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Glen Affric (Scottish Gaelic: Gleann Afraig)[3] is a glen south-west of the village of Cannich in the Highland region of Scotland, some 15 miles (24 km) to the west of Loch Ness. The River Affric runs along its length, passing through Loch Affric and Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin. A minor public road reaches as far as the end of Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin, but beyond that point only rough tracks and footpaths continue along the glen.[4]

Glen Affric National Nature Reserve
IUCN category II (national park)
Pinewoods at Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin
Pinewoods at Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin
Location within the Highland council area
Location within the Highland council area
Location within the Highland council area
LocationCannich, Highland, Scotland
Coordinates57°14′09″N 5°09′12″W / 57.23596°N 5.15327°W / 57.23596; -5.15327Coordinates: 57°14′09″N 5°09′12″W / 57.23596°N 5.15327°W / 57.23596; -5.15327
Area145 km2 (56 sq mi)[1]
DesignationScottish Natural Heritage
OperatorForestry and Land Scotland
Glen Affric National Nature Reserve

Often described as the most beautiful glen in Scotland, Glen Affric contains the third largest area of ancient Caledonian pinewoods in Scotland, as well as lochs, moorland and mountains.[5] The area is a Caledonian Forest Reserve,[6] a national scenic area and a national nature reserve, as well as holding several other conservation designations.[7]

The forests and open landscapes of the glen, and the mountains on either side, are a popular destination for hikers, climbers and mountain bikers.[8]


Flora and faunaEdit

View along Glen Affric

Glen Affric is listed in the Caledonian Pinewood Inventory,[6] and contains the third largest area of ancient Caledonian pinewoods in Scotland.[5] Due to the importance of this woodland it has been classified as a national nature reserve since 2002, and holds several other conservation designations.[7] The pinewood consists predominantly of Scots pine, but also includes broadleaved species such as birch, rowan, aspen, willows and alder. The forest floor hosts many plant species typically found in Scotland's pinewoods, including creeping ladies tresses, lesser twayblade, twinflower, and four species of wintergreen. Many nationally rare or scarce species of lichens grow on the trees of Glen Affric.[9]

Scots pine trees first colonised the area after the last Ice Age 8–10,000 years ago. Currently the oldest trees in the area are the gnarled "granny" pines that are the survivors from generations of felling by humans. Although felling ceased many years ago, regrowth had been hampered by unnaturally high populations of sheep and deer, and in the early 1950s the Forestry Commission found that very few of the remaining pines were less than 100 years old. The main aim of management has therefore been to encourage regrowth of the pinewood by reducing deer numbers and by minimising the use of fencing which can have negative impacts on black grouse and capercaillie who collide with the wires.[10][11] Management of the reserve also seeks to remove non-native trees such as rhododendron. Some commercial forestry (using faster growing non-native species such as sitka spruce) continues in order to maintain forest cover and to provide economic benefits to the local community. The long term aim is to provide a network of forest habitats, with corridors of new forest linking existing woodland, interspersed with open areas. Management of the reserve also seeks to establish a 'treeline transition zone', in which there is a more gradual transition between woodland and mountain heath via a zone of shorter, more twisted trees and low-growing shrubs.[12] At western end of the glen the National Trust for Scotland are aiming to encourage the growth of other tree species such as birch and rowan to complement the pinewood.[13]

Following nearly seventy years of management to encourage restoration of the area, biodiversity has improved and Glen Affric now supports birds such as black grouse, capercaillie, crested tit and Scottish crossbill, as well as raptor species such as ospreys and golden eagles. Glen Affric is also home to Scottish wildcats and otters. The bogs and lochs of the glen provide a habitat for many species of dragonfly, including the rare brilliant emerald.[14][10][9]


Glen Affric Lodge, on the North Affric Estate

Glen Affric, also written Glenaffric,[15] was part of the lands of the Clan Chisholm and the Clan Fraser of Lovat from the 15th to the mid 19th centuries. By the early 15th century, Lord Lovat had passed the lands to his son Thomas who in turn passed it on to his son, William, who was recorded in Burke's Landed Gentry Scotland as William Fraser, first Laird of Guisachan.[16][17] In 1579, Thomas Chisholm, Laird of Strathglass, was imprisoned for being a Catholic.[18] By the 18th century, the title deeds of Glen Affric had been a source of feuding with the Battle of Glen Affric taking place in 1721.[19]

