Quinag hike is a fine and remote circular ridge walk over three Assynt mountains in Northern Scotland. Along the way you’ll conquer Spidean Coinich, Sail Gorm and Sail Gharbh. Quinag is an excellent full day hike, easily accessible by car from Ullapool, as well as a great stop if you’re driving along NC500 (North Coast 500), one of Scotland’s most scenic routes.
A day spent hiking this stunning ridge will be one to remember!
QUINAG RIDGE WALK FACT SHEET
- Height: Spidean Coinich 764 masl, Sail Gorm 776 masl, Sail Gharbh 809masl
- Total time: 8-9 hours
- Total distance: 14 km
- Parking: large, unmarked car park, less than two miles north from junction A837 / A894 (directions)
- Level of difficulty: 4-long hillwalk over 3 mountains, some scrambling involved, short pathless section
- Quinag weather: click here to check Quinag weather forecast (Ben More Assynt)
- Which map: OS 442 Assynt and Lochinver
About Quinag ridge walk
Quinag is a group of 3 mountains: Spidean Coinich 764 masl, Sail Gorm 776 masl and Sail Gharbh 809 masl. Although they make a single massif, each has a very different character -Spidean Coinich is rocky and most difficult of the three, Sail Ghorm is the grassiest and Sail Gharbh is rugged, but easiest of them.
It is possible to shorten the hike and climb one or two summits only, many walkers do just that. Also, there are proper paths for most of the way, which is very good news; only ascent to Spidean Coinich is partially pathless (however it’s not a problem as it’s quite clear where to head, in good weather). Of course, some navigation skills are always needed, especially in poor weather (and Assynt’s weather can change very suddenly), but on a clear day navigation on Quinag shouldn’t be difficult, having a simple map should be sufficient.
The Quinag Adventure starts here!
– ‘I would go to Assynt’ – I replied to Bea when she asked what my first choice destination for the weekend would be. I looked at her and I instantly knew that it has been decided already.
‘Assynt it is!’ – she confirmed happily. Only one big decision left now – which hikes to choose. After a quick brainstorm we picked Quinag. We have both been eyeing it for some time, but we found its reputation of a long and strenuous hike a bit discouraging. Now, we can definitely say, we both regret ignoring Quinag for such long time, it’s an amazing day adventure.
As we are based in Edinburgh, we broke the long journey to Assynt into two parts. First, we drove to Ardmair campsite (just past Ullapool), reaching the small campsite late in the evening. It rained most of the night and we were doubtful of weather forecast- mist was to lift in the morning… or was it?
‘Fingers crossed, so far looks promising’ – I woke up and looked hopefully at the sky and … the lifting mist! Yay!
The Quinag hike – a remote ridge walk in Assynt mountains
It was only an hour drive from Ardmair campsite to the unmarked car park where the hike starts. But before that, we also stopped at viewpoint over Loch Assynt (two marked car parks) to take some photos and enjoy first glimpse of what’s awaiting us – massif of mighty Quinag. Finally we drove ahead towards our destination! We missed the car park at first, just drove past it, hence the specific location marked in ‘Quinag fact sheet’ at top of page.
Quinag hike starts by returning to main road (from car park) and following it for about 50 yrds to the left. There is a small footbridge over a stream, visible from roadside, we headed towards it. Past the bridge, a clear path starts. It soon forked, at a cairn (pile of stones). We turned left there, the other path was our return way.
As we passed the fork, path became less clear, also the terrain changed. It became much wetter, however we managed across it dry footed. How? Luckily there were large, flat slabs of rock which we used as stepping stones. It was very easy and fun to walk over, we didn’t even realise that the path disappeared altogether; but weather was good and we could clearly see where to head. Up, up, up!
Whenever we lost the path or it was too faint to follow, we headed towards the highest point. Rocky slopes of the first peak, Spidean Coinich, were easy to hike and not too steep, we just went straight up.
Just as we felt the need to catch the breath, we came across flatter ground, with a small rock shelter and a cairn. ‘What a perfect spot for a break!’ I thought and happily took camera out to take some photos. In front of my eyes were typical views of Assynt – lochs and lochans (larger and smaller lakes) dotting lush greens, very irregular, very wild, very remote. It’s a honey to our souls, that view. It is so calming and brings us peace.
After the break we continued hiking up towards first peak, Spidean Coinich. Suddenly the weather changed. We saw some dark clouds in the distance, but never dreamed that they will be upon us so quickly!
‘Oh, should I bother to put on waterproofs on or not?’ I always postpone putting on waterproofs, then I realise that I’m about to be soaked and just when I zip up the jacket, rain stops. That’s exactly what happened. We just managed to put overtrousers and jackets and the rainbow appeared, 2 minutes later sun came out. D’oh!
‘So typical!’ I thought and quickly took the waterproofs off. Bea was a bit more doubtful and kept them on – another big grey cloud appeared on the horizon. I felt we only had one final push to reach the summit and as the path kept appearing and disappearing (which I found annoying) I went straight for it, again.
