Off To Glen Affric to clear the head – A past wander in 1976 ! Before the World went mad.

Today it is an early start of to Glen Affric to meet some pals and have a walk to clear the head after all the sad news from France.  It may be just a low level walk but to get out will be grand after a sad weekend. Thanks for all the comments on the BBC Radio Scotland program on early yesterday. You can still get it on the IPlayer if you want it.

Out Of Doors

Glen Affric is a favourite Glen of mine and as it near where I live like many of these Glens it has great memories of long hill days with the Mountain Rescue Teams.  The glen is guarded by a narrow road of 10 miles and has changed since the Hydro came in 1947 and 1500 workers made the new scheme.  We had great access thanks to the Estate and often stayed in the White Cottage on the  Affric Estate now a private house.  The Keeper at Affric Lodge Mr MacClennan was a great friend of the RAF Kinloss team  for many years. By common consent, Glen Affric is the finest of all Scotland’s glens. It features a fabulous variety of scenery and is deservedly popular with walkers. The glen begins amongst the steep, bare mountains of Kintail far in the west.Further downriver is beautiful Loch Affric, at the foot of the highest mountains north of the Great Glen. The middle part of the Glen is a National Nature Reserve, magnificently wooded with Scots Pine – one of the last remnants of the original Caledonian Forest. This is place of incredible beauty and peace and well worth a visit, this is Scotland at its finest in every season. The trees make this a special place huge Scots Pine with views of these great hills and in winter when snowcapped incredible beauty. This is a place of wildlife and the stags and hinds will be about and many other animals that live in these wild glens. A few years ago I was in the area I watched an Eagle soar above me as I was enjoying a view on the Carn Eighe ridge what a site one that is hard to surpass.

1974 the White Cottage in Affric now a private house on the Estate. Great memories.

1974 the White Cottage in Affric now a private house on the Estate. Great memories.

From the village of Cannich the glen changes once more, becoming known as Strath Glass as the river winds through the now wider, gentler and more fertile glen to Beauly, centred on its ancient priory. Further north are three glens that almost rival Affric itself; remote Glen Cannich, now flooded by Loch Mullardoch, beautiful Strathfarrar, and the twisting and little visited Strath Conon.

1976 Walk North to South

This is the story of my first Walk from North – South of Scotland in May 1976 it was an adventure and no day was ever the same. The gear was simple the maps basic but what a trip

1976 May – RAF Kinloss MRT – North to South Traverse of the Highlands.

The aim – This was a mountaineering expedition from the most Northerly Mountain in Scotland Ben Hope to the most Southerly Ben Lomond. The route was planned to cover 270 miles. Climb 42 Munros and ascend a total of 70,000 feet. This was 1976 gear was simple as were the maps  and there were limited communications Mobile phones were a long way away

The Team was all from RAF Kinloss MRT  Heavy Whalley , Jim Morning , Paul Burns all were young SAC ‘s (a very low rank in the RAF)This was only allowed to go after great arguing with the powers that be by the RAF Kinloss Team Leader Pete Mac Gowan. by  and gaining authorization for expeditions in these days had an officer in charge. (Normally military expeditions were led by an officer or SNCO) The planning was done an orgy of maps joining and tracing other walks in the past and done in the dark winter nights or at weekends. Food was planned and food caches set up with the help of Keepers and Village Halls and friends of the team. The RAF Team would meet us at weekend training Exercises and re supply us, well that was the plan?

The Mullardoch Munros Day 80

This is just one day – we are half way  and had come over the 4 Cannich Munros a big day previously.

1976 Walk  Day 10 May 18 – Mallurdoch bothy – and Five of the Affric Munros, these are the biggest hills in this area, wild and rough. The great things about the walk are you start the hills from a different way few will climb Toll Creagach from Glen Cannich. We had a problem at the Dam but sorted that out eventually after several miles of very rough ground we then a great long ridge from the Loch all the way up to the summit. Our journey today was all on the high tops of the Affric hills all the way to the remote Aultbeithe Youth Hostel. Today we would miss the great Affric Forest but we would be high all day and get a few mountains in. From the summit of Toll Creagach it is a broad ridge along to the beallach Toll Easa used in past days as a route between Affric Lodge and the now submerged Benula Lodge under the waters of loch Mullardoch, all part of the Hydro System. The ascent of Tom A Chonich by the south East Ridge from the beleach is a good scramble still snow-covered and not the place to slip.  

Oct Affric Blowy Tom a Chonnich

Oct Affric Blowy Tom a Chonnich

 These glens that Affric is one that penetrate all the way to the West Coast a journey of 20 wild miles. These are big mountains in a wild environment, from the summit of Tom a’ Chonich follows a grand ridge and there is a delightful section where the crest becomes narrow and broken  into some shattered pinnacle’s that today needed an ice axe to assist the journey. The great dome of Cairn Eighe lay ahead a huge hill of over 3800 feet. The outlier Beinn Fhionnlaidh looked feasible but not today, we headed on to Mam Sodhail and its massive summit cairn.

On the Affric Ridge Mam Sodhail

On the Affric Ridge Mam Sodhail

How many miss the chance when in this area to get the illusive summit of Beinn Fhionnlaidh and a few Munro rounds are never completed because of this?.  Our last Munro of the day An Socath was a long ridge walk at the end of the journey and from here a huge drop into Glen Affric down the stalkers path. It was a long walk to the Aultbeithe Youth Hostel a great place to stay for the night and I felt that last pull up to An Socath. I twisted my knee on the way off descending into the Glen and limped along the track to the Youth Hostel. It had been a great day in some amazing mountains; I never tire of this place and a night in Glen Affric Youth Hostel to look forward to. We had the place to ourselves, no one had been there since February and there were a few spare tins we ate well that night and had a great fire. Stags were down at the bothy, in the evening and watched me as I enjoyed a great sunset over the Kintail and Affric hills, what a day, what a walk. I was feeling a lot better the knee was twinging but had a great sleep in a comfortable Hostel; this was the way to live.  Another great day in the famous Glens Of Scotland big hard hills but what views the day’s distance was 16 miles and 6600 feet of ascent it seemed far longer. Pauls boots held up ( he had burned them on the previous night by the fire and had a hole in the front toe) he is some guy and Jim just powers on, powerful people. I am feeling stronger got over the bug (I was ill at Strathconnon and took a day off we all needed it) and now enjoying these wild areas.


We are half way through our walk and going well, we carry little excess in gear just a change of clothes, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, food a stove and fuel, we have few comforts. The weather has been pretty good but there are still patches of hard snow in places and the ice axe is a great companion. The rivers have been tricky with the melt water from the snow and we have to take care, boots of but our feet are always wet.  I feel now as I was to on many other long walks and expeditions that I am part of my environment. We all feel the same; we are at one with the mountains, picking lines up these great hills where there are few paths. We pick up animal tracks mainly deer and move well despite the big bags of about 30 lb. All day we see amazing things the wild animals and the summer plants coming through. The extra daylight in May means we have plenty of time on the hill and the constant views of the hills and our route give you   a buzz when times are hard. I now know the feeling of being at one with the hills, we have seen no one apart from the Keepers and enjoy the solitude and our own company, we are all in our own worlds and getting on fine. As you spend time in the hills you move like as one with them and I felt as part of these great mountains. You could read the weather and knew when to put on more gear before the weather hit, at one with your surroundings a rare experience?   We hoped to pick up a new pair of boots for Paul after Kintail. Life was so simple, hills , eat, sleep, hills!

 Great days! This walk is covered in previous blogs 

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Bothies, Equipment, Hill running and huge days!, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Munros, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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