There exists in the Scottish Register of Tartans a "Glenaffric Fragment" that possibly dates from the late 17th century.[15]

By 1854, Dudley Marjoribanks, later Lord Tweedmouth, had acquired ownership of Glen Affric and Guisachan from Fraser,[20][21] whose family had built the original Guisachan Georgian manor house around 1755. By the 1860s, Lord Tweedmouth, as the new laird, had much enlarged the house,[22] using Scottish architect Alexander Reid who designed many buildings on Tweedmouth's vast Glen Affric Estate, including an entire village – Tomich – and the Glen Affric Hunting Lodge,[23] described in appearance as "castle-like".[24] Tweedmouth had enjoyed a long lease on shooting rights over much of Glen Affric since 1846, and, following his acquisition of the estate he initiated the first breed of golden retrievers at kennels near Guisachan House. He put the retrievers to good use at the shooting parties he hosted when at Glen Affric Lodge. The retrievers were sent to other estates when, for some months of the years 1870–71, he leased the Glen Affric Estate to Lord Grosvenor.[25][26][27]

Royal connectionsEdit

1876 – Lady Glen Affric (Fanny, Baroness Tweedmouth) died in 1904 at Glen Affric Lodge on the estate where her golden retriever, Crocus, had been bred

The Duke and Duchess of York are reported in The Graphic, 25 September 1897 to have visited the Guisachan Estate in Strathglass, including Glen Affric Lodge and deer park; "The Duchess, (later Queen Mary), driving around the estate with Lady Tweedmouth in 1897". The 2nd Baroness Tweedmouth was a "lover of the golden retriever dog" and was known and loved in the Highlands as the Lady of Glenaffric and Guisachan.[28] She had been born Lady Fanny Spencer-Churchill, daughter of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. She died at Glen Affric Lodge in 1904.[29] Her nephew Winston Churchill came to visit the estate in 1901, and amused himself learning how to drive a car in the grounds.[30][31][32] Although Edward Marjoribanks, 2nd Baron Tweedmouth had inherited the Glenaffric and Guisachan estates in 1894, the Clan Marjoribanks' ownership ended with Edward’s son, Dudley Churchill Marjoribanks, who became 3rd Lord Tweedmouth in 1909. He and his wife had two daughters, but no male heir. For the next few years, until 1918, the estate was owned by the family of Newton Wallop, 6th Earl of Portsmouth (1856–1917).[33] Marmaduke Furness, 1st Viscount Furness owned the estate throughout the 1920s and 30s.[34] The entire property, then consisting of 22,000 acres (8,900 ha), had been sold by 1936 to a Mr Hunter. It was he who resold the Glen Affric deer forest to the west and a large area of grazing land to the Forestry Commission.[35][36]

Lady Islington acquired the Guisachan portion of the estate in 1939 but let the property go to ruin. In 1962 the Guisachan estate (now considerably reduced in size) was bought by a descendant of the Frasers of Gortuleg. In 1990, this later generation laird wrote a booklet concerning his Fraser ancestors who had once owned Guisachan – "Guisachan, A History by Donald Fraser".[26][37][38][39]

On 20 May 2017, the current heir to the courtesy title of Laird of Glen Affric, James Matthews, married Pippa Middleton, sister to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. The couple's wedding reception menu included locally themed Scottish produce: Glen Affric Cranachan Cheesecake and Affric Trait 10 year Highlands Malt.[40][41]


Beinn Fhada stands at the head of Glen Affric on the West Affric Estate

Most of the lower and central parts of the glen (covering 17,604 ha) was bought by the Forestry Commission in 1951. The largest landowner is now the Commission's successor body, Forestry and Land Scotland.[42][43] The National Trust for Scotland have owned the 9,119 acres (3,690 ha)[44] West Affric Estate, which covers the upper part of the glen,[43] since 1993.[45]

