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  • Writer's pictureHiker Heather

Affric Kintail Way

Updated: 2 hours ago

Blog detailing my winter thru-hike of the Affric Kintail Way plus Beinn Fhada

Each year my first thru-hike of the season gets earlier and earlier, this year would be no different... I am always chomping at the bit to get back out in my tent for a prolonged period after what usually feels like a very long winter here in the UK and so I was beyond excited to be heading back to the Highlands in March for my first thru-hike of the season...the Affric Kintail Way... Whilst I was on the shoulder, between winter and spring, the weather seemingly hadn't yet caught up to the concept of spring just apparently being around the corner... this year has been a slow starter, weather-wise, for sure... I was excited regardless, the past few months over winter hadn't been the easiest and so I knew that getting back to nature with my tent for a almost a week would be the cure I was looking for. This trail felt perfect in many ways for my first thru-hike of the season, particularly for a trail that would require me to carry my heavier winter gear as it promised fairly easy navigation, a lot of non-technical terrain and it isn't too long in length so I wouldn't need to worry about a cumbersome food carry.... I had also opted for low mileage on the trail each day, as I usually do, in an attempt to keep the trail as chill as possible, since this was my annual leave and 'holiday' after all...


About the Affric Kintail Way

The Affric Kintail Way is fairly new trail having officially opened in 2015... The trail is 44 miles in length and starts on the shores of Loch Ness in Drumnadrochit and ends in Morvich in Kintail. The trail is fully signed posted, initially following forestry tracks that eventually lead you deep into the stunning Glen Affric, often described as Scotland's most beautiful glen, the glen features 30 miles of ancient pinewoods and is one of the largest ancient Caledonian pine woods in Scotland... The length and accessibility of the trail would make it an excellent first thru-hike for those wanting a taste of backpacking in the remote Scottish Highlands...

Access to and from the Trail

The beginning and end of the trail are both accessible by public transport (www.citylink.co.uk). I had initially planned to get the train to Inverness and then a bus to Drumnadrochit, I had even booked tickets and a hotel, however, I ended up choosing to drive so that I would have the comfort of my car at the end of the trail and so I drove and left my car and Glen Shiel campsite (with the consent of the owner) and then took the bus to the beginning of the trail the following day. I would have preferred to have stayed at Morvich campsite which is literally at the end of the trail, however, it was too early in the season and the campsite wasn't yet open, unfortunately, as I do love Morvich campsite having stayed there whilst on my hike of the Cape Wrath Trail a couple of years ago...


Navigation/ Terrain

In terms of navigation, I used the HARVEY Maps Affric Kintail Way Map which I was kindly gifted...

In addition, the trail is well waymarked throughout with the following markers -

I will also always have the GPX route downloaded on my phone as backup. The GPX route for the trail can be downloaded from the WalkHighlands website.


Itinerary


Day 1 - Drumnadrochit to Cannich (16 miles/ 26km)

Yesterday I'd made the crazy 7.5 hour journey from my home up to the far north west of Scotland and the end of the Affric Kintail Way. I had spent the night at Glenshiel Campsite before, finally, take a bus to Drumnadrochit on the shores of Loch Ness and the long anticipated start of the Affric Kintail Way! It was noon when I arrived, soon leaving the village of Drumnadrochit, where I'd passed a couple of years earlier with Rob and Jon on our hike of the Great Glen Way for my birthday... climbing up and out of Drumnadrochit through woodland on forestry tracks for the majority of the day, I couldn't help but feel so happy and grateful to be back, here in and amongst the trees, back with nature. It was just what my soul had needed, what it has been desperately craving...

Eventually dropping down to the notorious 4.5 mile road section into Cannich... which had I have actually checked the map, rather than follow the signs blindly, I would have realised that there was a new diversion in place which skips the entire road section!!! I didn't realise this little nugget of information until I was tucked up in my tent later that evening... what a numpty! The road walk was not the foot bashing I needed hahaha! I'd been tempted on previous thru-hikes to hitch arduous or dangerous road sections but I'd never fully summoned the courage... after a few miles of road stomping a car drove past and made eye contact, the driver put his thumb up to ask if I was okay, at which point I practically waved like a mentalist and shouted at him to please stop! The kind stranger stopped and drove me the last mile or two into Cannich where I would stay at the campsite, pitched beneath the trees, I enjoyed this beautiful little campsite and would highly recommend you staying here if hiking the trail :) it was a great little stop!


Day 2 - Cannich to Glen Affric (12 miles/ 19.5km)

After a restful nights sleep under the trees at Cannich campsite, I was ready for Day 2 on the Affric Kintail Way, excited to be heading further into the remote wilderness of Glen Affric. Taking the short road walk out of Cannich where I made a very short detour to pick up a few supplies from the local shop, I continued on more forestry tracks before dropping down to Dog Falls where I relaxed for a while down by the river, before continuing on, this is where the scenery really starts to kick in and before long I found myself walking beneath the ancient Caledonian pine forest... It felt humbling to be here amongst these beautiful ancient giants. The forestry track continued alongside the loch for some time, the rare views afforded between the trees were just beautiful... the beauty only increasing as the trail went on...

Unfortunately, wild camping spots were not easy to come across on this section of the trail, despite the map looking pretty promising, I ended up pitching at a lookout point which wasn't ideal but I was truly at he point of desperation and I hadn't seen a single soul all day...


Day 3 - Glen Affric to Camban Bothy (11 miles/ 18km)

Today was an absolute belter! I hadn't expected the weather to turn out as it did as I packed away my sopping wet tent under dark, brewing skies this morning but it wasn't long before the blue skies appeared... The scenery today was incredible, more than I had ever imagined, even after dreaming about Glen Affric for all of these years and seeing the photos - nothing quite prepared me for what I witnessed and of course, my amateur photos will never do this place justice either... you really do need to experience this place for yourself - experience its remoteness, its sheer beauty...

