Glen Affric is a place to get away from it all and soak up nature at nature’s pace, appreciating all that is around you. My spur-of-the-moment visit was slightly different, though.
On a day off with perfect weather, I just had to get out to do one of my favourite runs. The only problem was, I had to squeeze it all in to the very short length of a school day so I could drop off and pick up my daughter, taking into account the long drive from Inverness.
Having calculated that I could just about make it with around half an hour to spare, I jumped in the car and headed for the River Affric car park at the end of the road – only to find the way completely blocked by roadworks a couple of miles from the end.
After waiting what seemed a lifetime, the diggers finally moved away to let us pass and I could only hope there was no repeat on the return journey.
The glen was looking at its finest, with almost clear blue skies, snow-capped mountains and deep green in the magnificent Scots pines that line so much of the route. These remnants of Caledonian forest are being expanded by the charity Trees For Life, which has recently renovated a bothy (not open to the public) for its volunteers at Athnamulloch.
Over the bridge from here is Strawberry Cottage, a private mountaineering club house. The water in the river was mirror-like smooth as I went over the bridge, in contrast to the rough path that follows.
This is just short of halfway on the Loch Affric circuit, but the Affric Kintail Way marker post at the turning point had me yearning to go further. There was no way I could today, yet what a day this would be to be doing this new long-distance route that starts in Drumnadrochit by Loch Ness and heads through Affric on its way to Morvich in Kintail.
The route follows ancient drove roads and other existing paths and tracks – as well as road for a stretch to reach Cannich – as it makes its way through a variety of landscapes which just get more spectacular as you head west.
Beyond here, the route passes by Alltbeithe, probably the most remote youth hostel in the Highlands, situated in the heart of Glen Affric and offering access to a range of difficult-to-access Munros for the hillwalker.
A track then climbs onto the shoulder of Beinn Fhada, past Camban bothy (which is open to the public) before dropping steeply into Gleann Lichd with views over the Five Sisters of Kintail on the way down.
Having followed the Yellow Brick Road, as the track from the River Affric car park to Athnamulloch is known especially to Highland Cross regulars, all this would have to wait, as I reached the turning point and turned right on the path that skirts high above the north side of the loch.
This side is wetter and rougher but somehow all the better for that. It involves a few burn crossings so wet feet are guaranteed. It felt strange to now be running away from those beautiful mountains but the regenerating forest has its own attraction.
I got back to the car park on schedule – perhaps the earlier delay had given me an adrenaline boost for the run – and after a few stretches and a bite to eat, I was heading home with no stops on the Affric road.
I probably wasn’t the best smelling parent in the playground that afternoon, but I reckon I’d probably had the best day of all.
Loch Affric circuit
* Distance 11 miles / 18km
* Terrain Estate road, rough track, paths, burn crossings
* Start/finish River Affric car park (charges apply)
* Maps OS Landranger 25, Glen Carron & Glen Affric; Harvey British Mountain Map, Knoydart, Kintail & Glen Affric
A glorious circuit of this loch amid some of the finest mountain scenery in Scotland
Affric Kintail Way
The Affric Kintail Way runs 44 miles from Drumnadrochit to Morvich and can be tackled on foot or by mountain bike. There is also information for horse riders on the website.
Rough surfaces in some sections make cycling tricky while a fairly lenghty road section means walkers or runners need to follow the verge.
The route traverses some wild and remote parts of the Highlands and travellers must be self-sufficient in these sections.
For route details and further information see www.affrickintailway.com
The Highland Cross is a fundraising duathlon that goes coast to coast from Morvich in Kintail to Beauly, following a route through Glen Affric and via Cannich.
Participants walk or run and cycle the 50-mile route in midsummer, raising money for charities selected by the event committee.
It has raised more than £4.4 million for Highland charities since its inception in 1983.
The 35th running of the Highland Cross takes place on Saturday, June 17.
See www.highlandcross.co.uk for more details.