Panorama of Inverness from Inverness Castle
Sean and Anne Hanley Across Scotland, the Glen Affric Trail, June 2013
What better way is there to spend a birthday week than an 84 mile trek from Inverness, through glorious Glen Affric and through the hills to the delightful little Highland village of Glenelg? Ok the weather could have been much better, but you don’t come to Scotland to get sun stroke – weather beaten and regularly soaked, maybe. But if you’ve got the right gear, what’s a bit of rain?? And the added benefit of the weather was the virtual non-appearance of the dreaded midges. On the subject of midges – what’s the problem?? Get the lotion on (you all knows what works for you), invest in a midge hat and you’re laughing!
As usual all luggage transfers worked a treat and the accommodation was all up to the usual high standards. One thing I really look forward to every year is a good old Scottish breakfast – ok you can’t do that everyday without clogging up the old arteries but now and again – fantastic! So, all packed up on Monday for the drive from Edinburgh to Inverness. Always a fine drive over the Forth Road Bridge and up the A9. My advice, just take your time. I know it’s tempting to tear up the road, but there’s plenty of stretches of dual carriageway and over-taking lanes, so there’s no real need to take chances on the winding roads. Inverness holds many great memories. It’s a lively place full of good pubs and eating places. The castle is worth a visit and you’re within easy distance of the brilliant new visitor centre at Culloden. On our way up to the castle (the starting point for the walk, and the end point for the Great Glen Way) we saw some cute little bunnies. Aww....
A cute wee bunny!
Day 1: Inverness to Drumnadrochit
After a hearty Scottish breakfast Anne and I set off. The start of the walk is Inverness Castle, the statue of Flora MacDonald seemingly pointing you on your way.
It is possible to take a cruise down to Drumnadrochit, which I’ll do some time, but not today. We made our way onto the banks of the River Ness, turning onto the Caledonian Canal tow path soon after. The weather was ok, bit cloudy but nothing to get excited about. Of course this stretch appears on the last leg of the Great Glen Way, which we did a couple of years ago. It’s ok – a little bit samey to be honest, however the views of the old Craig Dunain hospital (now empty) and the walk through Dochgarroch Woods are worth looking forward to. It’s a long trek mind you and the final stretch into Drumnadrochit along the A82 seems to take a while (especially as the clouds had produced a bit of drizzly rain.) Now, you probably know that Drumnadrochit is famous for Nessie – you walk past the exhibition centre and there’s no shortage of souvenirs around the place. Does the monster exist?? Make up your own mind...but could that many people have been seeing things, I ask you?? A couple of kilometres detour will take you to the atmospheric Urquhart Castle, the 13th century fortress on the banks of Loch Ness. Well worth a trip, but maybe not after a 20 mile hike from Inverness. We had a wee bit of a walk to our B&B where we were welcomed with a pot of tea and a slice of cake. Quick wash and brush up then down to the village to the delightful Loch Ness Inn for dinner.
Day 2: Drumnadrochit to Cannich
Today starts with a fairly steep climb on the tarmac road for about 1 km out of Drumnadrochit. You just about get to the end of the climb when you reach the Clan Chisholm memorial. Thereafter a mix of forestry paths and minor footpaths. The highlight was the glimpses you get through the trees onto Loch Meiklie. Being a bit childish, I was also looking forward to reaching Shewglie, to see if it was.... Cannich is an attractive little village, with a couple of pubs, a supermarket and a Primary School. Talking to Alastair the B&B owner, it has a quite lively community. Just over the bridge is the Glen Affric Hotel, now empty and sadly deteriorating. A real 1960’s building with a story to tell, no doubt.
Glen Affric Pub and the former Glen Affric Hotel
Day 3: Cannich to (nearly) Affric Lodge
Panormic View between Cannich and Glen Affric
There are two routes you can take – north of Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin or south. We took the south route through forest. After the last couple of days where forest tracks seemed to predominate, it was good to be covering more varied terrain. Slight squabble ensued when we missed the turn off to the path down to Dog Falls. Easy to miss if you’re not paying attention – if you get to the bridge over the stream, you’ve gone too far. When we eventually found the turn off (a little track through the woods) we then noticed a small pile of stones and a log with an orange plastic strap marking the turn-off. Obvious when you find it!
Picnic spot at Dog Falls
The bridge at Dog Falls (a welcome picnic/toilet stop) takes you over the River Affric and down the south side of the loch to the car park just before Affric Lodge.
