One of the most famous of glens, steeped in tragedy and translating as ‘The Glen of Weeping’ this is also one of Scotland’s grandest corners and a photograper’s dream. For most, Glencoe is a few minutes jaw drop of a photo stop as they race across Rannoch Moor on the way to the west coast and – possibly – Skye. But Glencoe deserves so much more time than that! A short walk, a drive down neighbouring Glen Etive or a detour round the head of Loch Leven at the very least. Ideally, a longer walk, a ride up the Chairlift at the Ski Centre and a coffee stop at the Kingshouse Hotel where an antlered red deer stag is likely to be grazing near by against a majestic backdrop of rugged mountains.
I love Glencoe – as a hill walker, it offers stunning vistas from the high tops – but even just walking in the glen is so rewarding. It’s less than a two hour, mostly wildly scenic drive from my home in Glasgow. Yes, even the drive to the glen from Edinburgh or Glasgow is wonderful, especially from Glasgow given the route winds along the whole length of Loch Lomond’s dark choppy waters.
As an avid(though very amateur) photographer and lover of the Great Outdoors, but also someone who really enjoys a road trip through great countryside, here are my favourite ways to spend time in Glencoe:
THE GLEN’S BEST PHOTO STOPS
1.THE THREE SISTERS
I still find myself stopping at one of the two main parking areas, half way down the glen (in the Fort William direction.) You can’t miss them, they are always busy. Either spot gives stunning views of the Three Sisters and the Lord of the Rings type mountainscape.It’s a wow, in most weathers – in fact, on a gloomy day of swirling mist, I often think it’s at its best!
The colours change so much too from the emerald greens of summer; the amber, copper and golds of autumn ; and the snow and ice of winter.
Other equally good photo stops…
2.BUACHAILLE ETIVE MOR
One of the most photographed in Scotland, this great pyramid guards the entrance to the glen from the north. Translating as The Great Herdsman of Etive, it sits in isolated splendour , rising out of the wild moorland to over 3, 000 feet. The mountain is a climber/ hill walkers paradise too offering outstanding views.
I often stop either at Black Rock cottage, on the ski centre road; on the Glen Etive road itself (signposted) or anywhere else I can quickly pull in for a shot.
There is a great spot used by photography classes too – down the Glen Etive turning and on the left hand side, appears a tiny parking space.Opposite this, is a boggy track which in a minute or two peters out at a fabulous spot above a small waterfall and orange/red rocks with the Great Herdsman as a wild backdrop ( pictured above.)
There are stunning views too from the Kingshouse Hotel, a good place for a coffee or lunch stop and just to breathe in that Glencoe air and those views.
A small white house sits on the right hand side of the road where there is also parking for a stroll down the very eroded path to some great views of the little cottage dwarfed by the backdrop of Etive Mor and with the rushing River Coe as a foreground. A favourite photographer’s stop but also for a picnic.
Altnafeidh is also the starting point for hillwalkers and climbers accessing the mountain.
4.BUACHAILLE ETIVE BEAG
Just beyond Altnafeidh, on the left beyond the first bend, is a parking area and a small viewpoint on the rocks.
This gives great views of the Little Herdsman of Etive , a smaller pyramid with a tiny lochan below.Fine views too south over Rannoch Moor.I’ve spent ages here wandering around the lochan on very boggy tracks, trying to get the best shot of the moor and mountains.
At the end of the glen, another spot I’ve spent ages wandering around.It’s a beauty of a small loch with the Aonach Eagach ridge on one side and the great rocky face of the Three Sisters on the other.It is also possible to walk up a path beside the waterfall and access the wild mountain corrie beyond.
GLENCOE SKI CENTRE
A 10 minute swish up the craggy slopes of the mountains, deposited me on empty moorland from where a 10 minute walk took me to a stunning viewpoint high above the start of the glen.
There are two small burns to cross en route with boarding set across them which may not be great for anyone with a disability.
Another great spot for a picnic.Views across to Ben Nevis when clear and the Mamores mountain range. The vast emptiness of Rannoch Moor lies to the south and east. Magnificent.
This is a glen I never miss going visiting. It is wonderful, much quieter than Glencoe (which has the A82 road going through it) and with some fantastic mountain views.
I have a friend with a second home down the glen and have spent very happy days at her beautiful cottage with its colourful garden, sipping white wine and having an alfresco lunch amidst the grand mountain scenery.
Red deer grazing at the roadside, the beautiful dark waters of the little lochan, the tumbling salmon filled River Etive, the grand mountain of Beinn Starav rising above Loch Etive…it’s a delight.And of course, the colours of the mountains change completely from September onwards.