Again, I didn't see a single soul all day, I felt completely alone, incredibly small in this vast, remote and complex landscape, it was here that any negative feeling I might have been holding lifted, I no longer worried about things at home or work, the veil of stress had been lifted, I could see clearly again. I felt free once again. This is what these wild places do to me, they bring me back to myself, back to Mother Nature, they humble me, they make me and my worries seem small, everything pales in comparison when you are surviving self sufficiently, day in, day out in places such as these and I guess, well, there you have it - these are the very reasons I keep returning to these wild places...


I was aware of the storms that were due in later this evening, bringing with them gale force winds and so it had been my intention to stay in or near Camban Bothy this evening...

As the storm brewed outside and the sky began to look more and more ominous, I made the decision to stay inside the bothy for a change... I was the sole proprietor at the bothy that evening, except for the resident mice and also something a lot larger but I never did figure that out, nor did I figure out how the door would unlatch itself repeatedly throughout the night... oh and lets not forget to mention the dead sheep outside the front door, keeping in mind there were no other sheep around the hut... very odd... I don't believe it 'ghosts' but tonight nearly convinced me, that's for sure! The storm also arrived and it would continue...


Day 4 - Camban Bothy - Shiel Bridge (12 miles/ 19km)

The storm continued through the night, as did the opening of the bothy door and the mice and whatever else... I'd woke in the middle of the night to the sound of mice rummaging in my backpack despite it being hung up on the door to try and keep it out of the critters way, I reluctantly forced myself out of the warmth of my sleeping bag and proceeded to take everything out of my pack, in search for the illusive critters, I gave everything a good shake, replaced everything and attempted to go back to sleep but the rummaging continued not long after and the blighters still managed to gnaw a hole into my food bag, luckily, I was on my final rations anyway since today was my final day on the trail and so the concern of contamination wasn't too much of an issue at this point in the trail... It was a dark and gusty morning, it made me realise how truly remote I was out here in this little bothy, I was incredibly grateful for its shelter as my tent would have struggled to make it through the night... Today's hike was set to be some of the toughest terrain of the trail, I geared up with my waterproofs & set on my merry way, oblivious really to the immense, Tolkienesque scenery that lay ahead, I was still in awe of yesterdays beauty but today was a different kind of beauty to yesterdays most picturesque glen with its lochans edged with ancient pine, today we were in the mountains proper and despite being completely obliterated by extremely heavy rain and gale force winds, I just couldn't quite believe what I was witnessing, this place certainly was otherworldly...

The continual rain had turned the paths into streams, streams into rivers and ordinarily easy river, waterfall and stream crossings into a different monster completely... I had to watch every single step, this wasn't the place for error... Eventually I dropped down into Gleann Lichd beside the waterfalls that were in full force which was a spectacular sight... Arriving down in the glen with still some miles left to cover I felt completely battered by the weather and the weight of my pack containing all my winter kit and food over the past 4 days... battling on through the winds that were coming directly at me down the glen, I eventually arrived at the mountain rescue hut in Morvich which marks the end of the Affric Kintail Way!!! Although, I still had a couple of miles road walk back from Morvich to Shiel Bridge to my car which I had previously done on the Cape Wrath Trail but somehow failed to forget how bloody awful it was haha! I tried to hitch but didn't get much luck which then just made me cry so I continued on the road walk crying for a little while until giving my head a firm shake and realising I was just exhausted... hahaha! I would stay at Glenshiel Campsite again this evening as I certainly wasn't ready to go home just yet and I had plans to extend the trail slightly ;)


Day 5 - Affric Kintail Way Extension - Beinn Fhada

After completing the Affric Kintail Way yesterday, I had thought that a summit of Beinn Fhada would make for an excellent extension of the trail... My starting point to hike Beinn Fhada would be the mountain rescue hut in Morvich, which is where I ended the trail yesterday... The weather looked more promising for today, after yesterday's onslaught of wind and rain, leaving Morvich on the Affric Kintail Way for a short while, I soon turned off into the mountains making my way up and out of the glen... Again, there wasn't a single soul around, a common trend over the past 5 days, whilst I wasn't surprised to not find others hiking the Affric Kintail Way in winter, I had thought I might have bumped into some Munro baggers on my journey into the mountain but I didn't see a single soul for the entire day, except of course many beautiful deer friends and also some mountain goats too... my forever companions in these wild places...

The hike up Beinn Fhada was incredible, its sweeping paths, huge corries and plateau where a delight and made the ascent pretty easy going, which was what I had needed after the previous 4 days and nights spent carrying the weight of a small child on my back... I revelled in the delight of carrying just a day pack, reaching the summit felt unbelievable - I could see for miles down the remote Glen Affric, where I had walked the days prior to my summit ~ what adventure this had been, tough, but incredible all the same, I hiked a total of around 60 miles / 96km with 3000m / 9842 ft of ascent over 5 days in winter being entirely self sufficient! I've realised now that I never return from a trail the same person I was before, I grow in so many ways each and every time, Mother Nature will always be my biggest teacher, my closest companion, my inspiration, my leader and my guide. I love her entirely...For now, I head back home to the normalities of work and day to day life, but I'll be looking forward to and planning for mine and Jim's Third Annual Thru-Hike in May!!!

If you have any questions then please do use the contact form to drop me a line, I will get back to you as soon as possible. You can follow my adventures live over on my Instagram @hiker_heather

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mackins.sata
3 days ago

Excellent read heather x

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