Some of the most dramatic scenery in Scotland can be found in Glencoe. This is the perfect destination for hill-walkers and bird-watchers, due to the fabulous views, challenging walks and abundant bird-life. The landscape was carved out by glaciers and volcanic explosions millions of years ago, creating towering mountains and a deep valley.
The village of Glencoe is positioned between the shores of Loch Leven and the mouth of the valley, and you may recognise some of the views from famous movies, such as the James Bond thriller Skyfall, and films in the Harry Potter series.
To help you make the most of your stay in Glencoe, we have found the best places to stay and the best walks to enjoy in the area. We have also compiled a list of essential kit for hill-walkers, and a guide to Glencoe’s birds and wildlife. If you choose Glencoe for your next outdoor adventure, you will most certainly not be disappointed.
ESSENTIAL CLOTHING AND KIT
Both beginner and expert hill-walkers need a variety of clothes and kit to make sure they are prepared for the terrain of Glencoe.
To help you keep warm and dry, we recommend you invest in three jacket layers: a waterproof outer-layer, an insulating mid-layer, and a breathable base-layer.
The waterproof can be packed away in good weather, and taken back out when if it starts to rain. The type of mid-layer you choose depends on the weather and the season, but popular materials include fleece and down. The base-layer ideally should not be cotton, but instead some kind of technological material.
Walking trousers which are quick to try and easy to move in are a good investment, as are waterproof over-trousers, which will keep the rain off in the heaviest downpour. Hats and gloves are also helpful for various weather conditions, from wind to rain to snow.
Make sure to choose your walking boots or shoes based on the terrain you will be walking. Steep slopes will require different footwear to moorland, for example. Breathable walking socks are a live-saver, with merino wool as a particularly good material to keep your feet comfortable.
Having a rucksack with all the relevant kit will make sure you are prepared for any eventuality. Your mobile phone is a must-have item on a hill-walk, as is a map and compass, even if you are already using a GPS. If the GPS fails, then the map and compass will come in handy.
In an emergency, a fist aid kit and a whistle are great items to have on hand, as is a list of emergency contact details and a survival bag. To keep yourself comfortable throughout your walk, keep a bottle of water, some spare laces, spare clothing and spare socks in your rucksack as well as your choice of blister relief.
Other items to keep on standby are any necessary medication you might need, and a torch, suncream and sunglasses. When it is snowy, the sun can be very bright.
You may also wish to take the following items, although they are not essential: walking poles, gaiters, a camera, and a sit mat.
(Glencoe, Near Ballachulish, Argyll, PH49 4HX, 01855 811906)
At the foot of Glenoe is this welcoming, family run hostel, which offers great value bunking and self-catering accommodation. This hostel also offers free WiFi in reception, as well as a laundry, drying room, and any advice on walking that you may need. The Alpine Bunkhouse was originally a barn on a farming croft, but has been converted into three heated bedrooms, a communal dining area, and washing facilities. From the farmhouse-style hostel, there are fabulous views of the glen.
(Glencoe Village, West Highlands, PH49 4HP, 01855 811 245)
This inn has been awarded four AA stars for its top-quality accommodation and friendly service. It is situated in Glencoe Village, and is an ideal starting point for any hill-walking adventure. All fifteen of the inn’s bedrooms are en suite, and are furnished with comfort and modernity in mind. At breakfast, there are both continental and full Scottish options, and the restaurant’s dinner dishes are both varied and delicious.
(Glencoe, Nr. Fort William, Highlands, PH49 4HL, 01764 651843)
Located on a peninsula reaching into Loch Leven, the Isles of Glencoe Hotel is an idyllic location for a truly Scottish holiday. The rooms are spacious and have wonderful mountain or loch views, and are tastefully decorated with comfortable furnishings. The restaurant’s menu is full of Scottish ingredients, and is as popular with locals as it is with guests.
(A828, Ballachulish, PH49 4JZ, 01855 413006)
These “luxury wee lodges” are a perfect alternative to camping, if tents aren’t really your thing. Complete with hot tubs, kitchenettes and en suites, these lodges make for an unforgettable stay. There is even complimentary Costa coffee in each lodge, plus Egyptian cotton laundry.
(Glencoe, Argyll, PH49 4HX, 01855 811256)
This campsite will let you get closer to Glencoe’s wildlife, and experience the glen at its most wild. Pets are welcome, and there are plenty of washing facilities as well as free WiFi. Some of the most spectacular walks in the valley are close by, and there are no additional costs for campervans or motorhomes.
EASY WALKING ROUTES
This hidden valley is a magical place, where the MacDonalds of Glencoe hid the cattle they had rustled from other clans. This walk takes you through dramatic scenery and takes around two to three hours. A particular highlight is the gorge between Beinn Fhada and Gear Aonach – the great rock walls on either side are spectacular.
This walk forms part of the famous West Highland Way, and climbs up to the highest point on the route. The Devil’s Staircase is less formidable than it sounds, as the path is clear and zig-zags up the slope. The views of the mountains are incredible, and the walk takes four or five hours in total.
This brief walk is ideal for beginners, as it only takes about an hour and a half. The walk goes by the Signal Rock which is where, according to legend, the signal was given to begin the infamous Glencoe Massacre. You can get the best view on the walk from the top of An Torr, where you can see a fantastic panorama through the trees.
MOUNTAIN WALKING ROUTES
The Gaelic name for the Pap of Glencoe is “Sgorr na Ciche”, and is located near the lower end of the valley. Although it is not one of the higher points in the glen, it still offers and amazing view and a challenging walk. From the first cairn you reach on the walk, you can see along the beautiful Loch Leven. At most, this walk takes five hours.
This walk takes you along a ridge between two Munros, but the ascent and descent from the ridge must be taken with care. At 1024 metres high, Sgorr Dhearg gives the walker stunning views in all directions. Make sure to leave plenty of time for this walk, as it takes six to nine hours.
This is the narrowest ridge on the mainland of Great Britain, and is an enjoyable walk for expert scramblers. The ridge joins the Munros of Meall Dearg and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, and takes between seven and nine hours to traverse. You will encounter the marvellous sight of the Ballachulish narrows during your walk, as well as the excellent viewpoint of Am Bodach.
Although the number of wild mammals in Glenoe is limited, due to unpredictable weather and a lack of natural shelter, there is still a good chance you will spot some red deer grazing on the lower slopes.
Foxes and blue hares are also common, but tend to prefer higher ground. If you are very lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a rarer creature, such as a wild cat, a badger, or a pine marten.
By contrast, the bird-life in Glencoe is fantastically varied, with many, many different species making their home in the valley. Ravens and buzzards are common sights, whereas the golden eagle is only found in remote areas of the glen.
On the high peaks, snow buntings and ptarmigans can be found, while grouse and curlew populations are found on the Rannoch Moor.