Scotland | The Ultimate Guide to Walking the Beautiful Affric Kintail Way

As our first multi-day hike in Scotland, the AKW had it's ups and downs but has given us a taste for adventure and the determination to tackle more trails in the country. When planning our journey I found information limited to the official website and Walk Highlands description so, based on our experience, I've put together my ultimate guide to walking the beautiful Affric Kintail Way, to help plan yours!

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What is the Affric Kintail Way?

The Affric Kintail Way is a long distance trail from Loch Ness to Loch Duich on the west coast of Scotland, officially opened by outdoor writer and presenter Cameron McNeish in 2015. The 44 mile (77km) long trail is well sign posted and starts at Drumnadrochit, passing through Glen Affric (one of the most beautiful glens in the country) to Morvich, surrounded by the spectacular mountains of Kintail.

It benefits from being a newer, lesser known trail than the West Highland Way for example, and feels incredibly remote and peaceful. We only met two other people walking the route at the same time as us! At just 44 miles, it's a perfect trip for people who are new to long distance hiking to test the waters and see how they like it. However, due to it's remoteness it's important to be fully prepared. Some hillwalking experience and skills in outdoor navigation would be beneficial.

How long does it take to walk the AKW?

Typically people do this walk over 4 days, spending one night at Cannich campsite, one night wild camping by Loch Affric and a final night enjoying the hospitality of Glen Affric Youth Hostel.

We left our van at Drumnadrochit on day one and caught the 917 bus back from Ault a'chruinn at the end. Be aware there are only a couple of busses per day on this route. We didn't book the bus in advance and had no problems getting a seat.

"Welcome to Cannich" sign entering the village

Day 1 - Drumnadrochit to Cannich: The route officially begins at the Loch Ness Hub in Drumnadrochit, however no overnight parking is permitted here. Our first challenge for the day! Luckily the staff in the hub were very helpful and highlighted a couple of possible parking spots on a map for us. Setting off about 10am, the route begins on an incline, passing a pair of impressive giant Redwood trees. The trail follows a forestry road uphill, with glimpses of Loch Ness through the trees. We stopped at a picnic bench at a forestry car park, enjoying a quick break and snack, before continuing through the trees, this time with the odd peek of Loch Mieklie.

Eventually following the signs for Corrimony, and walking through a field of cows, we found ourselves at the houses of Shenval. Here we opted to take the road route, ignoring the signed new AKW path. The weight of our full packs (with 4 days worth of food!) was getting to us, along with my blisters, and the road was a shorter option. A section just before Cannich was closed due to wildfires and we would have had to divert to the road there anyway.

We reached Cannich after 6 hours of walking, with my Fitbit showing 20.5km.

A chaffinch joins us for lunch on a picnic bench at Dog Falls, day 2 of the AKW

Day 2 - Cannich to Loch Affric - Day two starts in much the same fashion as day one, on rather boring forestry tracks. We had split the tent between our two rucksacks, rather than Gordon carrying it all like he did the day before, but I struggled with the extra weight. I kept getting horrible shooting pains in my hips, and my right knee wasn't happy either. I was seriously questioning my life choices that morning! The monotonous surroundings didn't help. When we finally reached Dog Falls (which took longer than I expected), I was glad to get my rucksack off and relax at a picnic bench for a long leisurely lunch.

Luckily the scenery improved greatly from Dog Falls as we entered more natural woodlands with ancient pine trees, and enjoyed views across Loch Beinn a'Mheadhoin. At long last we reached the end of the loch and left the trail to use the toilets at the River Affric car park, before setting up our camp for the night nearby. 

This was our longest day on the trail, clocking up 22.7km in 8 hours. 

Glen Affric Youth Hostel - accommodation on day 3 of the Affric Kintail Way

Day 3 - Loch Affric to Alltbuithe - If you're short on time and only want to complete a small section of the trail, start here! We packed up our tent quicker than ever before thanks to the swarm of midges intent on making our lives a misery. Making use of the toilets at the river Affric car park again, we ate a simple breakfast at a picnic bench before setting off on day three. Views of the loch with hovering dragonflies, and a golden eagle soaring high above the trees as we filled our water bottles in the river, made a spectacular start to the morning. 

Lunch was enjoyed outside Strawberry cottage - a hut owned by An Teallach mountaineering club. The path continued on, with the surroundings becoming more mountainous, and waterfalls beginning to make an appearance too. Marshy fields of bog cotton lined the rocky path which eventually led us to the remote Glen Affric Youth Hostel at Alltbeithe. Man was I glad to see that green building and get my boots off! Despite being our shortest day on the Affric Kintail Way, my feet were suffering from the uneven ground.

Run by Hostelling Scotland, this off grid former stalker's bothy provides the perfect refuge in the wilderness and, thanks to the incredible hospitality from warden Marc, we were made to feel right at home during our stay. The other guests were friendly and we enjoyed a lovely sociable evening in the common room hearing about everyone's adventures in the glen. We booked a couple of beds in the bunkhouse, but there are also two private rooms. Advance booking is recommended for an overnight stay but anyone passing by is welcome to stop for warmth, conversation and a cup of tea!

