Often hailed as the Highlands’ most beautiful glen, Glen Affric not only boasts shimmering lochs and rugged mountains, but it is also one of the largest remnants of the pine forest that used to cover much of Scotland. For centuries the flanks of the glen were blanketed with birch,rowan and magnificent Caledonian pines.
Much of the forest was felled during the Industrial Revolution, but in recent decades Glen Affric has been at the centre of a determined attempt to conserve and extend the remaining woodland. And as the Scots pines have thrived so has the local wildlife, including the pine marten and the crossbill, a rare red-feathered bird nicknamed the Scottish parrot.
For most visitors, even reaching the start of this walk will involve a fairly epic journey to a remote part of the country. But it’s well worth the effort, as the surrounding scenery is nothing short of breathtaking.
An 11-mile hike around the shores of Glen Affric, the Highland’s most beautiful glen.
1. Shoreline start
Even getting to the car park is an adventure. An 8-mile road winds into Glen Affric from Cannich, passing miles of mixed woodland and the glittering waters of Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin. From the forestry car park walk along the northern-most track, which runs along the shore of Loch Affric until you reach the gates of Affric Lodge. Bear right beside a fence and climb gently away from the loch, following the path to a kissing-gate.
2. Birch and rowan
For the next 1¾ miles a rough path heads west-southwest, climbing gradually from 270m to the 330m contour. This stretch is an area of woodland regeneration, fenced off to stop red deer eating the young trees. It’s part of a bigger project to conserve and extend the mixed woodland that once covered huge swathes of Scotland. Among the birch and rowan grow magnificent Scots pines, with their dark green needles and copper-coloured trunks.
Leave this section through another gate. Ignore a right turning and continue to a footbridge, over the tumbling Allt Coire Leachavie burn.
As you follow the path southwest you’ll see the Sputan Ban waterfall to your right. Next you cross the Allt Coulavie. Normally it only requires a delicate balancing act on stepping-stones, but after heavy rain the crossing can be tricky, so take care. From here the path is less distinct and slightly boggy. Pass Loch Coulavie on your left and at the head of the glen the path curves south to meet a much clearer track at a T-junction.
4. Meadow and mountains
Turn sharp left and follow the track for 500m to a bridge over the River Affric to the Athnamulloch Bothy, a private walkers’ hut that was a working croft until 1950. This is a wonderful place, a flat meadow surrounded by huge and dramatic mountains.
Take the track heading east beside the river and follow it as it climbs above the southern shore of Loch Affric. The next few miles are probably the most scenic highlight of the day, with dazzling views across the water into the complex ridges and corries of the Munro Mam Sodhail.
5. Back by the burn
Cross a bridge over the Allt Garbh burn and follow the track past a cottage. Soon you’ll see the turreted splendour of Affric Lodge under the distant Sgurr na Lapaich. After 1¼ miles, turn left at a T-junction, then cross a bridge to return to the car park.
Easy to follow path and track, although some sections can be rough or boggy. No steep or sustained ascent or descent. The only difficulty is crossing the Allt Coulavie burn.
How to get there
From Drumnadrochit beside Loch Ness, head west to Cannich on the A831, then turn southwest on the single-track road signposted to Glen Affric. Follow it for 8 miles to the Glen Affric forestry car park, where there are public toilets.
The village of Cannich has shop, pubs, a hotel, a hostel and a campsite.
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 415.
Grid ref: NH 201 234