Hillwalking - Draped with remnants of Caled-onian Pine woods: Glen Affric


Glen Lyon is Scotland’s longest, Glencoe is possibly the most dramatic; Glen Lethnot is reputedly the most haunted Whilst Glen Esk is as free of mystery as it is full of exorcising Rowan trees

To be sure, however, Glen Affric must be one of Scotland’s most beautiful sylvan glens. With its hillsides draped with remnants of Scotland’s once widespread Caledonian Pine woods, and with birch and oak and plenty more besides, the glen draws tourists of every inclination.

As we drove deeper into this wooded glen we were greeted by an inquisitive pine martin. Had rain come to rob us of any views that day, the sighting of this little fellow would have been reward enough for our journey. Beautiful chestnut brown on top, creamy chest and throat, two startled black eyes stared at us from behind his twitching whiskers. Taghan (Gaelic) nonchalantly trotted onto the grassy verge and, before slinking into the shade of the roadside trees, looked back at us as if daring us to follow.

Twenty minutes later, as we walked along the southern shores of Affric Loch, we watched a chaffinch snatch a fly from the air before our very noses-it was to be one of those days!

After a mile of loch side track and with big Sgurr na Lapaich frowning down on us from a big blue sky, we took a soggy path south, into the pines and eventually onto the open hillside. The going at first was steep, rough and wet. We stopped occasionally to examine the usual flowers which were at last presenting themselves in numbers. This coming summer’s grass was sprouting well on the lower hillsides, giving a pale green blush to the glen. On a sunlit rock we startled a Viviparous Lizard, a scurrying glitter of gold so canny that photography had to be quick.

We climbed first Creag na h-Fanchainne, then Creag nan Calman, before finally levelling out on gently angled though boggy, peat hag ridden ground. The views north and west were growing ever more mountainous with height.

And so at last we breasted the skyline. It was early yet for a break but the views and the heat said: ‘stop!’ From our perch we could see the entire horseshoe of hills we intended to cover, all grass and carpet moss and mostly soft to walk on. The distant mountain scene was good too. Old acquaintances such as Mullach Fraoch Choire, with its scrambly pinnacles. A’ Chrallaig and Conbhairean, gazed back at us across the glens, whilst the great cliff walls of distant Ben Fhada, hid the rest of Western Scotland from us. Of the Affric Hills Carn Eige and Mam sodhail, streaked with snow and in our faces, looked superb; the views back down wooded Glen Affric too, were wonderful.

The rusting ghost of an old fence, now sadly wire less, led us along the spine of the ridge to the 865 metre summit of Carn a’ Choire Ghairbh, with its two competing cairns. En route we were serenaded by Golden Plovers, their haunting piping all around us alerting us to the fact that they were nesting and didn’t want us there. Somewhere out there too, a Curlew wheeped disdain.

South we dropped now, above the remote and unusually wooded Ghleanne na Ciche, then up again over Cadha Riabhach, then onto Carn a’ Choire Ghuirm. Beyond this little eminence rises a stony top, Tigh Mor na Seilga. Although only ten minutes easy walking from Ghuirm, it actually belongs to the nearby Munro, Sail Chaorainn, a mountain we’d visited during our early ‘bagging’ days. Inveterate collector of summits that he is, my companion for the day strode across to claim it while I lay on the soft warm grass to enjoy the dinner time sunshine to the full.

Although the rest of the walking was homewards we still had a long way to go. For the first time a faint path led us east, along the pleasantly narrow and verdant ridge of An Elrig. Below us, to our right, a vast peat hagged bowl of a corrie looked decidedly inhospitable. Over the tops of the Cluanie Hills, beyond Glen Garry and out to Lochaber, rose Creag Meaghaidh, The Grey Corries and, chief of chiefs, the imposing bulk of Nevis.

The drop to the bealach an Amais, was the penultimate descent of the day. One final wet grassy climb, a short sharp shock enlivened by a mountain spring and frogs galore, had us on the stony summit plateau of 888 metre Aonach Shasuinn- ‘The Englishman’s Peak’. Again there are two cairns, the more distant one being slightly higher and accompanied by a wind shelter collection of boulders. This is Shasuinn’s East Top, we’d crossed the barely noticeable East Top en route.

A last lingering cup of tea, a final gaze around the wild skyline and down into beautiful Glen Affric with Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin’s calm waters glinting in the afternoon sun, then off, back to the nearby West Top from which we dropped north, then north of east, on the steep ridge of Ceann Aonach Shasuinn. From above Loch an Sguid, we could make out the land rover track we were aiming for; it was still some way off and the getting there was rough and pathless, we took our time.

At length we arrived at the banks of the Allt Garbh. Though there was no need so to do (we didn’t need to ford the stream), I revelled in removing my boots and standing in the cool flowing water, the rough stones of the river bed soothing my aching feet.

We were soon back in this morning’s woods of pine and birch. We’d been walking for a good nine hours now and in all that time we hadn’t met another soul. This gentler stretch was more peopled, the kinder weather having lured out the day trippers with their kids and dogs. An amateur photographer was setting out to photograph the early evening light, while a binocular festooned chap was off to watch the birds.

That’s the kind of place Glen Affric is, there’s something there for everyone and anyone who has the urge to come and see.