Glen Affric

Athnamullach, Glen Affric, Photo Jim McAuleyJustly renowned for the glory of its woodlands, this classical blend of natural forest, shimmering loch and rugged hill, found in Glen Affric has inspired many Victorian artists, and the 'Monarch of the Glen' painted by Landseer was set amidst this fine panorama. The spectacle of the Dog Falls at the foot of the glen leads the visitor to Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin, known for the excellence of its trout fishing and beyond, by pathways, along Loch Affric to enjoy the magnificence of the Highlands.

Glen Affric, often described as the most beautiful glen in Scotland, stretches for some 30 miles from Kintail in the west to within a couple of miles of Cannich in Strathglass. The burns tumbling down the mountains on the north side of Glen Shiel and from Beinn Fhada culminate in two major streams Allt a Chmhlain and Allt Cam-bn. Together they combine to create the River Affric that flows through two major lochs to Fasnakyle in Strathglass where it meets with the Abhainn Deabhag to form the River Glass.

Glen Affric was part of the Clan Chisholm lands from the 15th to the mid 19th centuries. Life would have been hard, families depending mainly on subsistence farming, on a poor soil, for their survival. From the 1780s many Highland glens saw the forced removal of men, women and children by their own Clan chiefs as the introduction of sheep was deemed a more economic use of the land. Unfortunately the folk of Clan Chisholm were particularly affected, and like many others throughout the Highlands they were dispersed around the globe. You can still see the remains of small settlements scattered around the Glen today.

Glen Affric in Winter, Photo Angela MuirOne of the consequences of the introduction of sheep and growing numbers of deer was damage to the pine forest. The deer population increased following the creation of large sporting estates during the Victorian era - Affric Lodge completed in 1857 is an excellent example of the shooting lodges built in the period. For centuries, timber had been extracted from Glen Affric for shipbuilding and also for fuelling the iron smelters of the Industrial Revolution a sawmill was built in the Glen in 1750 by Roderick Chisholm reflecting the scale of the operation. This together with the damage caused from grazing by sheep and deer led to a major decline in the native woodland. In recent years efforts to reduce deer numbers and restrict their movement by erecting fences has led to conflict with neighbouring sporting estates that naturally depend on a thriving deer population. Sheep have also been removed, as have cattle farmers in Strathglass drove their livestock to summer grazing in Glen Affric until the 1980s.

Despite the decline in the woodland, Glen Affric is still home to one of the largest remnants of the ancient Caledonian Pine Forest that once covered much of the Highlands. Recognising the importance of Glen Affric to the nation, the Forestry Commission purchased a large part of the Glen in 1951 - the remainder being part of a number of sporting estates or in the care of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS). In the early days restoration work was undertaken directly by the Forestry Commission, much of it under the guidance of former District Officer Findlay MacRae MBE.

River Affric, Photo Jim McAuleyIn more recent times the charity Trees For Life has played a major role in carrying on the conservation role. TFL organize volunteer workweeks periodically throughout the year, allowing interested individuals from near and far to play a vital role in the restoration process. Weeks are spent working at a number of locations with accommodation mainly at Plodda Lodge near the village of Tomich and at Athnamullach bothy at the western end of Loch Affric.

Glen Affric has received a number of accolades over the years having been designated a Caledonian Forest Reserve, a National Scenic Area and finally in 2001 receiving full National Nature Reserve (NNR) status. Despite the years of conservation work, the pinewood is still only a fraction of its original size. However it still provides a wide range of habitats that in turn ensure varied populations of flora, fauna, mammals, insects and birds.

Many people come each year to enjoy the beauty of Glen Affric. However it is sometimes difficult to balance the needs of visitors with the delicate environment of the area. As such, the Forestry Commission has at times appeared reluctant to promote the glen, but they have provided a range of visitor facilities. The only public road into Glen Affric is a single-track road from near Cannich. This road, some 10 miles long, has three car parks at Dog Falls, Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin and at the River Affric which is where vehicle access ends.

Dog Falls has several way marked walks including a short gradual ascent to the viewpoint overlooking the Hydro-Electric dam at the east end of Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin. At the River Affric car park you can enjoy a walk by the river and also take in the viewpoint at Am Meallan. The parking areas have picnic tables and very interesting information panels with details about the wildlife, etc. There are public toilets at both Dog Falls and River Affric car parks.