- For other places with the same name, see Glencoe (disambiguation).
Glencoe (Scottish Gaelic: Gleann Comhann) is a hauntingly scenic valley in the western Scottish Highlands, a branch of The Great Glen which carves coast to coast. It's also the name of the village at its foot, where the glen meets the sea at Loch Leven.
Kinlochleven is the small village at the head of Loch Leven, and Ballachulish the larger village west where Loch Leven opens into Loch Linnhe, the flooded south end of the Great Glen. The term "Glencoe" also applies some miles east beyond the valley of the River Coe, over the watershed into the upper valleys of the Coupall and Etive — the A82 follows this route. The combined population of this area in 2020 was about 1800.
Much of Glencoe valley is owned or managed by the National Trust for Scotland. It's a U-shaped valley carved out by glaciers, ten miles long but less than half a mile wide, with flanks rising sharply to 3000 feet. If you wanted to ignore central authority then this looked like a good place to be, and the "Hidden Valley" — a fine example of a glacial hanging valley — was ideal for concealing stolen cattle. But if suddenly one bleak morning the glen was full of furious, death-dealing soldiers, then it was a difficult place to escape from.
1 Ballachulish Visitor Centre is the Tourist Office, open daily 9AM-5PM. It has limited info.
At 5AM on 13 Feb 1692 the troops were mustered and given their orders. They had been peacefully billeted for the last two weeks among the Macdonalds in Glencoe, receiving food and accommodation for no payment, but in lieu of tax. Their hosts were puzzled at the early stir – was the company marching away? The local chief MacIain was still struggling into his clothes, calling for breakfast to be brought for his guests, when he was shot. All along the valley shrieks and shots and sword blows were ringing out, and flames rose from the cottages.
Some 38 people were slain that morning, and it’s claimed a similar number later died of exposure, fleeing into the wintry mountains. But as the killing squad swept the glen from south to north, the troops who were supposed to cordon each end were hours late getting into position, so probably many escaped.
The event is often portrayed as clan warfare, Campbells versus Macdonalds, but it was part of a much bigger conflict and the troops' orders came right from the top. In 1688 King James II of England / VII of Scotland was ousted, and replaced by his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange, both protestants. In 1689 a “Jacobite” counter-coup was launched in Ireland and Scotland but was defeated. Further attempts were likely, and King William’s government were determined to prevent any support from the Scots. They especially wanted to crush the Lochaber Macdonalds, those traitors, cattle-thieves, and worst of all Catholics. Lord Stair the Secretary of State for Scotland openly called for their extermination; any pretext would do.
On 26 Aug 1691 it was proclaimed that all the Jacobite Highland chiefs would be pardoned if they swore an oath of allegiance to King William, by the end of the year – or else! The chiefs prevaricated that since they too valued loyalty to the king, they must first be released by James from their oaths to him. This was a dangerous game to play, as what they obviously meant was: if James intends to try again, we’re with him; if not, we make our peace with William.
In October the chiefs formally made their request to James exiled near Paris, who shilly-shallied before granting their release on 12 Dec. This arrived back in the Lochaber region on 23 Dec but wasn’t made known until 28 Dec. Only on 30 Dec did MacIain set off to Fort William to swear his oath. The commander there wasn’t authorised to conduct this, but sent him to the magistrate at Inveraray. Finally MacIain took the oath on 6 Jan and returned home, believing that he and his people were in the clear.
Meanwhile a large government force had assembled. The intention was to rid the earth of all three branches of the Lochaber Macdonalds. Lord Stair made no secret of his frustration that two chiefs had taken the oath in time and were pardoned, or of his delight that the third, MacIain, had been late. The entire force would be hurled against this small tribe: a sledgehammer to crack a nut. That crack still echoes down an empty glen.
Get in edit
The A82 from Glasgow runs along Loch Lomond to Crianlarich, Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy then over bleak moors to come down Glencoe. In the lower glen below Loch Achtriochtan the road has been re-aligned, so the modern main road sweeps down the west flank, while the old road goes down the east. Glencoe village is at the foot of the glen where it reaches the sea at Loch Leven. The main road continues west along the loch's south bank to Ballachulish and Fort William, while B863 winds east to the head of the loch at Kinlochleven then back along the north bank to Ballachulish — this was the main road until the bridge opened in 1975. And that's it, those are the only through roads in this wild country.
Citylink buses 914, 915 and 916 run four times daily from Glasgow Buchanan Station along A82 via Glencoe village and Ballachulish to Fort William, taking just under 3 hours. Two of them continue to Portree on Skye.
Shiel Bus N44 runs six times a day from Fort William to Corran ferry pier (for Ardnamurchan), Ballachulish, Glencoe village and Kinlochleven. It doesn't go up the glen, eg to the ski resort, or along the north bank of the loch. Oban is only 30 miles away but there's no direct public transport. You'd have to change around Ballachulish bridge, and wait for ages in the drizzle.