Day three was 14km and took us just 4 hours to complete.

Camban bothy along the Affric Kintail Way

Day 4 - Alltbuithe to Morvich - A slow start to the morning saw us enjoy a warm shower and bowl of porridge before saying our goodbyes and setting off on the final section of the AKW. Another day of spectacular scenery awaited with towering mountains and magnificent waterfalls making us feel tiny and insignificant in the landscape. We passed Camban bothy, which would be a great alternative accommodation to the youth hostel, albeit even more basic. The Five Sisters of Kintail dominated the skyline as the track undulated before a steep descent. We passed two cyclists struggling uphill with their bikes here, apparently taking part in the Highland Cross, and an older couple beginning their trek of the Affric Kintail Way in reverse. The most people we'd seen on the trail all week!

As we reached the bottom of the hill and Glenlicht House came into view in the distance, we made the mistake of taking a shortcut across the river. I stepped on a slippery rock and fell backwards with an almighty splash into the water! Luckily it had been sunny for days so wasn't as deep as it might normally be, but I'd injured my wrist and struggled to get up with the weight of my pack. I just lay there in the water like a turtle on it's back, shouting to Gordon that my camera was getting wet, as he raced back to help me up!

Once upright we made it to the Edinburgh University mountaineering club's hut and stopped to assess the damage. Thankfully a swollen wrist, bruised backside, wet shorts and soggy boots were about the worst of the damage. My camera survived, and I changed into dry socks as we ate lunch, before following the river Croe for a final 6km to reach the trail's end at Morvich!

The walk to the bus stop at Ault a'chruin (next to the Pitstop at Kintail Cafe) took our day's total to 21km in roughly 6 hours.

Admiring the views on the Affric Kintail Way, with a red Osprey rucksack

What to pack for walking the Affric Kintail Way

The lighter you pack, the better for any long distance trail! You'll be carrying everything you need on your back for 4 days so only take the essentials. If you're in a group, try to share the weight of heavier items between you.

Rucksack - I just can't see past Osprey when it comes to rucksacks. There's a reason they're one of the most popular brands in the outdoor world! I used an Osprey Talon 44 and Gordon had an Osprey Kestrel 58. Both were ideal for the task, with adjustable back sizes, chest straps and hip belts, plenty pockets and space for hydration packs. These are pricey but a worthwhile investment. If cost is an issue, I'd recommend checking out Vinted for second hand options! Whichever rucksack you choose, make sure it's fitted properly for the best comfort.

Tent - You want something lightweight, waterproof, easy to carry and simple to put up. If you're hiking with a friend you could take a 2 man tent and spread the weight - one person carries the poles, one person carries the tarp. We used a Eurohike Backpacker 2 DLX (similar here) which was a bit of a tight squeeze for 2 of us with rucksacks, but it did the job.

Sleeping bag - Opt for a lightweight and compact sleeping bag so it doesn't take up too much room in your rucksack. We both used the Mountain Equipment Lunar II which is a 3 season sleeping bag, to be used in temperatures down to -2. If you're a 4 season hiker, the Lunar III model is warmer, going to -5.

Sleeping pad - Basic roll mats are affordable, but bulky to carry and not actually that warm or comfy. I recommend investing in a good quality inflatable pad which takes up around the same space as a water bottle in your bag. If you feel the cold, look for something with a higher R rating as this provides more insulation from the ground.

I used a Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated pad with an R-value of 3.5, which inflates to 2 inches thick and weighs only 480g. Gordon used the Thermarest NeoAir Venture with a smaller R-value of 2.2 as he doesn't feel the cold like me. There are much more technical and expensive options available, so you could go even warmer or lighter if your budget stretches that far, but these are good mid-range options from two of the most popular brands on the market.

Our sleep system - Sea to Summit pillows, Thermarest mat, Mountain Equipment lunar II sleeping bags

Pillow - We both opted for the Sea to Summit Aeros ultralight pillow which is inflatable and packs down in a stuff sack the size of your palm! The regular size weighs just 60g and the large is 70g.

Walking boots - A good quality, sturdy pair of hiking boots that you've broken in are essential! My Scarpas are 6 years old and still going, although I have started getting blisters recently so it's maybe time to replace them. Gordon has to wear hiking shoes rather than boots due to a previous Achilles injury, and found this Meindl pair did the job perfectly. 

We also both carried a pair of flip flops. Not only was it a relief to change into these at the end of the day, but "indoor" shoes were required at the Glen Affric Youth Hostel.

Walking poles - I used my poles for the longest stretch on day two and the descent on day four, which gave some relief to my knees! Mine are a telescopic carbon fibre set, but I'm thinking of upgrading to a collapsible pair from Alpkit, which fit in the side pocket of a rucksack rather than being strapped across it.

