Sir Chris Bonington recalls the “total magic” of Suilven

The John Muir Trust’s path restoration project on Suilven in north west Scotland was nominated by Berghaus for the latest round of European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA) funding. Sir Chris Bonington, Berghaus’ non-executive chairman, has fond memories of his own adventures on Suilven and has backed the project, the only UK site on the shortlist in the online public vote.
Now 81, Sir Chris Bonington has been climbing and exploring in countless locations around the world for over 60 years. Amidst all of those adventures, his recollections of visits to Suilven remain very vivid. Bonington first walked and climbed on the community-owned mountain in Assynt in the far north west of Scotland in 1952, while still at school. Over the years, he has traversed Suilven four times and has put up two new climbing routes, but his strongest memory is still of his first visit.
Sir Chris Bonington comments: “The most magical walk I have ever known was on Suilven in 1952. I was still at school and I was climbing with a young undergraduate, staying in bothies, and we did this walk and climb humping all our gear with us. We walked in from Lochinver, dumped our rucksacks at the foot of the west buttress of the mountain, started up the only route, rather inadequately described, and quickly lost it to make one of our own to the top.
“I will never forget that view looking south over Loch Sionascaig. We then returned to our sacks, picked them up and headed south on the east side of the loch, all the way, pathless, to the eastern end of Stac Pollaidh. There, we found a bothy at about 3:00am in the morning, grabbed a few hours sleep and then climbed Stac Pollaidh – total magic which I shall never forget.”
The path restoration work on Suilven, which is expected to cost in the region of £200,000, will be carried out by the John Muir Trust and the Assynt Foundation, under the umbrella of the Coigach-Assynt Living Landscape (CALL) Partnership. It will set out to restore an eroded 2.5km section of the route to conserve the mountain’s unique geological heritage, while maintaining public access to a remote mountain whose steady stream of visitors helps support tourism businesses in the local communities scattered across Assynt.
EOCA is a not-for-profit environmental outdoor charity with over 120 national affiliates across the continent. Berghaus is a member and supporter of the association and nominated the Suilven path restoration project in the Alpine category (for projects located at high altitude). The online poll will stay open until noon on Monday 19 October and Suilven faces competition from four other nominees in Italy, Spain, France and Rwanda.
Along with words of support, Sir Chris Bonington has shared a series of images from his library from visits to Suilven in 1986 and 1990, including photos of him making the first ascent of a route called The Bloom on the mountain’s west buttress. Bonington hopes that circulating the images will help highlight the enduring beauty and drama of Suilven and the surrounding area, encouraging more people to vote for the path restoration project.

Chris Bonington and his dogs Bella, Bodie and Alfie, Suilven behind in 1986 - Photo Chris Bonington Picture Library

“Chris Bonington and his dogs Bella, Bodie and Daisy, Suilven behind in 1986”.


Chris Bonington on first buttress Suilven, during the ascent of The Bloom in 1990 a - Photo Chris Bonington Picture Library

Chris Bonington on first buttress Suilven, during the ascent of The Bloom in 1990 a – Photo Chris Bonington Picture Library

Sir Chris Bonington adds: “There are so many amazing wild places that it is almost impossible to favour one over another, but Suilven does mean an awful lot to me. It is magnificent from any aspect, rising up dramatically from the bedrock, and it is not easy to get to, with any trip there involving a good long walk in. Suilven is a very special place, in a wonderful setting, and I urge the public to back the John Muir Trust’s important path restoration project there.”
Voting is open between 5-19 October 2015. You can record your vote at