Walk: Lost Valley, Glencoe, Highland
A beautiful 4.5-mile mountain walk through the Lost Valley – Coire Gabhail – in the Scottish Highlands' glorious Glencoe.
Glencoe – one of the most hauntingly beautiful of all the Scottish glens – holds a secret for those happy to get off the beaten track.
Often mist-shrouded, the glen runs for 10 miles beneath the steep slopes of magnificently rugged mountains from Loch Leven, south of Fort William, to the edge of the primeval looking Rannoch Moor. Most of the major peaks with the glen are the result of ancient lava flows, subsequently moulded by glaciation and millions of years of erosion.
From the Glencoe car park looking to the north side of the glen lies the high, serrated ridge of the Aonach Eagacg, which stretches for more than three miles and is a mountaineer's paradise and a major challenge in winter conditions.
To the south, where we are headed, stand the dramatic northern ridges of Bidean nam Bian known as the Three Sisters. It’s claimed that the MacDonald clan used to stow their rustled cattle in the lofty folds of the Lost Valley, and the walk to it remains a dramatic one.
Our path – one of Scotland's greatest walks – leads between two of the sisters: Gearr Aonach on the right and Beinn Fhada, the long hill. Bring midge repellent and long clothing if the notorious beasties are about.
Lost Valley Glencoe walk
4.3 miles/6.9km | 3–4 hours | moderate–challenging
1. Three Sisters view
After enjoying the view of the triple-ridged Three Sisters from the car park, head down from the road onto an obvious path. This swings to the left before slowly breaking right down to the River Coe. Cross the wooden bridge that spectacularly spans the gorge.
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2. The climb begins
On the other side of the bridge the way becomes rougher and rockier underfoot. Care is needed here in summer, and if there’s considerable amount of ice, which is possible in deep winter, then you may have to either don crampons or abandon your walk.
Assuming all is well, continue along the path, which takes the form of a rock staircase and rises up through birch woods. The onward section leads through the beautiful wooded gorge overlooked by the two sisters, with towering rock walls rising on either side of the path.
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It should be quite difficult to lose the path, but bear in mind that as you near the Lost Valley you will have to cross the stream (the Allt Coire Gabhail) on potentially slippery stepping stones. If the water is above the stones, you can wade alongside them but don't attempt to cross if the water is more than knee-deep.
Soon you will need to negotiate a narrow rocky staircase. Easier walking follows over boulders and there are great views down to Glencoe.
3. Lost in the valley
Then prepare for the excitement of descending into the Lost Valley. You'll see why it is so called as you emerge into this hidden landscape. The element of surprise is fantastic as you now look at a large ice-flattened valley, previously hidden from view.
Boulders the size of houses lie scattered across the mouth of the valley under cliffs. Geologists say this is the largest single rockfall feature in the whole of Britain.
It's a great spot for a picnic and even sunbathing when you get the weather. Take your time up here, it’s a place that few people visit and is worth investigating fully.
In times past, stolen cattle were hidden here and it was also a place of refuge after the infamous Massacre of Glencoe.
4. Summit's shadow
An exploration along to the valley’s end will take you along the walls of Gearr Aonach and Bheinn Fhada to the base of Bidean nam Bian, a winter mountaineering summit of considerable appeal.
When you’re satisfied, return the way you came and back to the car park.
Walkers who have worked up a thirst should seek out the comforting confines of the Clachaig Inn.
Lost Valley Glencoe map
Fergal is an outdoors writer who loves exploring Scotland on foot and by bike.