Walk Review: The Affric Kintail Way, Highlands

 

The Affric Kintail Way is one of Scotland’s long distance routes, running 44 miles from Drumnadrochit south of Inverness, to Morvich in the West. The first half makes use of forestry tracks after which the landscape changes dramatically, transporting you through the mountainous wilderness of Glen Affric and the Kintail mountains. The whole route is well signposted. 

DISTANCE: 44 Miles

START: Drumnadrochit Tourist Information Office (IV63 6TX)

END: NTS Ranger Station in Morvich  (IV40 8HQ)

AKW Whole

Viewranger logo - new - Jan 2017  Download the route to your mobile device HERE (Viewranger app required)

route image  Route: a detailed route description is available on the official website of the Affric Kintail Way 

 

WALK REPORT: SEPTEMBER 2017

Background & Pre-Hike Fears

I can’t remember which of us first suggested walking The Affric Kintal Way, but it had been in the plans for around a year and I had high expectations after seeing some photos a friend posted on Facebook of their experience of it: They were deep among the mountains of the Highlands, a true wilderness, the views simply spectacular.

At the same time, I was also slightly nervous since we would be camping and therefore carrying full packs which was all new to me. I knew there was little in the way of amenities along the trail and was more than anxious about the toilet situation! The plan was to hike it over 3 days, Friday-Saturday-Sunday, and take the bus back towards Glasgow on the Monday morning. Five months earlier I had walked the Ayrshire Coastal Path over 4 days, averaging 25 miles per day. So this one should be easy, right?!

 

DAY ONE – Drumnadrochit to Cannich – 13.8 miles – 5.5 hrs

After 7 hours of travelling from Ayrshire to Drumnadrochit we were ready to start the hike! We had unknowingly booked the posh bus to Inverness (Citylink Gold – I highly recommend it!) complete with free tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks all the way there! At only a tenner, we were chuffed to bits. A very good start!

From a hiking point of view, we found today extremely TOUGH! In the physical sense yes, as our bodies were adapting to carrying our heavy packs, but more so in a psychological sense because the trail itself just wasn’t what we had expected or hoped for. In a nutshell we quickly became bored: Four hours of forestry tracks with little to no views followed by 1.5 hours walking along a roadside verge. Those of you who have been on walks with me will know that I take obscene numbers of photos even on the shortest of walks. Well, today I took a grand total of 15……! The trees hid all potential views from sight and there are only so many photos of a forestry trail you can take. On a positive note, we saw hundreds of amazing mushrooms, some of them proper toadstools!

By the time we reached the campsite at Cannich our mental state was not good! And my hips were bruised from carrying the weight of my pack. Glad that today was over and feeling disappointed we agreed that tomorrow the walk surely HAD TO be better. “Why don’t they just start the trail in Cannich?!” we puzzled……

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The trail started with an uphill section through forestry and passed this incredible giant redwood! An information board beside it invited us to feel the bark: wow, who knew it was so soft?!
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On and on and on and on it went. Not a view to be had. Check out the size of my pack! 😮
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Arriving in Cannich after a 5 mile stretch along a roadside verge. The weight of our packs had taken it’s toll and from this point on bridge railings became a very welcome way to rest our hips and feet for a short while! The relief was instant. As the days progressed it actually became unbearable to even consider taking our packs off for a rest because putting them back on was such a strain. So bridges were a great help!

 

DAY TWO – Cannich to Alltbeithe – 22 miles – 11 hrs

What a mammoth walk! Most people do this over two days, we crammed it into one. My hip bones were really badly swollen by the end thanks to my 16kg rucksack weighing down on my 50kg body for over 11hrs and we were both shattered. There was method in our madness though – carrying on meant that we could camp outside Glen Affric Youth Hostel (the most remote hostel in Scotland!) and use their facilities, and it also meant that we would only have the final 11 miles to do tomorrow. We had planned to take a bus home on the fourth morning and this was the only way that was going to happen.

