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A wheel family adventure in Glen Affric

By John Davidson

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Approaching Athnamulloch and the end of the loch.
Approaching Athnamulloch and the end of the loch.

For the second year in a row, the hundreds of pairs of feet that usually cross the country from west to east will be absent from the trails in Kintail and Glen Affric this midsummer.

The Highland Cross has become one of those events that gives me real focus, not only in training for the event but also fundraising for the benefitting charities in the run-up to the day.

There’s also that team ethos, as entry is only by means of teams of three, which is a great way to encourage working together to raise some money as well as motivating each other when it comes to training.

As we approach what would be the peak training period for the Cross, I decided to get my fill by heading to Glen Affric and doing part of the route that many people curse as the worst bit!

The dreaded yellow brick road ‘undulates’ from the river crossing at Athnamulloch to the road end at the heart of the national nature reserve – and when I say undulates, I really mean there are long, long stretches of uphill and downhill.

In practice for the Highland Cross along the yellow brick road.
In practice for the Highland Cross along the yellow brick road.

With 14 miles of tough off-road running already completed by this stage, the remaining 10k on this easier surface can make or break your day.

Thankfully, we weren’t doing the full Cross route today. Instead, we headed to the forestry car park at the end of the road with a plan to give the children a taste of the hills – and some mountain scenery for ourselves.

As we had plenty of wheels with us – in the form of a couple of bikes for the girls and the running buggy for Matthew – we realised the full 11-mile circuit of Loch Affric was going to be a bit tricky to negotiate. So we opted for an out-and-back along the yellow brick road, with Meg and I running.

It was the perfect day weather-wise, with bright blue skies and one or two fluffy white clouds drifting over the tops of the mountains, which had patches of snow on their highest parts. There was even a very gentle breeze, just enough to keep away any early-season midges.

After crossing the river and passing through the first gate, we headed up the hill to a track junction, where the Affric Kintail Way is signed deeper into Glen Affric to the right. This was our route, and there is little else to worry about in terms of navigation beyond this point.

We soon passed Affric Lodge on the far side then headed past the new hydro scheme for the Allt Garbh, where the path to Cougie is signposted.

A long climb follows – a theme for the day – and we paused to look over the shimmering Loch Salach a’ Ghiubhais to the south. It looked tempting for a swim, though we would be pushed for time to make it to the end of the loch if we spent time here.

The track continues along the southern edge of Loch Affric, though quite a distance from the water. That high vantage point offers fantastic views, though, and the children were suitably impressed by the magnificent sight of Scots pine, lochs and high hills.

It was a stop-start type of adventure for us, but that suited us well. It was one of the rare warm spring days we’ve had this year, and it meant there was plenty of time to take in the surroundings.

Matthew is at that age where he can’t be in the buggy all the time, so he was out doing his fair share of running and exploring, while the girls enjoyed the long downhills and made determined efforts to pedal up the tough bits.

We were reaching our turnaround time as we approached the end of the loch, and Jennifer and I wanted to go that bit further. I was hoping to reach the bridge at Athnamulloch while Jennifer wanted to go down to visit the sandy beach at the head of the loch.

In the end, neither of us got our way as time was too tight, but it didn’t matter. We’d come out to this wonderful place and enjoyed a great day out together. The return along the yellow brick road was surprisingly straightforward, helped by plenty of snacks and some positive mental attitude.

I hope I can say the same in June 2022 when, all being well, the Highland Cross will return to these parts. And maybe I’ll even convince my kids to give it a go in future too!

John puts his feet up at a rock seat along the way.
John puts his feet up at a rock seat along the way.

Route details

Glen Affric

Distance 9.5 miles / 15km

Terrain Estate track with plenty of hills

Start/finish Glen Affric road end

Map OS Landranger 25

A gentle run/walk/cycle into Glen Affric makes a great day for the family

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