Just about every coach tour of the Highlands comes this way, before continuing to Loch Ness and Skye. The gift shops rub their hands in anticipation, and tell the bagpiper out by the car park to get blowing.
The railway runs miles to the east of Glencoe and doesn't help you here.
Get around edit
You need a car. The villages are small, and you can just about do the south bank by bus. But the main attractions of Glencoe are several miles up the glen with only an occasional bus from Glasgow, impractical for mountain hikes or skiing.
- 1 Glencoe Museum, Main Street PH49 4HS, ☏ . Apr-Oct: W-Su 11AM-3PM. In a long low thatched cottage, this displays local history, including the clan system, the Glencoe Massacre and the Ballachulish Slate Quarry. Adult £3.
- 2 National Trust Visitor Centre, PH49 4HX, ☏ . Daily 9:30AM-5PM. An explanation of the geology and history of Glencoe. They also organise various activities in the glen. Car park £4.
- Kinlochleven is the small village at the head of Loch Leven. From 1905 to 1996 there was an aluminium smelter here, with a hydroelectric dam and power station. (This supplies the National Grid now the smelter has closed.) It's the last stop on the West Highland Way, with the route following the old military road from Glencoe to the south and continuing north over the Mamores to descend into Glen Nevis and Fort William.
- Ballachulish originally meant the little village on the north bank of the loch, where a ferry crossed the narrows. (The tide through the narrows can rip along at 7 knots, water-users beware.) Slate quarries were worked from the end of the 17th century on the south bank; buildings sprang up and this area became the core of Ballachulish. The quarries closed in 1955: the track of the quarry branch railway is now a cycle route. There's a golf course and a Segway centre in the park near the bridge. The bridge opened in 1975, uniting the fragmented village.
- 3 Eilean Munde is an islet off Ballachulish with a ruined church, founded by St Fintán of Taghmon around 597 AD. The church fell into disuse after 1653, but burials continued, including for victims of the massacre. The last burial was in 1972.
- Eilean a' Chomhraidh or "Island of Discussion" is the smaller islet half a mile northeast. This was a moot, a neutral meeting place, or in some versions of the legend where disputants were marooned until they sorted out their quarrel. Equally apocryphal is the legend that having agreed, they then sailed to Eilean na Bainne or "Isle of Covenant" to have the deal signed off. This appears to be Seagull Island two miles west of Kinlochleven, and even if not, the story is for the birds.
- OS Landranger Map 41 covers this area. But follow trails from a reliable guide, such as Walk Highlands Glencoe, and don't try to invent your own, there are too many opportunities for a fatal fall.
- Glencoe Outdoor Centre, Carnoch House PH49 4HS (behind Museum), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 9AM-5:30PM. Outdoor activity centre. Activities (depending on the season) include skiing, hill walking, climbing & abseiling, archery, orienteering, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing and team-building exercises. Most visitors are school parties and similar groups, who check into the dorm for several days. Other visitors have to work around those.
- Rugged Coast in Ballachulish organise paddle-boarding and kayaking on the sea loch.
- Ice Factor is an indoor climbing centre for rock- and ice-climbing and abseiling. It's by the river bridge in Kinlochleven, but is closed in 2023.
- 1 Aonach Eagach is regarded as the hairiest scramble in mainland Britain. It's a ten-mile-long ridge, with a central two-mile scramble which once you're on, you've no escape, either side is a cliff. Your group must be roped together for safety here.
- 2 Hidden Valley (Coire Gabhail) is a "hanging valley" created by glaciation. From below it looks like a narrow wooded ravine, nothing up there but rocks. Scramble up and it opens into a meadow where livestock might be kept hidden from raiders or the rightful owners. Use Hidden Valley car park on A82 (free, no amenities). You initially descend to cross the river then the ascending trail is obvious. Reckon one hour or two miles each way.
- The Three Sisters are the sharp ridges just north of Hidden Valley, to the right as you approach. They're subsidiary peaks of Bideann nam Bian, a Munro of 1150 m / 3770 ft.
- 3 Buchaille Etive Mòr (meaning The Great Herdsman of Etive) is the big mountain seen at the head of Glen Etive, just before the road descends into Glencoe. From there it looks like a pyramid, it's actually a ridge five miles long with four peaks: Stob Dearg (1022 m), Stob na Doire (1011 m), Stob Coire Altruim (941 m) and Stob na Bròige (956 m). It's possible to walk up (without climbing gear or skills) by the path from Coire na Tulaich; there's also a choice of more demanding routes.
- Rock climbing: lots of routes, if you know what you're doing. Elie Guides based in Fort William offer guided climbs.