The main private landowner is the North Affric Estate with its 8,974 acres (3,632 ha) sporting estate taking in most of the land on the north side of Loch Affric.[43][46] The centerpiece of the estate is the Baronial castle and associated deer park.[38][24] It was reported that, since 2008, the Glenaffric lairdship has been held by David Matthews, father of James Spencer Matthews.[17][35][47] Although the lodge is a private home for the Matthews family the estate is available to hire for those wishing to enjoy the "activities favoured by the noble elite": trout fishing on Loch Affric, sailing, clay pigeon, target and game shooting, and deer stalking.[48][40]

The Guisachan area of Glen Affric, which lies to the south of the main glen, is also in private hands, now forming three separate estates. Wester Guisachan Estate covers the 9,342 acres (3,781 ha) to the south of Loch Affric,[49] whilst the Hilton & Guisachan Estates lies further east and covers 4,178 acres (1,691 ha).[50] The final portion of the Guisachan Estate, which remains in the ownership of the Fraser family, consists of 1,658 acres (671 ha) at the very east of the glen including the small settlement of Tomich.[51][52]

As with all land in Scotland, there is a right of responsible access to most of the land in the glen for pursuits such as walking, cycling, horse-riding and wild camping. These rights apply regardless of whether the land is in public or private ownership, provided access is exercised in accordance with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.[53]


Glen Affric Youth Hostel

Glen Affric is popular with hillwalkers, as it provides access to many Munros and Corbetts. The north side of the glen forms a ridge with eight Munro summits, including the highest peak north of the Great Glen, Càrn Eige (1183 m).[54] The three Munros at the western end of this ridge, Sgùrr nan Ceathreamhnan (1151 m), Mullach na Dheireagain (982 m) and An Socach (921 m), are amongst the remotest hills in Scotland, and are often climbed from the Scottish Youth Hostels Association hostel at Alltbeithe.[54] The hostel is only open in the summer, and can only be reached by foot or by mountain bike via routes of between 10 and 13 km starting from lower down Glen Affric or from the A87 at Loch Cluanie or Morvich. The dormitories are unheated and hostellers are required to bring a sleeping bag, and to carry out all rubbish.[55] Glen Affric is also the starting point for routes to the summits of Munros to the south and west of the glen, although these can also be accessed from the Kintail area.[54] Corbetts accessible from Glen Affric include Sgùrr Gaorsaic, Càrn a' Choire Ghairbh and Aonach Shasuinn.[56]

The Affric Kintail Way is a 70 km long route from Drumnadrochit on the shore of Loch Ness to Morvich in Kintail via Glen Urquhart and Glen Affric. The route is suitable for both walkers and mountain bikers, and can usually be walked in four days.[57][58]

Shorter waymarked trails are provided in the lower parts of the glen, taking walkers to viewpoints and attractions such as the waterfalls at Plodda and the Dog Falls.[59]

Hydro-electric schemeEdit

Benevean Dam on the outflow from Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin

The glen is part of the Affric/Beauly hydroelectric scheme, constructed by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. Loch Mullardoch, in the neighbouring Glen Cannich, is dammed, and a 5 km tunnel carries water to Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin, which has also been dammed. From there, another tunnel takes water to Fasnakyle power station, near Cannich. As the rivers in this scheme are important for Atlantic salmon, flow in the rivers is kept above agreed levels. The dam at Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin has a Borland fish lifts to allow salmon to pass.[60]

Conservation designationsEdit

In addition to being a national nature reserve, Glen Affric is a Caledonian Forest Reserve,[6] a national scenic area,[61] and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).[62] The NNR is classified as a Category II protected area by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.[63] Much of the area forms part of a Special Protection Area for golden eagles,[64] and is also classified as a Special Area of Conservation.[14]

Glen Affric was proposed for inclusion in a national park by the Ramsay committee, set up following the Second World War to consider the issue of national parks in Scotland,[65] and in 2013 the Scottish Campaign for National Parks listed the area as one of seven deemed suitable for national park status,[66] however in September 2016 Roseanna Cunningham (Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform) told the Scottish Parliament that the Government had no plans to designate new national parks in Scotland and instead planned to focus on the two existing national parks.[67]


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External linksEdit