We pride ourselves in our position as the number one exclusive tour in the whole of Scotland on Trip Advisor (scroll down to best tours – only a free bus tour stops us being number one overall).
When people book with us they can be sure that we will plan and execute our tours with utmost professionalism and the knowledge of our guides is second to none.
However, tour operators also rely on the professionalism of their partners. We expect Jacobite Cruises to provide a great cruise, and they do; we expect Urquhart Castle to be clean and tidy, and it is; we expect Drumnadrochit to provide cash machines and shops, and it does; we expect Corrimony to amaze our visitors and it does that, too.
So, with two prestigious groups we then headed off towards Glen Affric. We believed our groups wanted sandwiches on the hoof, but when we got to Corrimony they changed their minds and wanted a sit down meal. We are not talking a coach party here, we are talking one group of five and one group of four. Seven prize winning scholarship students and two professors.
No problem, we thought.
We arrived in Cannich and turned into the Bog Cotton Cafe which, as it happened, this group used two years ago. The food was great on that occasion. Unfortunately, although they had been opened in the winter in the past, on this occasion they were closed for the winter. Is a Saturday after the middle of March still winter?
So, next stop was the Slaters’ Arms where I had once stopped for tea with the ex Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and his party. Fine on that occasion, but on Saturday 17th March they were as good as closed. When asked to provide lunch at lunch time for a group of four and a group of five they said we should have booked in advance and summarily turned us away.
Now I was starting to get worried. My co-guide, John, suggested we try the Glen Affric, but many years ago this had been a not very salubrious establishment. However, we turned in and I was pleasantly surprised to see a refurbished, bright, welcoming entrance area which proclaimed, as did the Slaters’ Arms, that we could get food. Co-guide John went inside and asked the barman, with some trepidation, if he could help us.
Turning up in the middle of the Scottish rugby did not bode well, especially as we were losing to the Italians. But, we were met with a beaming smile and within minutes he had extra staff on hand and orders were being placed. What a difference to the Slaters’ Arms. This was a real Highland welcome.
The clients loved the home-made soup, pudding, lasagne and curry. Brilliant and the tea was good, too. Excellent all round and you can guess where clients will be taken if they want a sit down meal on a Glen Affric tour in future.
So now, later than normal, we headed into Glen Affric itself. Normally we stop by the suspension bridge just before Dog Falls, let the clients off, and then meet up with them again at the Dog Falls car park after their short walk. Because we were late, we decided to skip Dog Falls and go straight on to the River Walk car park at the end of the glen.
Imagine my horror when we got to the Chisholm Bridge (see image) and found a sign which said “ROAD AHEAD CLOSED”.
There had been no previous warning that the end of the glen was not accessible. What sort of people let you drive, what, six or eight miles of single-track roads without warning you the road would be closed at a particular point along the way? So thoughtless and uncaring.
Did this mean at the bridge or further on. Then I saw that the bridge was full of potholes which, in turn, were full of water so there was no way of knowing how deep they were.
After checking that the potholes were no deeper than about five or six inches we gingerly crossed the bridge and continued, avoiding an increasing number of potholes, all the way to the River Walk car park.
At the car park we saw around a dozen other vehicles which had also taken the risk and a lot of heavy plant. These machines could have dealt with these potholes in no time at all and I now suspect that the Forestry Commission had deliberately decided not to repair the road until these vehicles had gone.
This was my first tour to the end of Glen Affric this year so, while our clients were enjoying their riverside walk, I looked around to see what all this plant had been doing.
There was a huge metal parking charge machine and sign telling us how the money we put in it would help maintain the glen! There was a new interpretation board surrounded by a beautifully constructed low stone wall. The car park had been extended and resurfaced. The River Walk paths had been improved and laid out to follow a slightly different path. There were new toilets which should remain pristine as they were locked!
So, the Forestry Commission, in their ultimate wisdom had done everything except repair the access road and bridge. What a bunch of Wallies? (Apologies to my friend Wally.)
Surely the absolute number one priority is to keep the access open. Everything else – parking area, paths, signboards and definitely parking charge machines are secondary. Someone in Forestry is not living in the real world. I could not believe what I was seeing.
However, I suppose it follows their usual ineptitude. The toilets they commissioned last year were provided by an English company who then went bust meaning that local firms had to come in and rescue the situation. Why weren’t local businesses used in the first place? Too obvious, no doubt.
The previous year, 2010, they demolished all of the interpretation boards without any plan for when they might be reinstated. Well, now we know, two YEARS later.
When is this bunch of civil servants going to appreciate that they are in partnership with professional outfits like us? They are letting us down, the Highlands down and the people of Scotland down.
Disgraceful and unforgivable.
GLEN AFFRIC – CLOSED FOR BUSINESS – SORRY!