- Skiing and snowboarding at 4 Glencoe Mountain Resort, White Corries PH49 4HZ, ☏ . Chairlift daily 9AM-4PM. At the base there's a cafe and bar open daily until 8AM. From here the access chairlift goes up to the ski area at 650 m. There are beginners' slopes just above here, a sledging area and the Plateau Cafe. Further up are intermediate slopes and a couple of blacks, down from Meall a' Bhuiridh at 1108 m. The chairlift also runs in summer for mountain biking. Always check the resort website for the weather outlook, which includes a webcam.
- Golf: Woodlands is a nine-hole course by Ballachulish Bridge.
- The Laroch, Loanfern, Ballachulish PH49 4JB (Ballachulish village centre), ☏ . W F-Su noon-1AM, Th 3PM-1AM. Pub bistro with great meals, gets busy so book ahead.
- Cuil Seafood is a van that pulls up in Ballachulish village, open Tu-Su 11AM-4PM.
- Tailrace Inn in Kinlochleven has good food and atmosphere, and has rooms.
- Lochleven Seafood Cafe is on B863 midway along the near-deserted north bank of the loch. It's more an upmarket restaurant than a cafe: lobsters venture in here at their peril. Open Mar-Oct: Th-M 10AM-8PM.
- Boots Bar in the Clachaig Inn: Live music, real ales and extensive whisky collection.
- Brewery: River Leven Ales in Kinlochleven is dormant in 2023.
- Distillery: Pixel Spirits make gin and rum in North Ballachulish just beneath the bridge. No tours, but they organise a "gin school" for groups of up to eight to learn how to concoct their own batch.
- "Never did I see such a miserable, such wretched place...." - Dorothy Wordsworth stayed at the Kingshouse in 1803. Her opinion didn't improve when supper belatedly arrived.
Lots of small B&Bs and self-catering cottages in the south bank villages of Kinlochleven, Glencoe and Ballachulish, then more just west of the bridge. Very little along the north bank of the loch.
- 1 Glencoe Youth Hostel, Glencoe PA39 4HX (on old road one mile above village), ☏ , email@example.com. Simple value-for-money hostel open all year. Dorm £24 ppn.
- 2 Blackwater Hostel, Lab Road, Kinlochleven PH50 4SG, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Open all year, with 39 dorm beds plus 32 in the Lodge. They are now only available for exclusive booking, so bring your Scout troop. Plus glamping pods and campsite. Campsite £15 ppn.
- 3 Clachaig Inn, Old Village Rd PH49 4LA, ☏ . Hotel with 23 rooms all en suite. Mixture of traditional, modern and motel-style rooms (dogs only in latter), plus self-catering. The bars and restaurant serve non-residents. B&B double £150.
- Pier House Glencoe, Glencoe PH49 4HN, ☏ , email@example.com. Self-catering cottage overlooking Loch Leven.
- 4 Scorrybreac Guest House, Glencoe Lochan PH49 4HT, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Clean comfy B&B in woodlands near lochan just north of Glencoe Village. B&B double £100.
- Lyn-leven Guest House, West Laroch, Ballachulish PH49 4JP, ☏ . This is only available for self-catering.
- Strathassynt Guest House, Loanfern, Ballachulish PH49 4JB (next to Visitor Centre), ☏ , email@example.com. Friendly comfy B&B open Mar-Oct, their self-catering cottage is available all year. B&B double £100.
- 5 Fern Villa, Loanfern, Ballachulish PH49 4JE, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Welcoming Victorian villa with five rooms en suite, open all year. Assistance dogs only, and max two people per room, so a child must share with one adult. B&B double £70.
- 6 Kingshouse Hotel, Glencoe PH49 4HY (at head of glen near ski resort), ☏ . Open Feb-Nov, this is on A82 just before the descent into Glencoe, so there's hiking access to the glen and western Rannoch Moor. It has modern rooms for B&B and a bunkhouse. Highlight of the restaurant is the panoramic window framing the view of cloud-wreathed Buachaille Etive Mor. B&B double £300.
As of July 2023, Glencoe and its approach roads have 4G from EE, O2 and Vodafone, and a basic mobile signal from Three. There are dead spots along A82 through the upper glen. 5G has not yet reached this area.
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- North up the A82 is Fort William, under the shadow of Ben Nevis.
- From Fort William, the A87 heads northwest to cross the bridge to Skye, the A82 follows the Great Glen northeast to Loch Ness and Inverness, while A830 "The Road to the Isles" runs west via Glenfinnan to Mallaig, for ferries to Skye and to the Small Isles.
- Ardnamurchan is the wild lonely region west of Loch Linnhe, which everyone overlooks in the stampede to Skye. Reach it by the short ferry crossing at Corran.
- Go south-west to Oban, a pleasant coastal town with ferries to several Hebridean islands.
- The A82 south passes Crianlarich and Loch Lomond on the way to Glasgow.
|Routes through Glencoe
|Inverness ← Fort William ←
|→ Rannoch Moor → Glasgow