The night Glencoe was all mine

MARCH 1, 1971, was a bright, sparkling morning at John o' Groats, the tip-top of Britain. At the time I thought it was a good idea to walk from there to Land's End. The shortest distance from End to End (as it's called) is about 800 miles. My route was 937 miles. The prospect of walking right down Loch Ness, the Great Glen of Lochaber, Glencoe, Rannoch Moor and Loch Lomond was well worth the detour.

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Glencoe and North Lorn Folk Museum, 01855 811664, Open 10 April-30 Sept

Glencoe Visitor Centre, 01855 811729. Open April-August,

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Clachaig Inn: 01855 811252; clachaig.comIt looked as if I was going to reach my first goal still in one piece, slightly shredded but still fastened together. The goal was the six-mile walk from Glencoe village, uphill, to the waterfall at the top of the pass. On my own. Quickly knocking off the 17 miles from Fort William to the Glencoe Hotel, saying farewell to the enthusiastic people I'd picked up en route, it was into the hotel for a tasty Highland snack. At nine o'clock it was dark and with a nearly full moon. There's a flat bit before you hit the hill. It was magic - for about 400 yards. Five youths appeared from the bushes. "Hello Jimmy, we're a local pop group and wondered if you could give us some advice." Ah well! After two miles, when the magical glen started to open up, I sent them back, happy. Alone again....for another 400 yards. A solitary figure turned up: "Hello Jimmy, I'm a policeman, and always promised myself a walk up the glen at night." Ah well, for the second time. He was a smashing chap and left me at the big lay-by near the top.

At last, the moon, mountains, rushing water down the gorge. It was a wonderful wander round the corner, past the 700-year-old cottage I was to buy 30 years later, and then, the waterfall! Most of us have magical moments and that was one of mine. Five minutes is long enough to stand still at midnight but it was enough. Glencoe was mine. For about 400 yards. I nearly had a heart attack! Standing in front of me, in the middle of the road, silent and huge, was the world's biggest stag. It was a stand-off; my trusty motor home, driven by my trusty pal Don, me and the noble beast.

Suddenly it turned and started to walk up the hill. Was there ever such a procession? The beast wandered off the road, I walked past towards Tyndrum, and Land's End. It was all suddenly very, very worthwhile. There were another 600 miles to go but it felt like the whole of Scotland belonged to me for at least an hour.

HERE is a list of the Seven Wonders of Glencoe, compiled from the thousands of people who pass my door, daily:


Now, hills can attract or repel people. Queen Victoria, a little before my time, called them "savagely beautiful". A pal of mine from London shivered and said "Cor blimey, imagine waking up with these in your back garden." Me, I love 'em


Over a 24-hour, 365-day period you wouldn't believe the changing colours. One of my favourites is early morning. A clear blue sky with hundreds of little puffball clouds turned bright pink by the rising sun. Amazing!


The Gaelic translation of Glencoe is "The Glen of Weeping". A good splash of rain and I can count over 50 waterfalls from my garden. Some are as teardrops but the one that chops my land in half is a thundering, crashing orchestra. It has created a gorge 100ft deep with a string of pools over seven feet deep.


Photographers tell me they can't take a bad picture in the glen. I have 36 picture postcards of my house, some going back nearly 100 years.


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Michael Palin, the great TV traveller, and world class mountaineer Hamish McInnes brought a sherpa from the Himalayas to walk the famous ridge that goes up from my back garden. They made a staggeringly beautiful video which has sold worldwide because the subject is world class.


According to the popular media, young people spend most of their time in pubs, clubs and falling down in the street. Not true. Every weekend I can see 1,000 superb young guys and gals walking, climbing, laughing and completely magnetised by the magic of Glencoe and its excitement. If they are our future they are having the best possible start.


We are all terrific neighbours in the Glen. We are bonded by drama. Visitors fall off hills, bang into each other on the main road and get lost. At all hours. The Glencoe Mountain Rescue team, all volunteers and always ready, are the spearhead of the neighbours. My lady neighbours are lovely and I'm glad their husbands found them first as I couldn't afford a permanent lady. The local men have a streak of villainy. They play tricks. Widening my car-turning space, we found a large pink stone. This was rolled to the side of the drive and became a garden feature. I used to climb up and stand on top of it. Over the years the stone shrank to half its size. The villain lads, all in their 50s, came to examine this phenomenon. It took some years to suss out that when I was away, they would come up and chip lumps off it. Born in Yorkshire, neighbours are very precious to us. Glencoe is a mini-Yorkshire. My neighbours make everything worthwhile.


The MacDonald massacre in 1692, in which 38 people were killed, is often blamed on a clan feud. It was more a government plot to make an example of a "nest of vipers" in Glencoe.

Glencoe is known as the "glen of weeping" because soldiers broke an ancient code by slaughtering families who gave them food and shelter.

The story of Bonnie Prince Charlie sheltering in a cave is thought to be fiction created by James Macpherson, the notorious faker who claimed he discovered fragments of an ancient Gaelic epic by Ossian.

The Glen today is sparsely populated but aerial pictures show outlines of homes and fields where 300 once lived.

The oldest surviving written account of a climbing trip is by Nicol Marquis in 1864. His great-great-great-grandson still lives in Glencoe and works in the moutain rescue team.

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Glencoe's hills are piles of lava which formed during cataclysmic volcanic activity 420 million years ago.

In 2002 the new NTS visitor centre ran into a storm when Roddy Campbell was named as manager. Historian Hector MacDonald was furious.

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