Walks in Glen Affric and Strathglass

Glen Affric

Strathglass has long been recognised as one of the most scenic parts of the Scottish Highlands. Three major glens fork out from the main valley. Glen Affric is the best known, a National Nature Reserve often considered to be the most beautiful of all the Scottish glens. Glen Cannich and Glen Strathfarrar provide access to some of more remote areas of the Highlands, frequented more by those stalking deer and fishing the fast flowing rivers than walkers.

It’s possible to climb a range of Munros from these beautiful glens and gain some stunning views from the summits, but those hankering after less strenuous routes are well catered for on forest tracks, old stalkers paths and riverside trails. For instance the 10 mile circular around Loch Affric is a genuine classic, with a forest road providing easy walking on the outward leg to the bothy at Athnamullach and the return via a delightful stalkers path rising and falling gently as seeks the best line across a series of tumbling streams.

The Strathglass glens house the remnants of ancient Caledonian Pine Forest, providing a habitat for red deer, badger, pine marten and otter as well as numerous birds including the golden eagle. Glen Affric belonged to the Chisholm clan from the 15th to the mid 19th centuries. While for the ordinary folk this was a hard life, scraping a living from poor soil and often inclement weather, it came to an end for most of the inhabitants with the notorious Highland clearances during the second half of the 18th century.

Members of the Chisholm clan were badly affected, and like many others throughout the Highlands, found themselves dispersed around the world. You can see the remains of small settlements scattered around the glen today. From the time of the clearances onwards the prime use of the land was for sport, with sporting estates being established throughout the 19th and 20th centuries to cater for the demand for shooting and fishing. With the proliferation of deer the native woodland declined but thanks to the intervention of the Forestry Commission in the 1950s a proportion of the ancient pinewood in Glen Affric was saved and restoration is under way.

Glen Strathfarrar was once Fraser country. Birch and Caledonian pine clad the lower banks of the River Farrar. Further up the glen a deep gorge leads to the Monar hydro dam. Beyond lies Loch Monar, ringed by high peaks and the remote deer forests of Pait and Strathmore. The river is highly prized for salmon and trout fishing and passes through two picturesque lochs, on one of which is a small island with the tumbledown remains of the bothy that sheltered Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat of the '45, after the defeat of the Scottish clans at Culloden.

Hydro-electric schemes abound in this area and the one at Loch Monar made a huge difference to the landscape; the loch is now eight miles long, twice its original length. It is possible to walk from the dam on stalkers tracks around the northern side of the loch. The narrow and somewhat potholed road into the glen is private and access to motor vehicles is restricted to just 25 a day. On most days if you arrive early enough you can get entry and of course it does mean that the single track road is wonderfully quiet.

While Loch Monar is substantial the largest dam in Scotland is in neighbouring Glen Cannich. A steep climb out of the village of Cannich takes you through woodland and beside river and waterfall before you get glimpses of the massive dam at the foot of Loch Mullardoch. To the west of the loch the land is grassy and fertile and before the clearances was quite highly settled. The remains of some of these settlements can still be seen, although the entire space is uninhabited now. Later stalker’s cottages disappeared under the rising waters of the loch once the dam was constructed.

As well as hill scrambles through rough heather and longer loch-side walks there are plenty of shorter strolls, many visiting the spectacular falls within the Glens – Plodda and Dog Falls being the best known. Plodda Falls has a hair-raising platform suspended above the waterfall so you can look down as the water plunges to the pool below.

There is also an impressive chambered cairn dating from the third millennium BC at Corrimony. Although the chamber itself is open to the sky you have to crawl in on your hands and knees through the original entrance passage. Corrimony also boasts an RSPB nature reserve which takes in open moorland, conifer and native woodland, loch, bogs and heath. You can see any number of bird species, including black grouse, osprey, whooper swan, pink-footed goose, black-throated diver, flycatchers, bullfinches and crossbill.

Eagle Brae
Strathglass caters well for visitors as, along with shooting and fishing, it is one of the major economic activities of the area. On our visit we stayed in one of the luxurious lodges at Eagle Brae. There are only a handful of lodges interspersed in several acres of woodland through which deer regularly wander. The lodges are constructed out of massive Red Cedar logs using traditional Norwegian techniques. The simplicity of the style hides impressive thermal performance. These structures are not just beautiful, they are superbly warm and comfortable. Special touches are the inset carvings of birds and animals in the huge logs, including an imperious eagle overseeing the front patio, and intricately carved panels from the Himalayas.

After a strenuous and quite possibly rather wet day in the outdoors an Eagle Brae lodge provides just the sort of comfort and relaxation you crave. There’s underfloor heating but you can supplement it with the warm glow of a wood burning stove and, best of all, you can carry on watching the wildlife as the sun goes down from your cosy haven. The single bedroom lodge we stayed in was very generously proportioned, with a sitting/dining area downstairs and a further sitting area with a TV upstairs, plus a small study space complete with computer and internet connection for researching the next day’s activities. This is true luxury in a stunning location.

Eagle Brae is owned and run by Mike and Pawana Spencer-Nairn. Mike’s family have owned the estate for three generations, while Pawana comes from the Indian Himalayas where her family run a guest house (hence the Himalayan artefacts in the lodges along with that inimitable Himalayan welcome that those who have visited the region will immediately recognise).

The heating is supplied by wood pellet boilers in each of the lodges and the electricity is generated through an onsite hydroelectric scheme, with water sourced from a small dammed stream and taken down a pipe to the plant nearly 200m below. It’s a delight to find gloriously indulgent accommodation that is genuinely environmentally friendly and sustainable, and quirky to boot. We would thoroughly recommend it.

If you stay at Eagle Brae you will be very well looked after, as will your dog if you have one. Find out more at www.eaglebrae.co.uk

David and Chris Stewart

Glen Affric and Strathglass


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