Glen Affric has a reputation as one of the most beautiful Scottish glens, and for several years I have wanted to explore it. This year, I was lucky to be able to do so in perfect autumn weather, just right for photography afloat.
A long drive north, over the Pennines, passed the Lakes and into the Highlands saw me passing a glass-like Loch Ness, impatient to reach my destination and get on the water. Arriving at the campsite in Cannich, I quickly unloaded the car into the camping pod I was treating myself to (much cosier than a tent in mid-October, and with the benefit of electric power and light!), and made my way up the glen to Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin to make the most of the last hours of light.
Arriving at the Benevean Dam carpark, a short walk down a sloping path through woodland lead to a sheltered cover. A few midges were still out in amongst the trees, encouraged by the mild weather, but they didn’t trouble me once I was on the water.
Not a breath of wind stirred the air, and the only ripples were of my own making. I was immersed in a silence so deep that I could hear the downbeat of a raven’s wings as it flew over Carn Fiaclach, two hundred metres above my head. With quiet indian strokes, I travelled further up the loch towards the narrows, striving to match my pace to my surroundings and pass by without disturbance
The loch opens out for a while as you pass under Breun-leitir. The late autumn afternoon was turning towards evening light, and a gentle overcast started to bring a richness to the colours of the ancient forest on the banks. Perfect reflections begged to be framed in my viewfinder, so I drifted for a while to make some images.
Peninsulas and an island mark the entrance to the narrow section of Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin. The ridge of Tom a Choinich sat on the horizon as I threaded a path through the maze.
As I entered the north channel, a solo kayak passed me. Exchanging brief greetings, we headed in separate directions, each keen to enjoy the silent solitude of the evening.
In the stillness, I was paddling across a carpet of reflected colour, so intense and so perfect in detail it was difficult to believe. Slowing my pace to a drift, I was able to capture the unique atmosphere of the place in such conditions.
The woods surrounding the loch are part of the Glen Affric nature reserve, one of the last remnants of the ancient Highland forest. It is quite different in character to the other large area of ancient woodland in Torridon though, more mixed, with birch and rowan adding their autumn displays to the rich green background of the scotts pines.
It was difficult to preserve the reflections at times. Even reaching for the camera could rock the boat, marring the surface, but without any breeze at all, the ripples quickly smoothed away. Sometimes, a little movement in the water improved the image, giving an impressionist feel.
Having passed through the narrows, I entered the wider upper loch. Conditions remained mirror-calm, neither wind or wave marking the water surface. A pair of paddlers in a tandem canoe had pulled up on the beach opposite the carpark below Coille Ruigh na Cuileige, and were warming themselves by a fire. Smoke rose slowly to spread a blanket above the trees, and I made my way beyond them to the far shore, looking for an open view westward.
Coming ashore just before sunset, I poured tea from my flask and enjoyed a few moments of stillness before making some images in the falling light.
As the light faded towards dusk, I sat and soaked up the atmosphere, profoundly calm in an amphitheatre of serentity. Never has a ‘quiet cup of tea’ been quieter, the physical refreshment matched by an ease of mind and a balm for the soul, gifted by this beautiful place.
Having lingered longer than I had intended, lulled and lured into rest, I turned to retrace my route back to the dam. The long gloaming of a Scottish autumn evening gave me enough light to see my way, but lacking a torch I didn’t delay on my return, covering in an hour what had taken me three outward bound. The calm conditions continued, and it was with only a little reluctance that I left the water back by the dam and returned to the campsite in Cannich for a hot meal, feeling deeply content and refreshed.