After my evening on Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin, I decided to visit another of my favourite lochs – Loch Affric, just up the valley. Today’s forecast was a little iffy, a bit more how October is supposed to be – low easterly winds, but low cloud with fog and rain blowing in later. So I wasn’t expecting the brilliant light and stunning reflections I have experienced on some previous trips, but the place has a beauty to it regardless of conditions.
Unlike Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin, Loch Affric is a natural loch, the main basin of which is reached via a narrow tail that becomes the Garbh Uisge linking the two lochs. There are various possible put-ins. The further you go along the track to Affric Lodge, the easier they get, but I usually use one down a short bank just before the first bend.
As on the lower loch, water levels were up, so I was glad I’d worn my dry salopettes and could stand in the water to get in the boat without getting wet feet. The alternative was a tricky step in from a muddy sloping bank while holding a tree branch for balance, which I just didn’t fancy.
Those flimsy birch branches overhung the launch point with a green and gold canopy that set me reaching for the camera before I’d even picked up the paddle.
There was a bit of flow here as the water picked up pace to enter the Garbh Uisge, but not enough to be a problem. Turning upstream I started to traverse the tail of the loch. Mist sat in the valley ahead of me like it had been poured in from above, while low cloud obscured the heights. Sgurr na Lapaich flashed a glimpse of shoulder between the two.
With such a limited horizon, I paid more attention to my immediate surroundings, stopping to enjoy the reflections around a stand of reeds and horsetails.
Ahead the loch pinched in to a crossing point by Affric Lodge. I could see the two white horses on the pasture as usual. They seem particularly curious about canoes and have always put in an appearance to give me an inspection as I pass by. The ridges beyond the loch appeared to be snow-coated, but it was in fact ribbons of mist pushed uphill by the easterly breeze.
Beyond the bridge, the loch opened out, but the breeze picked up and the cloud ceiling lowered.
I kept up a steady pace, aware that the wind was due to strengthen through the afternoon, bringing rain with it.
The push in the back afforded by a tail wind brought me to the head of the loch in good time. Looking back east, it seemed I would have some time before the weather closed in.
Ashore now, and sat still to eat, I realised the wind was quite cold, so sought shelter under the porch of the locked estate bothy that sits near the shore. It’s a relatively new, well-constructed building that has weathered nicely into its surroundings. It would be great if it were open to public use, but alas it is only for paying guests.
Sandwiches and tea consumed, I explored the immediate area for a while. The map describes the area beyond the loch as the Glen Affric Forest – treeless hills extended west to the similarly denuded ridges of the Kintail Forest.
By now the weather was showing distinct signs of change, and I decided it was time to leave. Picking my way along the southern shore I dipped into a small bay to take advantage of a wind shadow. I have often thought the headland above would make a good bivvy – solid scots pines to support a hammock, low vegetation and exposed enough to keep the midges at bay. Down here at water level, my eye was caught by the colours of birch and bracken against the heather.
I was glad I had put my cag on pre-emptively when the rain did catch me. It came not heavy, but persistent and penetrative, dragging a damp chill with it straight off the North Sea. Reach, rotate, recover, repeat – the rhythm of movement kept most of me warm, though somewhere on my return I lost feeling in my feet.
As I neared the lodge, it seemed I was through the worst. Time to shift about and get some blood back to those absent toes. Looking back west, Ciste Dubh and Beinn Fhada were absent as well, while the lower ridge of An Tudair was only just to be seen between cloud ceiling and hill fog.
Not far to go now, and for once I didn’t dawdle. A brisk walk up the track from the get-out generated a bit more heat in my feet, but I was grateful for my fleecy trousers and the dry pair of ski socks waiting for me back at the truck.
Loch Affric is always magical, even in poor conditions, but today wasn’t a day to linger.