To our disappointment the first half of the day was again along forestry tracks. We were really fed up of these by now! Although we were treated to the occasional view this time to save our sanity. The highlight of the day was most definitely when my friend found a £10 note lying at the side of the track! We agreed that it must be the universe rewarding him for his endeavours to keep the AKW litter-free…. you see this is one quality I would like to point out about Gleb: he will NEVER walk past a piece of litter on a hike and leave it there; we had created a system by which Gleb would pick things up, pass them to me, and I would put them into the ‘bin bag’ we had strapped onto the outside of his rucksack. Don’t you think we need more of his sort around!?

The outlook changed dramatically for the better on leaving the River Affric parking area and we finally felt able to enjoy the mountain scenery opening up before us. NOT BEFORE TIME!! The final 8 miles of today were simply stunning. Typically, my camera had run out of battery before this point so I was onto using my phone by the time things got interesting…. My only regret is not being able to enjoy the scenery more. By this point we had been hiking for approx 6 hours and we were exhausted. The packs were heavy, the trail was really rough underfoot and the midges were beginning to wreak havoc even whilst we were moving (therefore no chance of stopping for a rest!)

Arriving at the hostel, the sun was beginning to set and the midges were vicious. There was not a breeze to be felt and we were completely covered in the little buggers whilst pitching the tents. I have never been so grateful for my midge head net because at least it hid the clouds of them from sight a little so I could pretend they weren’t there.

The day had been long, hard and exhausting BUT I was so so excited to finally be right in the heart of the mountains, where I had longed to be since the start of the hike! Tomorrow was going to be a good day, I could sense it!…….

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We were disheartened to find yet more forestry trails on day two. They did however become gradually less dense and being at such a high elevation they did afford us the occasional view…. and a £10 note! 😀
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This little fella wasn’t shy!
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The River Affric…. the spot at which things began to change for the better! We had hiked 13 miles today to reach this point and it was our last opportunity to set up camp before the hostel a further 8 miles away. Well, the last opportunity to be near toilets anyway! Decisions decisions….. It didn’t take us long to make our minds up: packs back on and off we set for Alltbeithe.
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A view!! We found that even though our pace was very slow (averaging around 1.4 mph), the weight we were carrying dictated regular pit stops. Don’t worry though, we never ever stopped for more than a few minutes at a time thanks to the inevitable influx of midges 😦 In hindsight, it was a good thing: we might still be walking now if they hadn’t kept us moving!

 

 

DAY THREE – Alltbeithe to Morvich – 10.3 miles – 6.5 hrs

Today was by far the best day! Deep among the Kintail mountains on narrow uneven footpaths winding their way through the pass and into Gleann Lichd. We ‘only’ had 11 miles to hike today – the final push from Alltbeithe to the campsite at Morvich.

After a good nights’ sleep under canvas we awoke to a gentle breeze which had blown the midges into hiding giving us a chance to pack up in peace. YAS!

Lots to look at today – the mountains and glens of course, but also some very impressive waterfalls, Camban Bothy which we had a peek inside of, Glenlicht House (owned by Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club), cute lambs, and a heilan’ coo, which from a distance looked like a tent such was the size of it’s rear end!

We were very lucky with the weather once again, only experiencing rain for the final couple of hours. I was relieved about that since it had been forecast to fall all day. It did mean pitching our tents in the middle of a downpour though….. got mine up in approx 3 minutes, a new personal best 

The Affric Kintail Way certainly keeps the best for last!

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Idyllic pitch outside Glen Affric Youth Hostel. What a view to wake up to!
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Next stop: Morvich!
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THIS is what I had been waiting for!….  ❤
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Camban Bothy

 

ACCOMMODATION

We camped each night, making use of the facilities in Cannich, Alltbeithe & Morvich.

