Conditions on the second day of my October trip to Glen Affric were still dominated by an area of high pressure and very light winds, although this was set to change over the next few days as Atlantic lows began to encroach. So I was keen to get on the water and make the most of the day, as I wasn’t likely to have many more like it this week.
I decided to explore Loch Affric, and drove up through the glen enjoying the splendour of the autumn woods and a stunning view up Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin. Despite my hurry to get paddling, I succumbed to photographic temptation and pulled in to make an image of the big view up the glen, wading through chest high bracken until I could get a clear view over the water.
I made the short portage along the estate road from the carpark at the roadhead, and soon found a put in, not far above the start of the rapids on the River Affric. A short scramble down the bank lead to a very small gravel beach, just enough to load kit and cameras for the day and embark. With the minimum of delay, I was on the water and away into a world of natural perfection.
Still waters and calm air combined to give me mirror-smooth water and perfect reflections. As the loch began to open out, I made a panorama from the boat, only the second time I have been able to do this.
The morning light helped bring out the beautiful colours of the foliage, while only the wake from my canoe disturbed the reflections.
As the loch widened, so did the view westward. A sky of cotton wool cloud, and early autumn colour on the lochside were echoed perfectly on the water’s surface. In the distance the ridges of Mulloch Fraoch Choire crept into view, while the peak of Sgurr na Lapaich nudged over the closer ridge. The bridge over the loch by Affric Lodge could now be seen.
Passing under the bridge I had to work a little against a perceptible flow in the shallow water, but once through, I was able to relax again into the magic of my surroundings.
A white horse trotted from the woods as I came by, standing to watch me make my way upstream. Such was the mood of the place that I half expected it to have a single horn on its forehead!
Cloud was beginning to build up, and a breeze played over the surface of the loch for a while, taking away my mirrored passage. But before long I had passed this, and was paddling once more over undisturbed waters, colourful with the reflected glory of autumn.
The cloud continued to thicken, and now filled the western sky, but the air remained still, the loch calm. I paddled on, enjoying the solitude, but aware that at some point conditions were going to deteriorate.
Stands of scots pine ran along the north shore as I passed under the bulk of An Tudair Beag, interspersed with birches yellow with their early autumn display. The preceding week of settled weather meant that most of the trees were still heavily leaved, adding to the intense display of colour.
Approaching the head of the loch the bulk of Mulloch Fraoch Choire began to dominate the horizon, with the ridges of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan rising in the distance. A haze of rain began to gather high in the glen, but the closer hills were delicately lit under the overcast sky.
My eye was caught by a single scots pine standing on the waters edge and I detoured back to the north bank to make an image before heading across the middle of the loch to have lunch.
Despite the increasing cloud build-up, the loch remained calm, surface like mercury. Stopping in the middle of the loch, I was surrounded by a doubled world, sky above echoed perfectly below, the whole loch a mirror of the glen. I paddled on a bowl of the sky, slicing a line through reflected cloud, my paddle strokes stirring small whirlpools into the fabric I floated on.
Soon after I reached the south shore, by the Allt Choire Chruim, the rain that had been hovering in Gleann na Ciche started to spill over into the main glen. An abbreviated lunch followed and I was soon back on the water, pushed homeward by a freshening breeze and a moderate swell.
A wind-assisted passage saw me cover a few quick kilometres, and I pulled in to a sheltered bay on the south shore for a break. Immediately in the lee of the headland, stillness and reflections returned, though the silence had been replaced by the pulsing of the wind through the canopy. This small sapling caught my attention, cleaving to the exposed rock, but giving every appearance of vigorous health.
The rain soon passed, never having become more than light drizzle despite the heavy cloud above. The wind dropped too, but by now I was nearly back at my starting point. I paused for a while to make some images at the tail of the loch, reluctant to bring such a magical day to an end.
Slanting light enlivened the foliage along the banks, giving me a warm send-off as I drifted slowly by, trying to balance the ease of access to the estate track against the length of portage. Eventually I ended up exiting the loch where I had entered, with a short but awkward climb to the track and a portage of a few hundred metres uphill to the car.
It had been a day that will live long in the memory, a store of serenity to see me through to my next fix.