Trek Along the Affric Kintail Way

Trek Along the Affric Kintail Way

The Path Less Traveled

As I trudge through the relentless rain, water squelching between my toes and dripping down my face, I can’t help but question my decision to embark on this hike along the Affric Kintail Way in the Scottish Highlands. The weather has taken a turn for the worse, a stark contrast to the unseasonably warm October days that blessed us at the start of our journey. Yet, despite the gloomy conditions, I find myself embracing the ease of this adventure, a stark departure from my former thirst for extreme challenges.

As writer Brooke Nolan eloquently puts it, the Affric Kintail Way is a 44-mile (71-kilometer) hiking trail that stretches from Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness to Morvich in Kintail, in the southwest corner of the Scottish Highlands. Usually completed over four days and three nights, we had originally planned to spend an extra night on the trail, camping just a few kilometers from the end. But now, with the relentless rain and wind, the prospect of setting up our sodden tents fills us with dread. Abandoning our initial plans, we decide to trade our wet gear for the warming comfort of a Scottish pub, a hearty meal, and a pint of ale.

Embracing Ease

As I walk alongside my fellow hikers, the words of Brooke Nolan echo in my mind: “Why are you so lazy? What’s wrong with you?” I can’t help but compare myself to the “old me” – the one who relished a challenge, who would have pushed on through the storm, determined to conquer every Munro (mountains of 3,000 feet or more) that surrounded us. But now, I find myself content in the foothills, happy to follow the well-mapped and graded trail, with its obvious path and gentle inclines.

Brooke’s words resonate with me as I realize that since the COVID-19 pandemic, my appetite for adventure has indeed changed. The long months of lockdown have replaced my desire for the extreme with a yearning for simplicity, a need to simply be in nature rather than to challenge it. And although it’s been three years since the pandemic started, I’m not yet back to my old self, no matter how much I wish I were.

Discovering the Beauty of Ease

As we stroll along the Affric Kintail Way, I’m constantly amazed by the beauty of the landscape and the rich history woven into every step of the trail. The newly created trail, which opened in 2015, takes us through the enchanting Glen Affric, a valley carved by mighty glaciers and often described as the most beautiful glen in Scotland. The autumn foliage paints a wild and empty landscape, a rich tapestry of reds, yellows, oranges, and golds punctuated by lush greens.

Instead of rushing to set up camp in the dark, we make the most of the daylight, setting up our tents in the afternoon and sharing stories with fellow hikers over a warm meal and a hot drink. We even take a detour to the Cannich Stores, where we indulge in what are supposedly “the best chips in the world,” according to our hiking friends. With nowhere to rush to, we spend ages chatting with the owners, learning that they used to live in the very same village in Australia that I now call home.

Embracing the Unexpected

As I let go of the pressure to push myself to the extreme, I find that the true challenge that thrills me these days is the challenge of doing what I haven’t in the past. The Affric Kintail Way is a relatively short and new trail, yet it offers a wealth of surprises and unexpected discoveries. We stumble upon an ancient stone shelter, the Camban bothy, where we spend an afternoon and night, sharing stories and laughter with a solo hiker named Vanessa.

The rain may be relentless, but it also rewards us with not one, not two, but three breathtaking rainbows, each more stunning than the last. We even find the courage to swim naked in a deserted loch, the icy water a stark contrast to the warmth of the rain on our faces. These are the moments that truly make this adventure special, the ones that remind me that the most rewarding journeys are often the ones that take us off the beaten path and into the unknown.

Embracing the Journey

As I reflect on our trek along the Affric Kintail Way, I can’t help but feel a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to explore this enchanting corner of the Scottish Highlands. The trail may be relatively new, but it has already carved out a place in the hearts of hikers and adventurers alike, offering a unique and unforgettable experience.

While I may have once craved the extreme, I now find joy in the simple pleasures of being in nature, of connecting with the land and the people who call it home. And as I look towards the future, I know that my love for adventure has not waned, but rather evolved, to embrace the unexpected and the unconventional. After all, the true beauty of a journey lies not in the destination, but in the moments that surprise and delight us along the way.

So, if you find yourself drawn to the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands, I encourage you to explore the wonders of the Affric Kintail Way. Whether you choose to tackle the Munros or simply bask in the glory of the glen, you’re sure to come away with a newfound appreciation for the meaning of adventure and the importance of embracing change.

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