The Valley of Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

  • Posted: Apr 30, 2011
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First Glimpse of Glencoe

When you come from Crianlarich, following the A82, direction Fort William, you enter an extraordinarily scenic valley.The first shock is when appears Beinn Dorain, a majestuous mountain with nicely rounded slopes. Then, after climbing the road around the beautiful Loch Tulla, the road goes between Loch Ba to the right, and Loch Nah Achlaise to the left. Find a place to stop and admire this superb loch, with Black Mount in the background, and on a small island in the middle of the loch, probably the most photographed tree in Scotland, a superb Rowan tree, looking like a giant bonsai, alone on the moor. Then it is Rannoch Moor, with its ever changing light, often decorated with rainbows. You can now see on the left the also famous Black Rock Cottage, a nice lonely croft with its white walls and chimneys, and black roofs. In the distance appears next the extraordinary Buachaille Etive Mor (in Gaelic : the Great Shepherd of Etive), at the corner of Glen Etive to the left and the entry to the Glencoe valley. The river Coupall, flowing at the foot of Buachaille Etive Mor, is buoyant with rapid waters in winter. On the right is the Devil’s Staircase, an old military (pedestrian) road that climbs the mountain to provide a shortcut to Kinlochleven.

Now we really enter into Glencoe, the land of Clan Donald of Glencoe. We can admire the soft slopes of Buachaille Etive Beag (the Little Shepherd of Etive) on the left, and then the valley narrows to cross the Glencoe River and its falls at the Pass of Glencoe. This river was called “dark Cona” by Ossian, the legendary poet that was said to be the son of the Giant Fingal, who won an epic battle against the Vikings on the west of the valley.

Three Sisters of Glencoe

We then discover the Three Sisters, shoulders of the Bidean Nam Bian massif. Between two of the Sisters lies the Hidden Valley of Allt Coire Gabhail where the McDonalds used to hide their cattle, as well as those that they occasionally stole from the Campbell’s. On the right, the valley is barred by the Aoanch Eagach ridge, a string of sharp mountains. In these mountains, the Clan Donald warriors could hide easily, to prepare traps for the possible invaders coming from Dalness in Glen Etive, or from the east. Then the valley widens to make place for the calm and beautiful Loch Achtriochtan, with the big Sgor nam Fiannaidh (the mountain of Fingal) to the north, and the pass to Glen Creran to the south-west. Having passed Signal Rock, a small hill where the head of the MacDonald’s would address his clan, and where it is said that the signal was sent to the infamous Campbell’s to start the Massacre of Glencoe.

We now arrive to the place called Invercoe, where there was the old Clan Donald villages: Achnacon to the south-west, Carnoch along the river, Invercoe at the mouth of the river, and Laroch and Breklet on the shores of Loch Leven. Now to end the article, a little legend: “Along Bidean nam Bian and Aonach Eagach, on every mountain in Scotland, three thousand of the Feinn are sleeping. Their breathing is the wind, and one day they will arise at the call of Fingal’s horn” (supposedly written by Ossian, in Ossian’s cave above Loch Achtriachtan).

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