Glencoe, in the Scottish Highlands, is beautiful. The kind of beautiful that takes your breath away. But looks can be deceiving. Undoubtedly one of Scotland’s most scenic glens, and even voted Scotland’s most romantic glen, Glencoe is also a land steeped in bloodshed. Treachery. Murder.
It was 5am on the freezing winter morning that was the 13th of February 1692 when a regiment of redcoat soldiers, led by the Duke of Argyll, awoke. After dressing in the dark, they set to murdering their hosts, the Macdonalds of Glencoe, who had welcomed them into their homes and given them shelter for the past 10 days. At the end of what is now known as the Glencoe Massacre, 38 Macdonalds – men, women and children – lay dead. In their beds, in the snow, in the beautiful mountains that surrounded their beautiful glen.
With a history like this, it’s hardly surprising that the producers of the James Bond movies chose this darkly beautiful, isolated, treacherous landscape as the location for another murder: that of Dame Judi Dench’s ‘M’ in Skyfall. Fictional, perhaps, but no less shocking for Bond fans.
But enough of murder most foul – be it historic or fictional. Today, Glencoe stands as a must-do for any hiking or outdoors enthusiast, and as Scotland’s most romantic landscape, as voted by a winning 19% of people polled by the John Muir Trust and Walkhighlands, Scotland’s busiest outdoors website.
Located within the Lochaber Geopark in the Highlands, also known as the Outdoor Capital of the UK, the deep valley and towering mountains of Glencoe were carved out by ice-age glaciers and volcanic explosions millions of years ago. Indeed, the main road North through Glencoe takes you right through the heart of an ancient volcano. (Bonus: travel south, through Fort William, and you will go right past Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain.)
The ancient supervolcano responsible for the unique layers of rock which make Glencoe so distinctive erupted about 420 million years ago during the Silurian period. The glen is considered by geologists far and wide to be one of the best examples of a subsidence caldera, a volcanic process in which a circular fault allows a section of crust to sink, which in turn forces the volcanic magma to rise to the periphery. This sinking, and resultant rising, allows layers of rock which would otherwise have been eroded to remain visible, as seen in Glencoe on Bidean nam Bian, at Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, An t-Sron, and in the bed of the River Coe below Loch Achtriochtan.
Which is really just a lot of scientific words which can be roughly translated as: look at Glencoe’s rocks. Aren’t they spectacular? Have you ever seen anything quite like them anywhere else?
This extremely popular hiking destination is a fairly easy drive, just over two hours, from Glasgow. Fort William is just half an hour away. Regular bus services also run from both places to Glencoe. You can also take the train to Fort William or Bridge of Orchy and travel to Glencoe by bus. Whichever road you take, and no matter how you get there, one thing is guaranteed: all routes are the scenic route.