Glencoe needs no introduction. Scotland’s most famous glen is well known, both for its extraordinary scenery and bloody history. There are many ways to enjoy its wild and rugged landscape, but one of the most satisfying is to take a winter walk around the tranquil waters of Glencoe Lochan.
Glencoe comes into its own during the winter months. Snow and ice invariably cling to the summits of mountains such as Bidean nam Bian, the Aonach Eagach and the stunning Buachaille Etive Mor. These craggy peaks envelop the glen, striking over 3,000ft towards the sky, so the low winter sun struggles to climb above the tops. The deep shadows give the glen a brooding atmosphere all of its own.
This mood is heightened when the glen’s infamous past is remembered. The Massacre of Glencoe took place on 13 February 1692, when 38 members of the MacDonald clan were slain by 120 men, led by Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, after the MacDonalds had failed to pledge allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary.
You can discover more detail regarding this dark and vicious tale, as well the glen’s geology, wildlife and climbing history, through a series of exhibitions at the superb Glencoe Visitor Centre, which stands a mile outside Glencoe village.
The winter months may spell the end of activity for many wishing to climb the big peaks, but there are still a number of enjoyable, low-level routes. Perhaps the best is a walk around gorgeous Glencoe Lochan (lochan means ‘small loch’). This starts in attractive woodland where you can spot red squirrels, crested tits and perhaps a pine marten. However, upon reaching the lochan, the vista truly steals your attention.
Many of the conifers that punctuate the woodland around Glencoe Lochan were planted in 1895 by Lord Strathcona, who was born in Scotland but emigrated to Canada at the age of 18. He returned several years later with his Canadian wife, Isabella, and they acquired Glencoe Estate, but Isabella felt homesick.
Her husband tried his best to recreate the Canadian forest environment by planting a large number of trees in order for his wife to feel at home. Unfortunately the plan did not work and they both eventually returned to Canada, leaving behind a beautiful woodland legacy. Listen for the rat-tat-tat of the woodpecker, the calls of tawny owls or the rustle of undergrowth from a startled roe deer as you walk through.
Cross the Coe
Begin the walk from the village of Glencoe, which stands at the glen’s western edge. Facing the excellent Glencoe Folk Museum on Main Street, turn right and follow the road across the Bridge of Coe, which spans the River Coe, on to a single-track road.
Start to climb
Take the second road on the left, signposted to Glencoe Lochan. This climbs gently through mixed woodland. As the road splits, keep right and continue to a car park.
Look for red squirrels
Walk through to a selection of paths. Take the left path and follow this through more beautiful woodland, where the likes of red squirrel and stonechat are common. In due course, it swings right to a fork. Go left where the solid path undulates through the woodland, eventually exiting at the beautiful, tranquil setting of Glencoe Lochan.
Stop and stare
Turn left out of wood and follow the path clockwise around the water. You’ll be granted an exceptional window to view a magnificent, natural amphitheatre where some of Scotland’s finest mountains, such as Beinn a’ Bheithir and the Pap of Glencoe, rise steeply. At a fork beside a fisherman’s hut, keep left and follow a path away from Glencoe Lochan, zigzagging back down to the car park and on to the outward-bound route. Retrace your steps to Glencoe village.
HOW TO GET THERE
Glencoe village is off the A82 south of Fort William. Scottish Citylink runs regular coach services (913/914) from Glasgow or Edinburgh.
FIND OUT MORE
Glencoe Tourist Information
The Clachaig Inn,
Glencoe, Argyll PH49 4HX
The historic Clachaig Inn provides comfortable rooms, beautiful food and wonderful scenery and is an ideal base to explore Glencoe.
Glencoe Village, Argyll
Small, but perfectly formed café serves a variety of delicious snacks and meals.
The Ice Factor
Kinlochleven, Lochaber PH50 4SF
The Ice Factor is based in Kinlochleven and is the world’s biggest indoor climbing wall. It is suitable for beginners or more experienced climbers.
OS Landranger 41
Grid Reference: NN 101 589