Sixteen miles south of Fort William on the A82, breathtakingly beautiful Glen Coe (literally “Valley of Weeping”) is the best known of the Highland glens: a spectacular mountain valley between velvety-green conical peaks, their tops often wreathed in cloud, their flanks streaked by cascades of rock and scree. In 1692 it was the site of a notorious massacre, in which the MacDonalds were victims of a long-standing government desire to suppress the clans. When clan chief Alastair MacDonald missed the deadline of January 1, 1692, to sign an oath of allegiance to William III, a plot was hatched to make an example of “that damnable sept”. Campbell of Glenlyon was ordered to billet his soldiers in the homes of the MacDonalds, who for ten days entertained them with traditional Highland hospitality. In the early morning of February 13, the soldiers turned on their hosts, slaying between 38 and 45, and causing more than three hundred to flee.
Beyond the small village of GLENCOE at the western end of the glen, the glen itself (a property of the National Trust for Scotland since the 1930s) is virtually uninhabited, and provides outstanding climbing and walking. Enlightening ranger-led guided walks leave from the centre a mile south of the village, which also has an exhibition with a balanced account of the massacre alongside some entertaining material on rock and hill-climbing down the years. A cabin area provides information on the local weather and wildlife, and a café sells good cakes.
Walks around Glen Coe
Walks around Glen Coe
A good introduction to the splendours of Glen Coe is the half-day hike over the Devil’s Staircase, which follows part of the old military road that once ran between Fort William and Stirling. The trail, part of the West Highland Way, starts at the village of Kinlochleven and is marked by thistle signs, which lead uphill to the 1804ft pass and down the other side into Glen Coe.
Set right in the heart of the glen, the half-day Allt Coire Gabhail hike starts at the car park opposite the distinctive Three Sisters massif on the main A82. This explores the so-called “Lost Valley” where the Clan MacDonald fled and hid their cattle when attacked. Once in the valley, there are superb views of the upper slopes of Bidean nan Bian, Gearr Aonach and Beinn Fhada, which improve as you continue on to its head, another twenty- to thirty-minute walk.
One of the finest walks in the Glen Coe area that doesn’t entail the ascent of a Munro is the Buachaille Etive Beag circuit, which follows the textbook glacial valleys of Lairig Eilde and Lairig Gartain, ascending 1968ft in only nine miles of rough trail. Park near the waterfall at The Study – the gorge part of the A82 through Glen Coe – and walk up the road until you see a sign pointing south to “Loch Etiveside”.