Sometime this summer it will be my 20th anniversary of visiting Assynt, the little corner in the North-West Highlands I now call home, for the first time. I vividly remember my first journey to the far North in the summer of 2001. My friend Catherine, who had local connections, and I had started from Edinburgh, ventured in good spirit all the way up the A9, hit Inverness, made it over the Kessock Bridge – surely we were close now?

How long could it possibly take to reach this mythical  destination I had heard so much about? I wasn’t a stranger to exploring distant parts of Scotland – my work in rural sociology had taken me to Kintyre and I had travelled what seemed the length and breadth of of the country with visitors. But somewhere around Ullapool it dawned on me that this was really remote indeed.

I recall the first truly awe-inspiring moment at the border between Wester Ross and Sutherland, at Knockan Crag, where the breathtaking view of Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor and Cul Beag appears. Often featured as a ‘classic’ Assynt image, it’s actually not really Assynt (all those mountains are within neighbouring Coigach). But of course to truly discover Assynt one must cherish what’s on the way.

After marvelling at the incredibly green and lush limestone pocket of Elphin there was more road and finally a junction, at Ledmore. Turn left for Lochinver, 20 or so miles left! Close! As the distant Loch Assynt came into view another moment of dwelling  on distances, and then a sudden treat – Ardvreck Castle. Not the biggest or most imposing of Scottish castles, but the epitomy of what many associate with Scotland – a castle ruin, on a little verdant peninsula with a backdrop of rugged hills and a loch. Then another junction – John O’Groats anybody? Staying faithfully on the long road around the coast, destination Lochinver.


Enjoying the landscape that was more varied than even I could have ever imagined. I finally stopped counting miles and calculating arrival times, instead I was collecting surprises. Colours mainly  – the purple heather was just starting to bloom and the lush vivid green of the bracken was unexpected, as I had envisaged a much more barren landscape. Offset against the grey and slightly reddish sandstone the landscape offered us a feast for the eyes. Shapes and texture surprised – the eclectic mix of mountains nothing I had ever seen before, despite being from a mountainous country. But still I wasn’t prepared for Suilven! A silhouette that silenced me at first, then I couldn’t stop talking about such a magic mountain that looks different from every angle and corner.

Assynt – I had finally arrived! Little did I know, on this summer day in 2001, that this was only the start of my discoveries and that one day I would call Assynt my home. During my initial whistlestop tour I encountered some of the area’s highlights. The impossibly white Achmelvich beach and its backdrop of turquoise sea, the mountains, the incredibly lush and magic Culag Woods. I also met the man who would one day become my husband and as a result, Assynt would become my home. And I now have the luxury of seeing Assynt not just with the wondrous eyes of a visitor but the deep passion and love of a local.

My husband, who had left Assynt aged 19 and despite travelling the world and having many different occupations for 17 years, always knew that he would return to his true ‘home’. At our wedding we read an Austrian fairy tale about the love between a bird and tree – which perfectly described who we were. A once migratory bird who decided to stay for the love to a deeply rooted tree. 

I find myself thoroughly and happily nested in Assynt now, growing my own roots. At the same time my discoveries have never stopped. The wonders of the first journey with its landmark highlights haven’t worn off. I still marvel at vibrant green Elphin, and continue to be amazed by Suilven. New personal favourites have been added – the sparkling grey of  Glas Bheinn in the distance, the little beach at Altan na Bradhan and the numerous Assynt waterfalls.

My love for the landscape of the Northern Highlands has also extended from Assynt to further North – and East. The west coast is beautiful and yet I do have a bit of a soft spot for the beaches in the East and some hidden gems in the ‘middle’. It’s heartening and exciting that after 20 years there is no problem still finding new places to fall in love with. And yet I love that my ‘first’ Highland love is now my home so I don’t have to drive all those hours for some quality time.

An earlier, longer version of this srticle was published on the Venture North blog in 2016.