That’s me seizing Spidean Coinich. This ‘last push’ was much easier and quicker than I anticipated. In no time we both enjoyed summit views… also strong breeze and a little drizzle. Exactly because of that drizzle we wanted to keep on going, just one complimentary photo with summit cairn and off we went!
Path down from Spidean Coinich was exciting! On east side we hiked over a bit of swamp, then large slabs, boulderfield.. on west side we faced a short arete, narrow ridge, and it was much more adventurous! We also were getting used to these dark clouds coming and going with the wind. They actually created some very atmospheric skies and we watched it with admiration, it was like a battle between rocky summits and heavy grey clouds. Great for photos too!
Very quickly we got down to the saddle and then over a small hill, then down to another saddle (repeat 3 times!) and finally we faced a rugged path up to the junction point where all paths of Quinag met. It was very tempting to use ‘escape route’ and hike down to the valley, not to bother about hiking another 2 summits! But somehow our adventurous side kicked in and we waived the idea. So, instead of being lazy we checked the map and continued ahead, towards the gentlest of the three summits, Sail Ghorm.
In comparison to previous peak (rocky, rugged Spidean Coinich), summit ahead of us looked nice and gentle. Definitely, the approach was longer than we first thought, and that’s for two reasons – firstly, it really is a longish ridge walk, but there’s not much height to be gained so it’s quite pleasant; secondly, because of the hidden pass with rocky outcrop which is a fantastic viewpoint and I bet, everyone stops there to take photos, and the daredevils challenge themselves to the very end of rocky rib.
Getting to the end of rock rib required a good head for heights and steady legs, but was very enjoyable. We stopped there for a bit longer, I just couldn’t get enough of the view. And, yes, I couldn’t resist challenging myself on the rocky rib! While standing at the very edge, I almost felt suspended in air, with high drop before me and Assynt’s lush greens far below.
Finally, when I satisfied myself with photos, we continued up to the furthest and gentlest summit, Sail Ghorm. There is a cairn marking its highest point, and thanks for that – this summit reminds a flat-ish plateau and it would be really difficult to pick its highest spot without a hint.
Sail Ghorm stands proud above Eddrachillis Bay, its jagged coastline and small islands. At low tide we would be able to see tiny hidden beaches, unknown to anyone but the locals. This is what we really love about Assynt- it’s a relatively small area, but rich in secrets. There are secret beaches, unexplored coastal areas, small uninhabited islands, all so wild and undiscovered!
From Sail Ghorm we retraced our steps to the ‘junction point’ and walked towards the third of Quinag’s peaks – Sail Garbh. It’s a short walk over a rugged path, much shorter than it looks, and very easy. Unfortunately, it didn’t bring anything new – the views were similar to previous two peaks, but still, I think it was worth climbing. We didn’t dwell on it too much and returned to the ‘junction’ again.
Our planned return route started on the ‘junction’ plateau. It’s marked with a small cairn and zig-zags down the steep slope. Very soon it reaches the foot of Sail Gharbh and eases. Since then it’s straight forward – maybe a little bit muddy at first, but we used large white rocks as stepping stones. It seemed a long walk back, but there was an easy-to-follow path and before we knew it, we reached the cairn (where the path forked at the very beginning of the hike). Only a couple of minutes later we were back at the car park, exhausted but very happy!
Quinag ridge hiking map
Wild camping and nearest campsite information
Assynt is one of the most remote and wild areas of Scotland, it’s wast open spaces are sparsely populated. Hence, finding a spot to wild camp in Assynt is easy. There are many car parks suitable for overnight stay (in a camper), alternatively one can find a good spot to pitch a tent with ease. Scotland’s access legislation (the Land Reform Scotland Act 2003), states that wild camping is allowed on most unenclosed land, apart from specially managed areas (like Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park). The tent should ideally be invisible from the road or nearest dwellings.
There are only a couple of campsites in Assynt, all picturesquely located near the sea. The best ones are: Ardmair campsite (nearest to Ullapool), Achmelvich beach – Shore Caravan site (special recommendation due to location at one of Assynt’s best beaches), Clachtoll Beach campsite (also recommended), Scourie Caravan Park (located farthest north).
What we loved about hiking Quinag
Quinag is a remote, rugged mountain ridge. Hiking it (all 3 summits) is a long day out, but views make up for the effort. The walk can be shortened by hiking 1 or 2 summits of your choice. Any of the three Quinag summits provide fantastic views to Assynt’s lochs and lochans, as well as other iconic monolith mountains.
*Level of difficulty explained: 1– easy walk, mostly flat 2-easy hillwalk, good path 3-moderate, possible some steep sections 4-long hillwalk, possibly some scrambling involved, possibly pathless 5-difficult, possibly pathless, long, requires technical skills