In May, the area near the lochan has swathes of pink rhododendrons set against emerald green. My friend and I once walked along the river bank on a tiny deer track, through the rhoddies to reach the lochan which was just exquisitely beautiful.(I know that these are also invasive weeds and they have quite rightly been cutting them back but some still remain and they do look gorgeous.)
The lochan lies below the road , beyond the grand country house at Dalness.It can be reached by a rough, shortish walk down the moorland.
The single track road down Glen Etive ends at Loch Etive, a very long sea loch.
But long before this, there are spots where a car can be left and a stroll taken amidst beautiful green (in summer) and grand mountains.
The River itself offers countless spots to stop and picnic or just enjoy the wild surroundings but don’t block the single track road. The upper section of the glen gets busy with wild campers in peak season.
THE CIRCULAR ROAD ROUND LOCH LEVEN
At the end of Glencoe, a right turn winds its way to Kinlochleven, then right round the loch, a circular route which is a superbly scenic drive. I last drove it when I was on my way, on a hot summer’s day, to do a solo hill walk up to Meall Dearg, on the Aonach Eagach ridge.It’s the easy back door route to this famous and challenging scramble which would otherwise be too exposed for me.
I was so taken by the views along this road that I kept driving after the 5 hour hill walk, round to tiny Kinlochleven (with accommodation and a pub) where other superb walks also begin to waterfalls and to the high mountains. There are some fine pull in areas, to stop and just click away with the camera. Gorgeous area.
THE NATIONAL TRUST VISITOR CENTRE
At the end of the glen, hidden in trees unfortunately, but offering a good history of the glen.
GREAT WALKS IN GLENCOE
A great website walkers use in Scotland is this one:
But below are my own favourites :
1.The Devil’s Staircase
The best shortish uphill walk using part of the West Highland Way long distance route. We have done this little uphill slog so often. Always, we continue an extra 20 mins from the highest point of the route (where there is a big cairn – a fine spot in itself) which takes us to a favourite viewpoint over Glencoe – Stob Mhic Mhartuinn – MacMartin’s Top.The most wow spot for a picnic without venturing onto the summits.
More on this walk:HIGH SUMMER IN GLENCOE: Stob Mhic Mhartuinn Hike
2.The Lost Valley
It’s a long time since I’ve done this walk but it’s one I’ve done multiple times as part of accessing the summit of Bidean nam Bian, the highest mountain in this whole area and which sits behind The Three Sisters. A path drops from the 1st main car park, then climbs steeply above a small gorge.It is just visible in the photo, to the right of the deep defile below the middle mountain.There is some scrambling over rocks, nothing too bad – children usually love this route.A short river crossing which can mean wet feet if in spate! Then up through woodland to a surprisingly flattish mountain corrie. It’s a fine spot enclosed by a ring of mountains.Keep an eye on children going alongside the gorge as there are steep drops in places.Views back to the glen are stunning.
3. The Old Road
I’ve also enjoyed an easy wander on the old road (now a track) because it gives great views of the Three Sisters and feels a long way from the busy traffic below. I park at the hard standing at the start of the hill walk up Buachaille Etive Beag(there is a beautiful old stone corbelled structure opposite) Then cross the road and the little river and make my way up onto the old road. Photographers use this to access some ideal spots for setting up a tripod for great Three Sisters shots. But mid-day is no use as the sun is directly on the lens – evening or morning would be best.
4. The Glencoe Lochan
Accessed via Glencoe village where it is signposted. Car parking and various short trails round and above some small lochans.It’s very pleasant though the pine trees have grown so much over the years, that the great views that once existed are now largely hidden.We last walked it under snow on a beautiful blue sky winter’s day.
I’ll put these in order of my own preference re views from the top:
5.Buachaille Etive Beag
Yes I prefer the smaller of the two – great, well built path, nice high start – still a hard slog of course – and just stunning views all the way. The final summit looks sharp but it feels very safe on the path.
As with any hill walking in Glencoe, the right gear, waterproofs, map and compass etc and decent boots are required.
