – and crowded – elsewhere in the Scotland. But because they rise steeply from near-sea level they appear taller than their measured height, and will always give you a good day’s adventure, whether in summer or winter.

Choose your own style of adventure: a scramble to a craggy summit, or a gentler walk beside a playful, cascading mountain burn (stream). Some mountains have well-built paths and you may encounter a few other walkers; on others you will be making your own way across rough ground, and will probably have the hillside to yourself.

Wherever you go, you will encounter the wide range of native wildlife. Plants such as mossy cyphel, dwarf cornel, cloudberry, arctic bearberry and ancient fir clubmoss – all of which are perfectly adapted to the extreme upland conditions. You may spot a golden eagle skydancing, or hear the extraordinary guttural clucks of a ptarmigan. You will probably be watched by red deer: the stags impressive against the skyline.

The rocks are impressive in their own right, and have intrigued geologists for centuries. Lewisian gneiss is one of the oldest rocks in Europe, formed three billion years ago – before the evolution of multicellular life! On top of this gneiss, the characteristic pink Torridonian sandstone (which, a billion years ago, lay in a blanket 7km thick) is whittled into beguiling shapes and grainy pillars. This world-class geological heritage was recognised by UNESCO in the creation of the North-West Highlands Global Geopark.

Though you will be immersed in ancient wildness, you will find plenty of reminders of rural life from more recent centuries: ruined shielings, fanks and houses; impressive stone walls in unexpected places. The names of the mountains – and the lochs and knolls – are a mixture of Gaelic and Norse, anglicised for modern times. They show us the strong links that people have always had with this landscape.

The views across the ‘cnoc-and-lochan’ landscape, the rocky coast and islands beyond, are always exhilarating; it is no wonder the area has been declared a National Scenic Area. But these views are not just pretty to look at; being in the hills is good for our physical and mental well-being. Look after yourself whilst you are out there, and look after the mountain too.

These are mountains that give us perspective over our own lives. Our forebears walked – and worked – them, and our descendants will too. Whether you climb them or enjoy them from sea-level, they will be part of your experience…and your photo collection.

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