Glencoe is a place of extremes. Extreme sports, extreme weather and extremely mesmerizing landscapes and views.
Glencoe’s name will forever be tied to a brutal massacre that happened early in the morning of 13 February 1692 when 38 members of the Clan McDonald were killed in cold blood. Taking place just after the Jacobite revolution, the country had been in a volatile period, with attempts by James II to try and return from France to reclaim his throne. Fearing unrest, the Scottish government offered tribes financial incentives to swear allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary of Orange (King William III and Queen Mary II). The McDonalds had a reputation for lawlessness and their reluctance to immediately pledge their allegiance is thought to have been the catalyst for the slaughter.
The roots of the massacre
For two weeks, the first and second companies of the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot, consisting of 120 grenadiers under the command of Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, had been billeted with members of the MacDonald clan in hamlets around the glen. Purportedly there on government business, the Campbells (as they are loosely spoken of) turned on the clan and slaughtered them in their sleep, burning the homes to the ground and leaving the women to die of exposure.
Today, the site is lost to the village of the same name. A memorial cairn beside the River Coe marks the eventful massacre. It feels rather insignificant in terms of a monument and its close proximity to neighboring properties makes it seem like it’s someone’s back yard.
The tiny village is a base for adventure companies and offices for vacation rentals, which are wildly popular during the summer months. But now, in the middle of autumn, the buzz has died down somewhat. The main street leads over a narrow stone bridge that rises above the fast flowing, flooded Coe. Thick forest extend uphill and a narrow road continues on to Glencoe Lochan, a lake that we’ve seem stunning photos of, but won’t make it to as the rain is pouring down and our waterproof jackets are proving to be less than adequate. Still, we soak up the natural beauty with thick mosses carpeting the forest floors and waterfalls cascading down embankments. It is truly mystical.
For the serious outdoor adventurers, Glencoe is a haven for fly fishers, hikers, rock and ice climbers and those crazy types who kayak down narrow waterfalls. Most folks we pass are walking with hiking poles and waterproof jackets that look like they are actually waterproof. Following the advice of a local, we avoid the trek to see Hagrid’s Hut (or where it stood during the filming of the Prisoner of Azkaban) as it no longer exists – what a downer. If it was recreated, we bet it would be a must-see based on the Harry Potter mania that is still so prevalent in most Scottish souvenir shops.
The region is full of quality treks, trails and places where wild camping is welcome. It’s truly unspoiled wilderness and visitors are encouraged to keep it as pristine for those coming after them.
The Glen is Stunning
As we drive down through the u shaped glen, the skies open. Not a few spits, but thick curtains of pouring rain. We are looking for a particular white farmhouse that would make a perfect shot representing the area but visibility is low. We pass one and miss it, pulling off about 300 yards up the road where it’s safe to stop.
The rain let’s up for a few minutes and we step out to watch the fog and clouds roll over the top of the fall colored- mountains. I stand in silence and take in this moment. Everything is still, there’s an air of something–mystery? No. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s almost a spiritual experience and it feels like we are the only ones in the world. The traffic noise vanishes and as we do a 360 with your heads up, it’s like your stuck in another world, majestic, pristine and beautiful. Then the heavens open up and snap you back into reality and we’re soaked to the bone.
Venturing back the way we came, we reach a parking spot near the farmhouse. The clouds have reopened and wave after wave of rain blows sideways. Oblivious to the drenching, we stand in awe of the location and the moment. We are overwhelmed by the beauty of the ranges. You would never know by looking at it that this is severely harsh terrain in the elements.
We only had a few hours to experience Glencoe Valley but we’d definitely recommend allotting more time to it, and taking one of the trails the whole way through the valley, as many of those we encountered had done. Do yourselves a favor and experience this part of Scotland. We still can’t quite capture in words what it was that we felt but it was a rich and meaningful experience.
Glencoe is a wilderness region within a valley of the Scottish Highlands.
The nearest town is Ballachulish, though there is a small village servicing the area’s outdoor sports enthusiasts.
We stayed at the Ballachulish Hotel right on the shores of Loch Leven.