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    A wild and lonely valley in the Scottish Highlands: Glencoe

     

     

    The Valley of Glencoe © 2007 Scotiana

    The Valley of Glencoe © 2007 Scotiana

    ‘Glencoe has no melancholy except that which men bring to it, remembering its history. (..)

    (John Prebble – Glencoe)

    ……………………….

    Loch Leven with Pap of Glencoe in the background © 2006 Scotiana

    Loch Leven with Pap of Glencoe in the background © 2006 Scotiana

    One of the main reasons why so many people do love Scotland is certainly the outstanding beauty of its landscapes: the vast expanses of untouched wilderness, the omnipresence of mountains which, classified in Munros, Corbetts, Grahams, Donalds and Marilyns, can offer, in spite of no great altitudes, great challenges to climbers, hikers or simply walkers, also the innumerable lochs  reflecting the changing skies and the spectacular beauty of the coasts offering views on a multitude of lovely islands. In a word, Scotland is a paradise for nature lovers who can find there  a great variety of birds, some of them rare,  and also seals and dolphins. Add to that a very unique quality of light which gives every place its peculiar atmosphere and also, here and there,  the ruins of an old abbey or castle which give to landscapes  that ‘romantic’ touch which has inspired so many artists.

    The dark side of Glen Coe valley -©-2000-Scotiana

    The dark side of Glen Coe valley -©-2000-Scotiana

    Glencoe is a place you’ll never forget once you’ve seen it. It strikes the imagination, it makes you stop dead in front of its landscapes and many famous travellers, among them Charles Dickens and the Wordsworths, have written unforgettable pages about this wild and lonely valley surrounded as it is by impressive mountains. It is one of the most beautiful places in the Highlands of Scotland…

     

    Glencoe mountains The Sisters © 2004 Scotiana

    Glencoe mountains The Sisters © 2004 Scotiana

    I love these mountains, Gear Aonach (on the left) and Aonach Dubh, two of the so-called ‘Three Sisters’,

    Gear Aonach especially which seems to look at you when you climb up the path…

    I love the murmur of the Coe accompanying you when you cross it over the little wooden bridge,

    Here, where the red rowans reflect on the turbulent waters…

    ……………………….

    Glencoe is undoubtedly and forever linked with a very sad page of history written in blood on the snow of an icy day. It is here that the  ‘Massacre of Glencoe‘ took place on 13 February 1692, a most infamous act of treason perpetrated by soldiers against their hosts and during their sleep, a ‘Slaughter under Trust‘ carried out by a clan against another clan, a machiavelic plot fomented in the political high spheres. I must say  however that I did not know anything about this fateful day when we first stopped there in 2000, on our way to the north. But even if our imagination was free from the influence of this tragedy and other facts of history which took place there, our first impressions were very strong.

    Highlands of Scotland Glen Coe mountains A 82 road © 2012 Scotiana

    Glen Coe mountains A 82 road © 2012 Scotiana

    We discovered Glencoe under dark and stormy skies at the end of a rainy and wintry day, on June 21st 2000.  We were driving on A 82, on our road to Fort William where we had booked for one night in a B&B.

    I’ve never been so impressed in front of a landscape, neither in the Alps or in the Pyrénées. The feeling was quite strange. It was like a spell and it has remained so…

    Glen Coe Loch Achtriochtan and Achnambeithach cottage © 2012 Scotiana

    Glen Coe Loch Achtriochtan and Achnambeithach cottage © 2012 Scotiana

    But the landscape of Glencoe is far from being just gloomy. Its light and colours  are very changing and vary according to the weather and the season…

    View of the Pap of Glencoe from Ballachulish © 2004 Scotiana

    View of the Pap of Glencoe from Ballachulish © 2004 Scotiana

    In spring it’s a very nice place and there many things to see in the area. We dream to see the place in winter when it is covered in snow…

    Macaulay translated Glencoe’s name as The Glen of Weeping, having no Gaelic and trusting to his imagination when in doubt. None can be certain what it means, except that it has nothing to do with grief. To some it is The Glen of Dogs, and so the MacDonald bards called it,remembering Bran and the other hounds of Fingal, who was also Fionn MacCumhail.’

