Glen Coe, in the Highlands of Scotland, is known for its stunning scenery and the brutal events of 1692.
About Glen Coe
Glen Coe is a steep-sided glen that climbs from the village of Glencoe perched on the edge of Loch Leven at its northern end, to the huge empty spaces of Rannoch Moor to the south.
Glen Coe or Glencoe, a note on spelling
For the many thousands who visit this part of Scotland every year, they will find an area surrounded by a number of imposing peaks, many of volcanic origin.
One of the most striking is Buachaille Etive Mor (translated from Gaelic, the Great Shepherd of Etive), a great brooding mass that rises to over 3000 feet.
The nearby Aonach Eagach and Bidean nam Bian, also known as the Three Sisters thanks to the number of summits, are equally impressive.
By road, it’s a further 16 miles to Fort William, Loch Linnhe, the Caledonian Canal and the Great Glen.
In winter it’s a dangerous, yet exhilarating place for the thousands of climbers and walkers that throng to the area.
Glencoe hotels, particularly in the winter, are very busy with Munro baggers (Scottish mountains over 3000 feet.)
Glencoe Village is a small village located at the foot of Glen Coe. It sits at the heart of what is a close-knit community
With a range of facilities including a small shop, post office, pub, and restaurant, it’s a great base for exploring the area.
There are also a number of bed and breakfast and self-catering accommodation options available.
The village is also home to the Glencoe Folk Museum located on Main Street in a traditional 19th century cottage. It tells the story of the people who have lived in the area over the centuries.
- While the Glencoe Folk Museum website holds an evocative collection of objects, it also tells the remarkable story of the women who began the project in the 1960s.
Perhaps the best way to enjoy the area is to lace up your boots and start walking. There are a number of hiking trails in the area, ranging from easy walks to challenging climbs.
Some of the most popular trails include the Three Sisters Viewpoint, the Lost Valley, and the Buachaille Etive Mor.
Visitors can also take a boat trip on Loch Leven to see the Glen Coe mountains from a different perspective.
The loch sits at the centre of the Loch Leven National Nature Reserve, essentially an area of outstanding geological heritage
Glencoe National Nature Reserve
The entrance to the Glencoe National Nature Reserve visitor centre lies around one mile from Glencoe Village.
Managed by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), the visitor centre has lots of information on what to see and do in the area along with information about the Glen Coe Massacre.
One of the great joys of the nature reserve is the park ranger-led Landrover safaris. Although this is just a small part of what they offer visitors.
The onsite café is a great place to relax and plan your onward journey.
- Find out more about Glencoe National Nature Reserve.
Glen Coe as a filming location
Given the dramatic scenery and murky history, it’s little wonder that filmmakers are attracted to the area. Among the best-known movies filmed here are:
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,
- Rob Roy,
- The 39 Steps,
- Mary Queen of Scots.
All this sits within Lochaber Geopark a charitable organisation designed to “Raise awareness of Lochaber’s outstanding geology and geomorphology…”
They offer a range geotours over what is a vast area in western Scotland. The official Lochaber Geopark website has all the details.
It’s worth pausing to say a little more about Lochaber an area which takes up a large part of Scotland’s west Highlands, including, of course, Glen Coe.
Also within it’s boundaris are Ben Nevis, the silver sands of Morar and Ardnamurchan the most westerly point in the British Isles.
While it often seems that Lochaber boasts of an almost endless selection of outdoor pursuits, there are also a number of Scotch whisky distilleries to visit too,
Research & further reading
For those with a keen interest in the legends that surround the area, the story of Fingal (from the older Fionn) and his son Ossian the poet is definitely worth researching.
Did, for example, Fingal defeat Viking leader Erragon of Sora in Glencoe? And did Ossian fall in love with Evelyne, the daughter of a local chieftain, in Glencoe?
Dr Alex MacBain of Inverness in his paper (1892) Who Were the Feinn described Fingal as “the popular hero of Gaelic romance” and a member of a band of warriors.
The paper has now been published online by the National Library of Scotland.
Poet Thomas Campbell born in Glasgow in 1844, told his story of the Glen in the poem The Pilgrim of Glencoe. This line speaks of his childhood:
- The Glenfinnan Viaduct (of Harry Potter fame)
- The Glenfinnan, Monument. Managed by the National Trust For Scotland tells the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the 1745 Jacobite Uprising.
They both lie around 30 miles from Glencoe village.
Massacre of Glen Coe
The ferocious weather of the winter of 1692 also played its part in an event that remains one of shame in the history of Scotland.
During the later part of the 17th century, there were many Highland clans which were a threat to King William. Many wanted the return of the deposed Stuart King, James VII.
Desperate to control the Highlanders, the King issued an order that all chiefs were to sign an oath of allegiance to him by January 1, 1692.
Failure to sign the document would mean punishment to the “Utmost extremity of the law.”
Many of the clans however were still bound by an oath to ousted King James VII who was now exiled in France.
It was mid-December before James released the clans from their oath and 28 December before the news arrived in the Highlands. It left only three days until the deadline.
Alasdair MacDonald known as MacIain, delayed further. He left Glencoe, during the winter blizzards, for Fort William, to sign the oath.
Unfortunately, he was turned back with the explanation that the oath had to be taken by a Sheriff.
This meant a 60-mile journey through the territory of the hated Campbells to Inveraray.
It would still have been possible to meet the deadline if the Campbells had not delayed him for a day. However, after much pleading by the exhausted MacIain, the Sheriff finally accepted his oath.
It seems the fate of the MacDonald clan was already sealed. Twelve days before the massacre a group of soldiers arrived in Glen Coe, they were Campbells.
On the pretext that the fort was full, they asked the MacDonalds for shelter. In the spirit of Highland hospitality, they were given food and lodging.
On the night of 13 February, the order came to, “Put all to the sword under seventy.” Thirty-eight men women and children were brutally murdered that night.
Driving to Glen Coe From Edinburgh
Although you can take a bus, or a combination of bus and train to Glencoe, the best way is to drive.
It is a lovely drive from Edinburgh, once you get out of the city. It’s a route that could take you, close to Stirling, through Crianlarich and Tyndrum before going through Rannoch Moor and on to Glen Coe.
The glen is around 17 miles from Fort William where you are close to Ben Nevis, Britain’s tallest mountain.
At Fort William, you could explore the Caledonian Canal and the Great Glen Way and all the leisure activities they have to offer.
From Fort William it’s another 75 miles to Kyle of Lochalsh and the crossing to the Isle of Skye.