Cooking equipment - We took a Jetboil Zip cooking system and a standard gas camping stove with a collapsible Sea to Summit X-Pot Kettle. A set of cutlery, a Lifeventure collapsible bowl and a mug each completed our kit. In hindsight, we would have been fine with just the Jetboil between us. For water we each carried an Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir and a Water 2 Go filter bottle.

Gordon filling his Water 2 Go bottle from a stream on day 4

Travel towel - A towel will come in handy for campsite showers, or drying off after a fall in the river! Sea to Summit has become a bit of a theme here. I used their Airlite hiking and travel towel, which is probably one of the lightest, most compact options available. However, even the large size isn't quite big enough to wrap around your body. It does the job and dries quickly though.

Clothes - I packed underwear and socks for each day, three t-shirts, and only one pair of trousers (Under Armour leggings) and a pair of shorts. The rest of the clothes in my bag were layers for the changeable Scottish weather - a light mid layer (like this half zip pullover top), an insulating jacket (my North Face Thermoball jacket packs down into it's pocket) plus a waterproof jacket and over trousers! Add sunglasses and a baseball cap in case of sun and a pair of gloves in case it got cold at night.

We walked the route during a very warm week in June, so obviously you'll need to consider the weather and time of year when planning what clothes to bring on your journey. I packed mine in an Osprey dry sack inside my rucksack.

Toiletries - Keep them simple! I carried deodorant, a packet of wipes, hand sanitiser, lip balm, moisturiser and SPF (for face and body). Some toilet roll, and a Circe Care pee cloth for me! If you haven't heard of this before, they're made of silver-infused antimicrobial material and are designed to reduce waste. You won't find many bins on the AKW so it saves you having to carry an excessive amount of tissues. Just rinse and reuse!

A flatlay of everything I packed for walking the Affric Kintail Way

First aid kit - A basic first aid kit for hiking is essential, with additional blister plasters and a tick remover tool

Electronics - I packed my camera, an extra lens and spare memory card, alongside a battery pack to recharge my phone. If you have a PLB/GPS device add that to the bag too.

Map - Last but certainly not least, a paper map is essential! There is little to no phone signal along the trail so don't expect to rely on digital maps. We used the Harvey Map's Affric Kintail Way route map. Ordnance Survey maps are better and more detailed, however you would need to purchase Explorer 414, 415 and 431 to cover the entire way.

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Boiling rice in the jetboil outside our tent, day 2 of the AKW

What food should you eat on a long distance trail?

There are limited places to stock up on food along the Affric Kintail Way. There's a shop, campsite and café at Cannich where you'll spend your first night, but after that it's true wilderness until the end. With all the walking you'll be doing you'll want to properly fuel your body, so try to pack lightweight, easy to cook nutritious foods that won't spoil. You'll also need to carry all your rubbish out with you. Avoid bulky, heavy items like tins.

You can refill water along the way at Cannich campsite and the youth hostel, but bringing a filter bottle or water purifying tablets will mean you can top up from mother nature too! The following is a list of all the food we packed for our trip.

Breakfast - Scott's porridge sachets. Just add boiled water and stir - ready in 2 minutes! Oats are a perfect high carb breakfast that provide slow release energy.

Enjoying a mugshot outside Strawberry cottage

Lunch - For the first two days we packed a couple of Warburtons pita bread pockets in a ziplock bag each, adding a pouch of John West's tuna toppers to make a simple sandwich for lunch. Noodles and mug shots were quick and easy to make too, thanks to the Jetboil.

Dinner - In the evenings we alternated between boil in the bag rice with a sachet of Blue Dragon sauce, and quick cook pasta (portioned in ziplock bags) with a stir in sauce pot and Matteson's smoked sausage. For a little after dinner treat we had individually wrapped chocolate crepes and a packet of pandan flavoured custard one evening!

Snacks - Pepperamis and Babybels are good high protein snacks that you can get away with not keeping chilled. We also had Trek protein flapjacks, a cereal bar and some sort of sweet for each day. I went for a mix of peanut M&M's and Cadbury Boosts while Gordon preferred Maoams and Fruitella sticks. Some people might prefer trail mix. Each to their own here - just make sure it's a treat you enjoy!

A lochan on the Affric Kintail Way

Are there midges on the AKW?

Yes! Midges are notorious tiny flying, biting beasties which tend to come out in wet/still conditions during summer in Scotland. We were only bothered by them once, when we camped by the loch, but always carry Smidge repellent spray and a midge-proof head net just in case. I also recommend burning citronella incense sticks to try and keep them away when you set up camp!

Glenlicht House by the river Croe

The Affric Kintail Way was a rewarding challenge for us, and I'd say it's very doable for anyone with a reasonable level of basic fitness. Practice walking long distance trails with your rucksack in your local area for a few months before you go, and climb some hills too if you can. It's good to push yourself out of your comfort zone, but please always remember safety first! If you have any questions about the Affric Kintail Way, leave them in the comments below.

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PIN: Affric Kintail Way - Ultimate Guide

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