    (Glencoe – John Prebble)

    Glen Coe Ossian Cave © 2012 Scotiana

    Glen Coe Ossian Cave © 2012 Scotiana

    ‘To others [Glencoe] is the glen of comhan-taisg, the common store of plunder which his followers, the Feinn, hid in the hills. Seventeen hundred years ago, according to the mythology, these long-hair Fingalian giants made their home in Glencoe, sailed their galleys to Ireland and the Hebrides, hunted with their dogs in Appin, and followed their warrior passions across Rannoch to the south. In Glencoe the land remembers them, and Ordnance Survey maps keep faith with the legends. The harsh, western spur of Aonach Eagach is called Sgor nam Fionnaidh, the Cliff of the Feinn. At the end of Fionn MacCumhail’s  glen is Fingal’s Gorge. Above Loch Achtriachtan is a cave where Ossian, the poet son of Fionn, composed heroic verse of which no true line has survived. Along Bidean nam Bian and Aonach Eagach, on every mountain in Scotland, three thousand of the Feinn are sleeping. Their breathing is the wind, and one day they will arise at the call of Fingal’s horn.’

    (Glencoe – John Prebble)

     

    Glencoe The National Trust for Scotland front cover

    Glencoe The National Trust for Scotland front cover

     

    Below is an interesting passage taken from Failte Gleannchonnan,  the introduction of the NTS  brochure together with its contents.

     In 1935 and 1937, to prevent possible commercial exploitation, 12.800 acres of the glen were purchased by the National Trust for Scotland with the help of the Scottish Mountaineering, Alpine and other climbing clubs, the Pilgrim Trust and public subscriptions.

    However the exciting story of the acquisition of Glencoe all began because of the interest of the Trust, not in the glen itself but in Signal Rock and the site of the massacre. In 1935, Lord Strathcona put the estate of Glencoe on the market by public roup. Arthur Russell, a keen member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club (..)  with £ 1 500 in his pocket and off his own bat, bought for the Trust for £ 1350, the Clachaig Inn and some land in the glen together with the reputed site of the massacre. (..) The story continues with the influence of another great lover of the Scottish mountains, Percy Unna, who through his drive and generosity made it possible for the Trust to acquire the glen for the benefit of the nation. (..) In 1972 the Trust bought from the Forestry Commision the 1390 acre farm of Achancon. Four years later a Visitor Centre was opened at Clachaig. After another two decades, the Centre was unable to cater adequately for the 150,00 annual visitors and, after extensive public consultation, a new Centre was built at Inverigan. Its design reflects taht of a clachan, or traditional Highland village, and its dimensions are in keeping with the low-roofed buildings still found locally today (..) In 1993 An Torr woodland, and in 1996 the Inverigan campsite, were purchased from Forest Enterprise with financial assistance from Scottish Heritage.

    •  Introduction
    • Glencoe in History
    • Places of historical interest to visit in the Glencoe area
    • The Mountains
    • Walks in the Glen
    • Glencoe Ranger Service
    • Wildlife in Glencoe
    • The Flora of Glencoe
    • Geology of the glen
    • Glosary of Gaelic place names

    We’ve spent many hours in Glencoe Visitor Centre and are presently members of the NTS, which allows us to visit as many times as we want the many sites owned by the NTS.

    If you like games, do as I’ve just done. Visit the NTS website and try your hand at the Wildlife Word Search 😉

     

    Glencoe The National Trust for Scotland back cover

    Glencoe The National Trust for Scotland back cover

    Glencoe is a mysterious, historical place, and its mountains can be dangerous especially in winter as it can be seen each year with the number of avalanches, but first of all it’s a very beautiful place to visit and re-visit, in all seasons and whatever the weather, to feel the sense of place under its changing light, to admire its many colours, to observe its fauna and flora while listening to the murmur of its clear waters, cheerful notes with a touch of melancholy…

    Glencoe Valley near the village of Glencoe -  Gil Cavalcanti - August 2009 -Source Wikipedia

    Glencoe Valley near the village of Glencoe –
    Gil Cavalcanti – August 2009 -Source Wikipedia

     I am longing to go back to Glencoe but, in the meantime I invite you to share our enthusiasm about the place through our photos. We’ll publish others later.

