After 2 cancelled trips in 2020 and 2021 (surprisingly enough due to the pandemic), Sarah and I finally managed to complete the Affric Kintail Way. This was her first taste of multi-day hiking and was the ideal length for a long weekend, rather than having to take lots of time off work. We opted to complete the trail over 3 days, travelling to Morvich the day before we started to leave the car at the end of the walk. This was an absolutely stunning walk in places and although a ‘short’ trail compared to others I’ve completed, the distance still shouldn’t be underestimated.
Although this was the 3rd time we’d tried to book the AKW, the plan had been the same each time – drive to Morvich the day before the walk, then complete the trail over 3 days, stopping in Cannich and then at Glen Affric Youth Hostel. This would give us 2 shorter days either side of a pretty long day in the middle. With restrictions easing and life returning to normal, we finally managed to book all of the relevant parts of our journey for the last weekend in April. There shouldn’t be any midges, but it also shouldn’t be too cold or wet.
The weekend finally came and we set off from Ayrshire in the early afternoon to try and avoid the worst of any weekend traffic. We had driven this way in March for a few days away and the difference in the colours of the hills and lack of snow was significant. Things were slowly warming up, which was ideal for Sarah, who’s definitely a warm-weather hiker at heart!
The drive took us around 4 hours and we arrived at our overnight accommodation (Ratagan YH) just in time for tea. Before we cooked our meal though, we had to have a wee wander outside and take in the absolutely breathtaking scenery on what turned out to be a lovely evening. I pottered around with our kit for a while and we both got an early night in preparation for what would be a big few days ahead of us.
Our first day on the trail didn’t start overly early and we had plenty of time to get up and about, check kit and get ourselves fed and watered. We finally set off on foot to the bus stop at Shiel Bridge just before 0945. It was just over 1.5 miles and the bus was due at 1040, so we had plenty of time to saunter along. This was a good chance to adjust our boots and packs and deliberate over layering for the remainder of the day.
The bus arrived pretty much on time and we hopped on board, showing the driver our pre-purchased tickets. It was almost £20 per person for the journey from Shiel Bridge to Drumnadrochit, which I did think was a little steep if I’m being honest. It’s not like we had much of a choice though as a taxi would have been significantly more than that.
We arrived in Drumnadrochit an hour or so later, just in time for the rain! It was on with the waterproof shells straight away as there wasn’t any point in getting soaked. A short walk from the bus stop is the Loch Ness Hub in the centre of the village, the official start of the route. There’s a huge car park and toilets here, which came in handy of course. Ready and raring to go, we set off at 1200.
The first stage of our AKW adventure was to Cannich, some 13.5 miles away, on mostly roads or forest tracks. We were aiming to be at the campsite between 1700 and 1800 to give us plenty of time to get pitched up and washed/fed, allowing for another early night.
We headed out of Drumnadrochit and followed a fairly new path through the woods, climbing steadily to around 200m. From here we followed a forest track that ran parallel to the A-road below us along Glen Urquhart. The trees were pleasant enough and provided some shelter from the elements, but there wasn’t really much to write home about in terms of views so far. With little distraction we made good progress along the track, stopping after 90 minutes or so for a wee lunch break.
After the highest point of the track, we slowly started to drop down back towards the road below, almost meeting the A831 at a small picnic site near Loch Meiklie. Thankfully we could avoid the road for a wee while longer and followed the track along the southern side of the loch. The scenery was pleasant enough – mostly woodland or farmland – and there were plenty of lambs around in the fields to keep Sarah happy. We bimbled along, chatting rubbish and passing the time as we made our way towards Shenval.
After passing through the wee settlement of Shenval (and stopping to put our waterproof trousers on as the rain showed no signs of easing) and continuing along another short section of track, we soon found ourselves on the A831, which would be followed all the way to Cannich. There were around 4 miles of road walking on what was a fairly fast road with a reasonable amount of traffic – I wouldn’t like to have walked this during the height of the summer when the road would be even busier. The tarmac gave easy walking and we eventually reached Cannich at almost exactly 1700, 5 hours after leaving Drumnadrochit.
First on the agenda for the evening was getting the tent sorted, so we headed to the campsite and checked ourselves in before finding a level pitch with a wee bit of tree cover to keep off some of the rain. Before getting out of the wet gear we nipped round to the well stocked Spar in the village to pick up some bits and bobs for the evening and then tomorrow’s long walk to Glen Affric YH. Once back at the campsite we finally got out of the wet clothes and made use of the comfy campers room on the campsite to cook and eat, which saved dragging too much mud and water in and out of the tent.
Pretty tired after an enjoyable but busy first day, we headed off for an early night in preparation for the big (and remote) day to follow.
Despite a long day ahead of us we didn’t require a hugely early start, choosing instead to get up at around 0730. To make life a little easier we once again made use of the campers room to re-pack the rucksacks, closely followed by our porridge for breakfast. The small cafe next to the campsite was due to open around 0800, so Sarah was tasked with getting us some kind of filled rolls for our lunch – these were very pricey, but fresh and tasty and hit the spot later in the day!
