Glen Coe

The , on the south side of the glen. The dip to the left of the picture leads into , commonly known as the Lost or Hidden Valley, which the Macdonalds of Glencoe legendarily used in times of trouble and for hiding stolen cattle
The Three Sisters of Glen Coe, on the south side of the glen. The dip to the left of the picture leads into Coire Gabhail, commonly known as the Lost or Hidden Valley, which the Macdonalds of Glencoe legendarily used in times of trouble and for hiding stolen cattle

Glen Coe is a glen in the Highlands of Scotland. It lies in the southern part of the Lochaber area of Highland Council Area, and is considered part of the traditional county of Argyll. It is often considered one of the most spectacular and beautiful places in Scotland, and is a part of the designated National Scenic Area of Ben Nevis and Glen Coe.

The name Glen Coe literally means the glen of weeping, which may be due to the steep mountains that tower oppressively over the valley floor. It is a particularly apt name given the infamous Massacre of Glencoe which took place there near the end of the 17th Century. The narrow glen shows a dramatically grim grandeur, shut in on both sides by wild and precipitous mountains. Towards Invercoe the landscape acquires a softer beauty. Here Lord Strathcona, who purchased the heritage of the Macdonalds of Glen Coe in 1894, built his stately mansion of Mount Royal.



Missing image
Coire nan Lochan, a corrie of Bidean nam Bian on the southern side of Glen Coe

The glen is a U-shaped valley formed by an ice age glacier, about 16 km (10 miles) long with the valley floor less than 700 m (0.4 miles) wide, narrowing sharply at the "Pass of Glencoe" about half way along the glen.

Approaching from the east across Rannoch Moor with the mountain of Meall a Bhuiridh on the left just before Glen Etive runs to the south, the entrance to Glen Coe is marked by Buachaille Etive Mor, "the great shepherd" at the corner to Glen Etive. Glen Coe then runs roughly west for about 12 km (7.5 miles) before turning north-west towards Loch Leven. On the south side of the glen Buachaille Etive Mor is followed to the west by Buachaille Etive Beag, then by the Three Sisters, shoulders of the Bidean nam Bian massif which itself marks the western end of the glen. To the north side of the glen the stark wall of mountain, climbed by the Devil's Staircase old military road opposite Buachaille Etive Mor, rises westwards to become the Aonach Eagach ridge, then ends with the conical Pap of Glencoe where the glen opens out to Loch Leven.

The River Coe itself - Ossian's "dark Cona" - rises at the north-eastern base of Buachaille Etive Beag and flows west along the glen, with dramatic waterfalls at the "Pass of Glencoe", then runs through the small Loch Triochatan before it turns north west. It then passes through Glencoe village shortly before flowing into the sea loch of Loch Leven (a salt-water arm of Loch Linnhe) at Invercoe. In the valley to the east of Buachaille Etive Beag, the River Coupall runs north to the glen, then swings east round the Buachaille Etive Mor to join the River Etive running south.

Tourism, walkers and climbers

Glen Coe is a very popular tourist destination - partly because of its scenic qualities and historical associations, partly because it is on the main road north - the A82 - and also because of its attraction for walkers and climbers. It is famous for the quality, and variety of its winter climbing - most of its routes being of comparatively easy access from the main road.

Much of the area is owned by the National Trust for Scotland whose Visitors' Centre across the road from the Clachaig has displays about both the natural and historical significance of the glen. There is also a folk museum in Glencoe village. Other points of interest include the Study at the Pass of Glencoe; the cave of Ossian, where tradition says that he was born. The Iona cross was erected in 1883 by a Macdonald in memory of his clansmen who perished in the massacre of 1692. There is car parking at the scenic waterfalls in the "Pass of Glencoe", which was used as the location for "The Bridge of Death" in filming Monty Python and the Holy Grail, attracting Monty Python pilgrims. Sets for the third Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, were built near to the bottom of Clachaig Gully, north of the Clachaig Inn.

Many walkers come to Glen Coe on the West Highland Way following the old military Wade road over Rannoch Moor which crosses the River Etive at the Kingshouse hotel. From there it is about 2 km (1.2 miles) to the head of the glen, then about 2 km into the glen the Way ascends the Devil's Staircase, a steep, boulder-strewn "cut" (352 m high) which is part of the old military road and drove road north across the hills to Kinlochleven.

For hillwalkers there are several good routes on the Bidean nam Bian (1150 m) massif which forms a complex Y-shaped hill with several lesser tops including Stob Coire Sgreamhach (1072 m) which also has Munro status. One attractive way in to these tops ascends from the Pass of Glencoe up along the "Lost Valley" to the ridge. Both Buachaille Etive Beag (958 m) and Buachaille Etive Mor (1022 m) also offer opportunities to hillwalkers.

The , which forms the northern side of Glen Coe
The Aonach Eagach, which forms the northern side of Glen Coe

Rock climbers concentrate on the Buachaille Etive Mor (1018 m), often called simply "The Beuckle", and on the various routes on the Three Sisters (shoulders of Bidean). For adventurous experienced walkers, the finest mainland scramble in the UK is the Aonach Eagach. This extended scramble boasts two of Scotland's trickiest Munro hills, Sgor nam Fiannaidh (996 m) and Meall Dearg (951 m). The Aonach Eagach ridge terminates at the Pap of Glencoe (741 m).

The "Glencoe ski centre", also known as the White Corries, is actually on the hill of Meall a Bhuiridh (1108 m) which lies on the east side of Glen Etive, outside Glen Coe proper.

Settlements, tourist accommodation

Other than a few scattered farms, the only settlement in Glen Coe is the village of Glencoe, which lies at the western end of the glen close to Invercoe where the river joins Loch Leven. About 2 km to the west, on the southern shore of the loch is the village of Ballachulish, known in the past for its slate quarries, which have been worked since 1760.

The famous Clachaig Inn, a pub much favoured by climbers and hillwalkers with a nearby camp site, is sited at the bend in the glen about 3 km (2 miles) from Glencoe village. A Scottish Youth Hostels Association hostel is sited about 2 km (1.2 miles) from the village, on the way to the inn. The Kingshouse, lying about 2 km to the east of the head of the glen towards Rannoch Moor, is a relic of the old coaching days when it was customary for tourists to drive from Ballachulish via Tyndrum to Loch Lomond. This old inn still welcomes visitors, and thrives on the tales of walkers and skiers, as well as climbers down from the glen's peaks. There are three official campsites. Wild camping is not allowed in Glen Coe, but is permitted in Glen Etive.

Well known descendants of the Macdonalds of Glen Coe include author George Macdonald. Well known residents include Hamish MacInnes, veteran of Mount Everest expeditions, climbing consultant for such films as the Eiger Sanction and a mountain rescue pioneer.

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