    Below is a page of Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal, written on 3 September 1803, in Glencoe, during her long journey through the Scottish Lowlands and southwestern Highlands  in company of her brother William and, for a short time, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Her journal was published under the title of Recollections of Tour Made in Scotland.

    Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland Dorothy Wordsworth Yale University Press 1997

    Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland Dorothy Wordsworth Yale University Press 1997

    The afternoon was delightful, – the sun shone, the mountain-tops were clear, the lake glittered in the great vale behind us, and the stream of Glen Coe flowed down to it glittering among alder-trees. The meadows of the glen were of the freshest green; one new-built stone house in the first reach, some huts, hillocks covered with wood, alder-trees scattered all over. Looking backward, we were reminded of Patterdale and the head of Ulswater, but forward the greatness of the mountains overcame every other idea.

    The impression was, as we advanced up to the head of this first reach, as if the glen were nothing, its loneliness and retirement – as if it made up no part of my feeling: the mountains were all in all. That which fronted us – I have forgotten its name – was exceedingly lofty, the surface stony, nay, the whole mountain was one mass of stone, wrinkled and puckered up together. At the second and last reach – for it is not a winding vale – it makes a quick turning almost at right angles to the first; and now we are in the depths of the mountains; no trees in the glen, only green pasturage for sheep, and here and there a plot of hay-ground, and something that tells of former cultivation. I observed this to the guide, who said that formerly the glen had had many inhabitants, and that there, as elsewhere in the Highlands, there had been a great deal of corn where now the lands were left waste, and nothing fed upon them but cattle. I cannot attempt to describe the mountains.

    I can only say that I thought those on our right – for the other side was only a continued high ridge or craggy barrier, broken along the top into petty spiral forms – were the grandest I had ever seen. It seldom happens that mountains in a very clear air look exceedingly high, but these, though we could see the whole of them to their very summits, appeared to me more majestic in their own nakedness than our imaginations could have conceived them to be, had they been half hidden by clouds, yet showing some of their highest pinnacles. They were such forms as Milton might be supposed to have had in his mind when he applied to Satan that sublime expression –

    ‘His stature reached the sky.’

    The first division of the glen, as I have said, was scattered over with rocks, trees, and woody hillocks, and cottages were to be seen here and there. The second division is bare and stony, huge mountains on all sides, with a slender pasturage in the bottom of the valley; and towards the head of it is a small lake or tarn, and near the tarn a single inhabited dwelling, and some unfenced hay-ground – a simple impressive scene! Our road frequently crossed large streams of stones, left by the mountain-torrents, losing all appearance of a road. After we had passed the tarn the glen became less interesting, or rather the mountains, from the manner in which they are looked at; but again, a little higher up, they resume their grandeur.

    The river is, for a short space, hidden between steep rocks: we left the road, and, going to the top of one of the rocks, saw it foaming over stones, or lodged in dark black dens; birch-trees grew on the inaccessible banks, and a few old Scotch firs towered above them. At the entrance of the glen the mountains had been all without trees, but here the birches climb very far up the side of one of them opposite to us, half concealing a rivulet, which came tumbling down as white as snow from the very top of the mountain. Leaving the rock, we ascended a hill which terminated the glen. We often stopped to look behind at the majestic company of mountains we had left. Before us was no single paramount eminence, but a mountain waste, mountain beyond mountain, and a barren hollow or basin into which we were descending.

    (Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland 1803, by Dorothy Wordsworth – 3 September 1803: Ballachulish, Glen Coe)

    Bonne lecture !

    A bientôt. Mairiuna.

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