Ready to tackle the 20ish miles ahead of us, we set off just before 0900. Thankfully the rain that had stayed on pretty much all day yesterday had eased and we were left with a cool morning and some high clouds, perfect walking weather.
The trail initially follows the single-track road towards Mullardoch, turning off after a mile or so to join yet another forest road. This one was a little more open than the day before with some good views of the glen. We followed the track for a few miles until the trail drops down to the tarmac road on the valley floor at Dog Falls. There was a handy toilet here and the falls themselves were very picturesque.
By this point we’d already covered around a quarter of the distance for the day in around 2 hours, so we pressed on uphill to join another track through the woodlands on the south side of the glen, agreeing that the picnic site and toilets at the end of the public road in Glen Affric would make an ideal lunch spot.
After the steady climb to join the track the views really began to open up and give us a glimpse of why Glen Affric is widely regarded as one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens. It was very hard to do the place justice on a phone camera, but some of the scenery was utterly breathtaking and gave us an excellent excuse to take plenty of stops.
Another 3 hours saw us to the picnic site at the car park. We were now pretty tired and definitely ready for some lunch, which was swiftly scoffed! We took the time to get our boots off and let our socks and boots air a little. We had all evening to complete our day’s walking and get to the hostel so we were in no hurry to leave. Our chosen bench was perched on the hillside with great views of the valley beyond, so we sat and enjoyed the scenery, chatting away about the highs and lows of the adventure so far.
Feeling refreshed we set off once more on the final 8 miles or so to reach our overnight stop. It was from here that things started to feel truly remote as we left the tarmac behind and headed deeper into the upper reaches of Glen Affric. Sarah was definitely starting to fade after a big effort so far, so we stopped a fair few times to admire the awesome scenery and give her a breather. She was a wee trooper though and kept up an excellent pace as we left the west end of Loch Affric and endured the last couple of miles of undulating track towards the YH.
Shortly after 1800 we made it to Glen Affric Youth Hostel, where we were greeted warmly and given a guided tour by the hostel manager. We had booked one of the private rooms in the hostel (there are 2 of these available) so it felt like complete luxury after a very long day’s walking. We got into our comfy clothes and feasted on a dinner of pasta with hot dogs (a firm favourite of mine) before I made use of the hot shower in the hostel.
Once again we whiled away the evening by reminiscing about the beautiful scenery and sharing ideas about future trails and adventures. Another early night was on the cards though as we wanted to get going as quickly as possible in the morning to get the long drive home done before the evening as we both had work the following day.
Our final morning involved a very early start in comparison to the somewhat leisurely schedule we’d maintained so far. We were both up and beginning to pack shortly before 0600, hoping to be ready to go around an hour later. After enjoying another hearty breakfast of porridge we left the hostel just after 0700.
It was very cloudy this morning with not much by way of views. I had been in the area last year on my epic Kintail overnighter, but it would have been awesome to see some of the amazing scenery again.
We made good progress towards Camban bothy, passing it as its residents were beginning to stir and get ready for the day’s adventuring. After the bothy there was a steady climb to reach the highest point of the final day and thereafter it was all downhill, a thought with which Sarah was very happy!
We followed the trail as it snaked through the valley, passing the stunning waterfalls on the Allt Grannda.
The next stop on the trail was Glen Lichd House, a private shelter owned by Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club. From here we could see the rest of the valley stretch away in front of us, but we knew that at the end of this lay Morvich, the end of the AKW and (almost) the end of our walk.
We made good progress down the quiet, sheep-filled valley and finally reached Morvich around 1030, 3.5 hours after leaving the hostel. We had done it – Affric Kintail Way complete! Our day’s walking wasn’t quite over with though as we still had another few miles of horrible road walking to reach the car, which we had left at Ratagan. This was a tough few miles on tired legs and sore feet and after many naughty words and a few short breaks, we reached the car and breathed a sigh of relief that we wouldn’t have to walk any further on tarmac!
Accounting for the extra bits at either end of our walk and any bimbling around during each day, we had completed more than 50 miles in 3 days, some of which was through the most remote terrain that this part of the country has to offer. I was immensely proud of Sarah for completing a mammoth few days (this was easily the longest thing she’d attempted) and as a reward to both of us, we had agreed to stop at The Crofter in Fort William on the way home (in all honesty, the extensive menu made up around 50% of our entire conversation along the entire trail…!).
I’m so glad to have finally walked the Affric Kintail Way after a couple of cancellations and it’s a trail I would happily do again, probably following a similar schedule as we had chosen. Another option I’d be happy to tackle would be completing the route in a single day by mountain bike (although getting to and/or from each end would be a bit of a faff) or potentially over 2 days on foot, with a wild camp somewhere at the western end of Loch Affric. There’s loads of scope for exploring and I can guarantee that it won’t be the last time I’ll be in this remote and beautiful part of the Highlands!