22nd to 24th August, 2008 – Walking and Camping in Glen Affric

We (Matt and I) arrived in Glen Affric just as it was getting dark. The midges which we had seen swarming in the beam from the headlights on the way in were murder as we left the car but soon into walk they were gone and in any case the distraction of the hard work began; just the discomfort of heavy packs on shoulders at first but once we left the path and started up the hill proper, the strain on the legs could really be felt. We managed without torches until we left the path when it became harder to follow in the diminishing light. We left them on for a good hour as we ascended but part way up, the glen behind us seemed to take on an odd brightness which on looking right was obviously due to a rising moon not yet visible from our position. Not long after this and once the moon had risen above the ridge east of us, we could walk without the torch light and in fact it was easier without it.

Steep heathery ground gave way suddenly to a rockier and hard packed surface but we found an ideal spot to camp; soft and almost level where we had a view of the moon rising over our approach route.

Stars a plenty and the odd satellite too, in fact one of the brightest things I’ve ever seen in the night sky, passed over us. At first I thought it must be the space station being so bright and it may well have been but before Matt had a chance to see what I was pointing out it had faded to almost nothing. I suppose the brightness was the reflection of the sun on the solar panels whilst they were orientated in our direction.

A very still night up high yet thankfully no midges and after a bit of star gazing from the tent we closed ourselves in. The only sound I could hear was Matt’s breathing changing as he dosed off until very slowly a breeze against the tent made ever so slight noises like spits of rain.

We woke after only a few hours, five minutes before the alarm (purposely set to hopefully catch sun rise) and caught a gorgeous view of largely cloud free glens below us to the south with just a couple of pockets of low lying cloud like fluffy lochs – we could see these the night before in the moonlight and had wondered if they were bodies of water at the time. I’m wishing now that I had made the decision to leave the door of the tent open and gone to sleep after having that view for a bit longer.

A quick brekkie then off to walk up Toll Creagach where we got our first views north to Loch Mullardoch and the hills rising from its shore. Definitely a place to come back to with a canoe! Back to base to strike camp and we were off on our traverse of the tops with heavy packs again by about 7:30. Our second top, Tom a’ Choinich, afforded more views north and now westwards too where the rest of the day’s walk lay. To the south the cloud we had seen first thing on the horizon was coming and beginning to flow over the closest peaks in that direction. By the time we got to our highest point of the day, Carn Eige, we were in mist part of the way, with occasional clear spells (mostly to the north). A northwards detour to Beinn Fhionnlaidh gave the best views of Loch Mullardoch and its hills and good views to south to the lower areas where we would finish the day and to the hills planned for the following day.

I had already been struggling earlier in the day; feeling like running on empty by 9:45 when I had to have my lunch and now on my second snack fest I was wondering what the hell was going on. A traverse below Carn Eige then up to Mam Sodhail where I really was beginning to feel very ‘gubbed’ and again running on empty and had to have yet another snack just to get me down hill to our camp site at Bealach Coire Ghaidheil. The wind had picked up and was fairly gusting so we struggled to find an ideal, sheltered site for the tent and ended up on a spot that was sloping enough to cause a fair bit of slip sliding through the night. Even in our ‘sheltered’ spot, the tent was fairly battered through the night by wind and rain but it held up.

Having had such an early night, we were awake early and even before finally getting up it was apparent that a walk round hills would be a bit miserable so we opted just to walk out and leave the three hills beside us for another time after a quick breakfast. Literally ten or fifteen minutes in to our descent the skies in our vicinity cleared and though it wasn’t too late to change minds we were part way down and there was still a long way to go even without the hills being walked first so we just kept on descending in to Glen Affric.

Glen Affric was as gorgeous as I’ve heard and read about and once down we had a nice, level walk out on a good solid track largely bordered by lush green ferns and bright purple heather. There isn’t a huge covering of forest in here but what there is looks quite natural and work is being done to improve on this too. The whole area is somewhere I want to go back to, both Loch Mullardoch and Loch Affric would be good paddling options and the track in Glen Affric would be a good cycle approach to the Alltbeithe youth hostel a little further in than where we made it to.

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