Glen Affric and Glen Strathfarrar are often pitted against each other for the title of Scotland’s most beautiful glen. Let’s explore.
In a country the size of Scotland, it’s surprising that there are still parts of the country so remote that it can take days to get to them. Knoydart in Lochaber is only accessible by a 17km walk (or a boat), and Fisherfield, a mountainous region of Wester Ross, is a hillwalker’s dream wilderness. The Inverness-shire glens of Glen Affric and Glen Strathfarrar in Strathglass might not be as remote, but as you drive south on single track roads, just 20 minutes south of Inverness, an ancient and undisturbed Scotland is revealed.
Walking through Glen Affric, the 11-mile circular path around Loch Affric must be one of Scotland’s most awe-inspiring walks. Amongst the remnants of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Scots Pine forest, the walk takes you alongside the River Affric, past Loch Affric and Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhain amongst huge surrounding mountains.
Now owned by the Forestry Commission Scotland, and the National Trust for Scotland, Glen Affric was once Clan Chisholm and Clan Fraser of Lovat country – and also once hid Bonnie Prince Charlie, Outlander fans! Glen Affric is now one of 48 National Nature Reserves in Scotland and since 2015, the Trees for Life ‘Glen Affric Forest Landscape Project’ has been restoring the 55 sq mile glen, restoring the ancient Caledonian Forest, planting 30,000 native trees.
At the end of Glen Affric is the Athnamulloch Bothy, restored by the Trees for Life Project, and Strawberry Cottage, a mountain bothy managed by the An Teallach Mountaineering club. Further down the glen is the remote Alltbeithe Youth Hostel, used by those walking the 44 mile Affric to Kintail Way which runs through the glen.
Whilst we had amazing weather for our September trip, make sure you are prepared for the weather to change quickly when you visit the Strathglass glens. You can never trust the Scottish weather! The glens are very remote and from the Loch Affric trail, there is no quick exit back to the car if the weather comes in.
I kept warm on our walk in my new Mountain Equipment Lantern Jacket*. I like to wear a technical fleece with a cosy hood as a mid layer under my Rupel hard shell jacket as wind and rain are something you just have to put up with in Scotland, even if you aren’t up a Munro!
Thankfully the rain stayed away and my waterproof stayed in my bag – and just look how beautiful the weather was!
To the north of Glen Affric by the village of Struy is Glen Strathfarrar. Unlike Glen Affric, the road into Glen Strathfarrar is private – ensuring that the glen remains remote and quiet. You can walk and cycle in Glen Strathfarrar all year round, but to drive in the glen you need a Glen Strathfarrar access permit – and only 25 cars are allowed in a day.
Much of the land in the Strathglass glens is owned and managed by huge highland sporting estates – the management of woodland, red deer, black grouse, brown trout (and even goats) is a way of life in this region. Keep an eye out for majestic stags on your drive and eagles can regularly be spotted overhead.
Whatever your feelings on who should own Scotland, with our open access laws – the right of responsible non-motorised access to land and inland water throughout Scotland – thankfully the glens of Strathglass are accessible to all.
Taking a drive or cycling to the end of the glen is well worth it, the road through the glen is 14 miles from gate to dam, making it perfect for a day cycling trip. You aren’t allowed to park overnight in the glen – the best way to wild camp in Glen Strathfarrar is to walk or cycle in.
At the end of Glen Strathfarrar is the huge Monar hydro-electric dam, the (controversial) building of which doubled the size of the original loch. Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin in Glen Affric is also managed for hydro-electricity.
Following the River Farrar, and alongside Loch a’ Mhuillidh and Loch Benneacharan the lack of cars gives a real feeling of remoteness and protects this hidden glen from over development from tourism. A real hidden gem.
I can’t quite decide on which of the glens is my favourite, I’ll leave it up to you to choose.
Love, from Scotland x
Visit Glen Affric and Glen Strathfarrar
We stayed at the fabulous Eagle Brae luxury log cabins on our visit to Strathglass
If you fancy visiting Glen Affric, the Forestry Commission has a great guide to the area. Shorter walks in the glen include the Dog Falls (2 miles, 1.25 hours) and the Viewpoint Trail (1.45 miles, 1 hour).
To visit Glen Strathfarrar park up at the gate, ring the doorbell of the wee cottage and ask for a permit. In winter you need to apply through the BMC.
(my Mountain Equipment Lantern Jacket is c/o Scotland outdoor gear specialists Tiso)