The Loch Affric circle trail, Scotland, UK.
For the fifth time in less than 10 minutes, I just had to take my camera out. The view was just so plain gorgeous that I wouldn’t risk my brain forgetting anything of it, I needed backups. At my right there were to moorland hills, running all the way high up, reminding me so much of Iceland, with their green misty colours and their signature shape.
At my left there were the impressive pinewoods. I say impressive because these trees were direct descendants of the ancient Caledonian pinewood that grew here since the end of the last ice age, around 10 000 years ago. Sadly, today, only 1 percent of the original Caledonian Scottish pinewood remains. Curtesy of the progressive sheep farming and killing off all the wolves, therefor depriving the deer of their natural predator.
Of course there was also the lake, snugged in between the hills and the trees. And the sounds, oh the sounds. The only things you could hear was wind moving through the trees and water running. That only made the hike like a meditative immersion. The drizzle didn’t even bother me. I had the whole trail to myself and I planned on enjoying it.
I arrived at the carpark at the end of the road (you will encounter a bunch of carparks along the road leading up to loch Affric, just keep going until the end of the road) around 12u30 in the early afternoon. There were some cars there, but far from the amount that had been predicted to me earlier that week. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of tourists in Scotland during summer (try driving the brand new labelled ‘North Coast 500’ to get proper irritated), but you just don’t see them on more decent hikes.
You have to look a bit for the starting point of the hike. Which begins in following the end of the road, past the ‘private road’ sign onto the gravel path. Don’t worry, after a while this path will become narrow and become a proper footpath.
After a while you notice yourself walking in direction of a villa, do not continue the road straight to the entrance of the property, but instead go to your right and follow the narrow path that runs next to the fence. Around this time, you will notice the vegetation change from Birchwood to the promised pinewood. The trees will be in small patches, giving you an amazing view over the hills to your right and the lake to your left.
When you have reached halfway, there will be a fork in the road. Either you continue to go west, into the direction of the very remote Alltbeithe Hostel, or you change direction to the South, to complete the circle hike. Here the road leads you through some cabins and ultimately to the bridge over the river Affric.
The last straight part of the trail leads you through the Caledonian pinewood, giving you an amazing opportunity to experience the trees in an amazing setting of Scottish highland hills and unique moorland and forest vegetation. Now you just follow the road, cross a last bridge and walk up to the carpark again.
I arrived back at carpark around 18u30, completing the 18-kilometre hike in around 6 hours (including a chill lunchbreak). The speed in which you can hike varies greatly from the north versus the south part of the lake. In the north you have to navigate through muddy moorland, switching up and from the actual path multiple times.
Whether you’re still feeling frisky or not, definitely conclude the day by also doing the 2 small walks that start from the carpark as well. One takes you up the hill to the viewpoint from which to can look over the whole of loch Affric. The other takes you down to the river side. Together they can take up to another very lazy hour.
Don’t fear crowded trails! I didn’t encounter another soul who was hiking the circle trail that day. A Saturday in the middle of high tourist season nevertheless. I did meet 2 people who were on their way to the Alltbeithe Hostel, to be fair.
If you insist on having that ‘highlands-to-yourself-feeling', just start the hike a bit later in the day, as to avoid all the stereotypical ‘early-morning-hikers’. If you start walking around 12 o’clock midday, you can still enjoy diner in Inverness at a reasonable time.
I also want to give a big thank you to my friend Jemma and her boyfriend for giving me a ride to and from the carpark! They made this day possible!