A stiff, steep pull up on an eroded but perfectly safe track to a stunning viewpoint over mountain, loch and sea.It is very rocky at the top but nothing difficult or scrambly.Just a bit of huff and puff needed! For more detail on my experience on this hike see GLENCOE’S BUACHAILLE ETIVE BEAG
7. Buachaille Etive Mor
A big walk. High start, very steep headwall, then out to the highest point and extensive views.Then an undulating ridge walk, if continued, to the Munro at the furthest end, Stob na Broig for fine views down Glen Etive to Loch Etive.Be careful of slabs on the descent, but they are easily avoided too.For more on doing the hike to Stob na Broig only A HIKE UP BUACHAILLE ETIVE MOR
8.Beinn a Chrulaiste
A cracking smaller mountain opposite Etive Mor and accessed from Altnafeidh.We went up when it was covered in snow, on a blue sky day and the views were just outstanding. Photographers also come up here to wild camp, to set up for sunrise and sunset over the mountains – something I want to do one day soon!
9.The Aonach Eagach Ridge (The Notched Ridge)
A challenging exposed ridge walk/scramble, a very famous one.Too exposed for me, it’s accessed via Am Bodach. However, a beautiful if boggy and straightforward though steep alternative route is off the Kinlochleven road via the Allt Glen a’ Chaolais.This brought me after a lot of huffing and puffing, to Meall Dearg, the Red Rounded Hill, one of the highest points on the ridge and offering truly spectacular and dramatic views.For more on this hikeUp Close and Personal with the Aonach Eagach Ridge
10 The Pap of Glencoe
Another pyramidal mountain, at the far end of the glen near the Clachaig Inn.It’s a steep slog on an eroded path but perfectly safe and the views are stunning on a decent weather day.For more on my experience of this hike on a hot summer’s day The Pap of Glencoe
Not in Glencoe but about a 35 minute drive away and the one many people want to bag.This is the UK’s highest mountain at 4, 500 feet straight up from sea level. It’s a brilliant slog, a long day out on a great path. If clear, views are superb. If not (as we got it ) it’s still pretty good and gives a fantastic sense of achievement.
SLEEPING, EATING AND DRINKING
We don’t often stay in Glencoe as it is an easy day trip. There are various self catering and B&B places too. But places I like are:
The Kingshouse Hotel – location, location, location.Check reviews though. Panoramic windows over the moorland and mountains, outdoor seating area, red deer graze all around and the river burbles through. At night, just the stars , the river and the scent of the moorland.
There is a bunkhouse too which many West Highland Way walkers use.
Loch Leven Hotel – traditional inside, lovely location in North Ballachulish. Quiet spot, with a terrace and a lovely garden sweeping down to a pebbly shore by the sea loch. There is a lovely walk around the shore too with great views. Just wish they offered cake with tea during one of my (many) snack stops.
The Holly Tree hotel – great location in terms of views with a wee jetty too. About a 6-7 min drive beyond Glencoe , right on the sea. Never stayed but often stop for coffee as we love the outdoor terrace. The main road runs behind it so I’d only stay if a sea view room could be had as I hate road noise.
The Clachaig Inn
Long time since I’ve stayed but a famous climbers / walkers place in a superb location at the edge of the glen and near Loch Achtriochtan. Food is average pub grub but I forgive that given the chance to just bask in the grandeur, whilst devouring chips.Live music regularly too and a buzzy atmosphere.
The Corran Bunkhouse
An excellent budget option. Very high standard, private en suite rooms, lovely location, great self catering facilities – we stayed here 3 or 4 times last year.Lovely terrace for popping open the champagne and drinking to a successful climb of Ben Nevis!
The Isles of Glencoe Hotel
Check the reviews as it can be mixed but the location is very good.
The Loch Leven Seafood Café
I love this place. It gets very busy and usually requires to booked in advance in peak season. Glorious location set back from the loch on a quiet single track road.The Pap of Glencoe rears out of the sea on the opposite bank.
Great seafood, unusual choices too, clams in garlic are great, seafood platters are enormous. Puddings are often very traditional (I wish more places did such dishes !) – stuffed baked apple with ice cream, almond cherry sponge, unctuous and soft…they also have a wee tea-room area now too. Gets noisy given the acoustics of the high ceilinged room.
We would come here for the day for lunch from home (albeit with a walk included).
Crafts and Things
A decent café for tea, coffee or a soup/sandwich lunch. Always busy, pleasant buzzy atmosphere inside. Gift shop too.
The Glencoe Café
In the village itself (a fairly dull little place) – this cafe is not very scenically situated but the food is better than Crafts and Things. Small inside though attractive, with some really nice food options.
Ballachulish Visitor Centre/Café I have never found very appealing home made cakes here (so that usually means I won’t stay) but they claim home made scones, always a draw for me and it’s quite a pleasant place overall for tea or coffee. Lots of visitor leaflets/info on the area too.
There’s a Co-Op in Ballachulish. Bigger supermarkets are 30 mins away in Fort William – Morrisons, M&S Food, Aldi.