Cannich Campsite – The campsite here was brilliant and I had one of the best hot showers of my life there! Amazing what simple pleasures you can find after a long tiring hike 😉 No extra charge for them either. It cost £8.50 per pitch and there were kitchen facilities, a TV room and a small shop onsite (my friend did nearly faint at the £1.50 charge for a can of Irn Bru mind you!) The warden was friendly and helpful, the campsite very clean and I would go back without hesitation.

Glen Affric Youth Hostel, Alltbeithe – Situated literally in the middle of nowhere! The hostel is surrounded by mountains and is an 8 mile walk in from the closest area of civilization – River Affric Car Park. We wanted to camp outside it which I had read was possible with the option of paying a reduced fee (£12) to use the hostel facilities. On arrival the midges were vicious, clouds of them instantly covering our clothes as soon as we stopped. So we had a look at the dorm where there were two top bunks left. The room was quite small and was really smelly (imagine several sets of sweaty hiking boots after a day in the hills!) so we decided that we would prefer to sleep under canvas. The warden was extremely friendly and took time to show us where we could pitch our tents and welcomed us with open arms into the hostel to cook, shower and escape the midges. Personally I wasn’t too keen on the shower set-up: the changing area was simply behind a curtain at the end of the corridor, the curtain only coming down as far as my knees. Anytime someone came along the corridor the curtain would blow open a little at the sides. Just me being a woman probably, as my male walking companion didn’t care in the slightest! The kitchen facilities at the hostel were fantastic and it was so nice to eat my freeze-dried meal out of a proper bowl with a real fork! The warden kept the kettle constantly boiled and the wood burning stove made the place very cosy indeed.

Camban Bothy – We didn’t stay in the bothy, but we did take a look inside on our way past. It appeared to be in very good condition with two separate rooms, one off each side of the main entrance hall. Each room had bunks for 4 people and facilities to build a fire, dry clothes etc. I am no expert on bothies, having never slept in one however my friend commented on how good this one looked. One bunk had sleeping equipment on it suggesting that someone had stayed the previous night.

Morvich Campsite –  We camped here on the last night, paying £10.80 for each pitch. The reception staff member was friendly and helpful and didn’t seem to mind us arriving soaking wet and dripping all over her reception area. The pitches were marked by a numbered peg and we were asked to pitch in front of one of the numbers. Facilities included shower rooms (no extra charge), toilets, drying room, laundry and room with a sink, kettle, TV and pool table which we used to ‘cook’ and eat our freeze-dried meals in. When we arrived at the campsite it had been raining heavily for an hour or so and the pitches were fairly waterlogged. Not sure if this is usually an issue or if the rain had just been particularly bad that day.

 

A NOTE ON DRINKING WATER

Looking at the map before we left home, we agreed that with most of the route being along the edge of lochs and rivers we were likely to have an abundance of places to refill our water bottles. This proved to be far from the truth. Yes, we were walking alongside rivers or lochs almost the entire time, but they were not accessible. There was either a forest of trees between us and the water, or a steep high embankment. Fortunately, drinking water was available at all our accommodation choices as well as at the start of the walk outside the public toilets in Drumnadrochit. Had we needed to wild camp, we would have been in a bit more trouble!

 

TO SUMMARISE…. 

Neither of us particularly enjoyed the first 25 miles of this walk. That’s an understatement, we hated it!  It would be fine as a bike trail and we did see quite a few cyclists using it, but I didn’t rate it as a walking route. On the other hand, from the River Affric Car Park to the end of the trail in Morvich, the trail is simply spectacular with views to die for and a unique sense of remoteness. Definitely a walk of two halves! If you are thinking about hiking the Affric Kintail Way for the scenery then I would definitely recommend starting at River Affric Car Park and doing the 18 mile stretch from there to Morvich (or vice versa). You could even extend your trip and use the hostel as a base to explore some of the Kintail mountains whilst you are there.

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Glenlicht House (owned by Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club) just visible, dwarfed by The Five Sisters of Kintail

 

 

 

 

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