Splendid view of River Affric
The car park was our pick up spot to be driven back to the B&B.
The Birthday Boy's lunch!
Finches at the picnic tables must be well used to picking up scraps from passers by. I’m sure they were queuing up when we sat down. We called this one Willo (the wasp) as that’s what he seemed to be munching on at the time.
A finch having his lunch (a wasp!)
We had dinner in the second pub in Cannich and had a night cap in the Glen Affric pub, which turned out to be a bit later than planned when I let slip that it was my birthday (what am I like??) and we had a good old blether with the bar owner (a fellow football fan) and a couple of guys camping nearby.
Day 4: Glen Affric Car Park to Alltbeithe Youth Hostel
We were looking forward to this stage probably most of all. The novelty of staying in the Youth Hostel and all the things we had read about it, were absolutely intriguing.
Scenic view back to River Affric
The walk itself was a step up in terms of scenery. We set off along the north side of Loch Affric past Affric Lodge. Glorious views through Glen Affric and numerous waterfalls cascading down from the mountains. There’s a stretch of path (probably a couple of kilometres) which has been laid with loose boulders and is not ultra easy on the feet. However you soon get to more regular tracks and the section skirting along the foothills is especially impressive. Despite not being waymarked at all, the route is straightforward, the path is distinct and leads without too much trouble to the hostel. One word of warning, the hostel is closed between 10:00 and 5:00, so you might need to think about when you want to leave Cannich. It took us about 4 ½ hours (though if the weather had been better we’d have taken more time). In inclement weather you can shelter in the porch.
Alltbeithe Youth Hostel
To the hostel itself – spotless, all the facilities you need and good company. Just a great experience. You need to take all the food you need (a popular choice seemed to be cheesy pasta...!). You’re advised to also take sleeping bags, though I didn’t and found the bedding provided to be perfectly adequate. The hostel is owned by National Trust for Scotland and is run by the SYHA.
Snug as a bug in a rug!
Day 6: Alltbeithe Youth Hostel to Glen Shiel
Next morning after more cheesy pasta (just kidding – porridge) we set off for Glen Shiel through West Affric. One of the highlights of the walk was probably meeting 750 people coming in the opposite direction!! The famous Highland Cross takes place on the Saturday after the summer solstice. If I had a fiver for everyone who said ‘looks like you picked the wrong day for a quiet walk’ or ‘you’re going in the wrong direction’ I could have retired there and then!
The Highland Cross
Highland Cross walkers in Glen Affric
This was the wettest day so far. However the walk out by the Outdoor Centre (where I’ve stayed before – on my own, by the way!! – long story) was terrific, with glorious views at every turn.
Single track path showing the falls at Allt Grannda
Fine views of the Five Sisters of Kintail – if the weather had allowed us to see them!! Anyway, finally we reached the Kintail Lodge Hotel. The end of a great day.
Day 7: Shiel Bridge to Glenelg
Hadn’t really researched this bit properly. So, wasn’t quite ready for this one. As it turned out, it was without doubt the most challenging leg. But rewarding none the less. Certainly didn’t expect to see this chap as we left Shiel Bridge!
You expect lambs not llamas!
Loch Coire nan Croghan
23 June .. summer apparently!
You soon come across probably the best kitted out bothy I’ve seen in a long time at Suardalan. We put a pithy little message in the visitor’s book and set out for the last stretch.
Yes.. can I help you?
By this stage, I’m afraid, the weather was starting to close in, which coincided with boots well and truly letting in. Now, I’m not a happy chappy when this starts to happen, however I kept a stiff upper lip and tried not to let Anne see that I was beginning to want to get to the end.
I'm no' happy!
Not far to go now!
We left the hills behind and got to a tarmac road, passing a couple of ancient brochs and finally arrived at the impressive war memorial on the outskirts of Glenelg. The famous Glenelg Inn soon appeared on the left hand side and we stopped off to celebrate the end of the walk.
Overlooking Skye at Dusk
So that was it, the Glen Affric Trail. Unmissable in my opinion. Challenging but rewarding with some outstanding scenery. Best of all in my view is the chance to meet some great people on the way - both locals and fellow travellers. As a final bonus on our trip, we took a bus from Glenelg to Kyle of Lochalsh up the military road the next morning which gave us a terrific viewpoint at Bealach Ratagain with a final tantalising glimpse of the Five Sisters of Kintail. Still a bit of cloud cover, but you get the idea!
Five Sisters of Kintail