From classic Munros and legendary ridge scrambles to hidden valleys and lochside strolls, Glen Coe is a hillwalker’s paradise. James Forrest rounds up its highlights.
It is probably the most iconic mountain landscape in Scotland; a glen of impossibly craggy peaks, razor-sharp ridges and lush hidden valleys. Glen Coe runs east to west from Rannoch Moor to the shores of Loch Leven and Loch Linnhe, dissected by the noisy A82. Either side of the road is a dizzying array of striking, eye-catching mountains. To the north is the saw-toothed spine of Aonach Eagach; to the south is the fortress of Bidean nam Bian; and to the east rises the triangular leviathan of The Buachaille. Just the names are enough to give hillwalkers goosebumps.
1. Buachaille Etive Mor
Guarding the head of Glen Coe like a colossal sentry, Buachaille Etive Mor is a domineering mass of knobbly outcrops and precipitous rock-faces, gashed by vertical gullies. It has a handsome pyramidal profile, like a child’s drawing of a perfectly triangular mountain, and looks almost unclimbable from many angles. But from the achingly-idyllic, white-washed mountaineering hut at Lagangarbh, The main hillwalker’s way up the Buachaille is a relatively simple walk via the Coire na Tulaich gully before bagging the mountain’s two Munros: Stob Dearg (1,022m) and Stob na Broige (956m). For scramblers, the Grade 3 Curved Ridge is one of the finest, airiest ways up a mountain in the UK.
2. Aonach Eagach
Aonach Eagach (’Notched Ridge’) is a blade-like crest of frightening proportions, with near-vertical drops on either side. It is a grade two scramble along this snaking, serrated spine of monstrous pinnacles, knobbly turrets and fangs of rocks – about as gnarly and vertical as it gets without doing actual rock climbing. But for the confident scrambler, it is a magnificent day out. You’ll bag the two Munros of Meall Dearg (953m) and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (967m) – and almost certainly end up toasting your derring-do with a pint at the Clachaig Inn.
3. Bidean nam Bian
‘Chief of the Hills’ in Gaelic, Bidean nam Bian is the highest peak in Glen Coe at 1,150m – a dark, mysterious, craggy place, towering above the rocky bulges known as the Three Sisters. Even in a valley blessed with The Buachaille and Aonach Eagach, Bidean nam Bian is a favourite of many hillwalking connoisseurs. The ascent from the A82 is romantically rugged, while the summit views to the Nevis range and the barbaric spine of the Aonach Eagach are Scotland at its finest.
4. Pap of Glencoe
What it lacks in height, it makes up in drama. The Pap of Glencoe (742m), or Sgorr na Ciche to use its Sunday name, is a conical peak rising above the village of Glencoe, at the western end of the Aonach Eagach ridge. Said to be breast-shaped (in Gaelic it’s the ‘peak of the breast’), the Pap of Glencoe is commonly climbed from the village – a steep ascent over rough terrain culminating in expansive views across Loch Leven and Loch Linnhe. It’s a fantastic introduction to the glen.
5. Beinn a’Chrulaiste
“I’d rather live in a hovel with a view of a palace, than live in a palace with a view of a hovel.” This is how it works with Beinn a’Chrulaiste (857m), a rounded, bulky Corbett on the north-eastern edge of Glen Coe. In its own right, it’s a forgettable hill, but it has one utterly redeeming feature – a grandstand view of Buachaille Etive Mor. Perfectly framed and eye-wateringly handsome, you’ll be trigger happy with your camera here, snapping hundreds of pictures of The Buachaille’s distinctive profile.
6. Buachaille Etive Beag
Forever destined to be overshadowed by its famed neighbour Buachaille Etive Mor, Buachaille Etive Beag – the Little Herdsman of Etive in Gaelic – still offers superlative hillwalking with a shapely ridge and delightful views. A comparatively easy 8km outing from the A82, an out-and-back route with 900m of ascent, will see you bag Beag’s two Munro summits of Stob Dubh (958m) and Stob Coire Raineach (925m). Or, for a more enjoyable circular, start in Lairig Eilde, bag the tops and walk out via Lairig Gartain.
7. The Lost Valley
If you don’t fancy bagging a summit but want to experience Glen Coe in miniature, this is the walk for you. The Lost Valley, or Coire Gabhail, is a hidden, glacier-carved hollow in a sublime location. On each side of the valley rise the shattered crags of Three Sisters, while to the rear towers the sprawling mass of Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire Sgreamhach. Here in the 17thcentury the MacDonalds of Glen Coe hid their rustled cattle, but now it’s a place for picnicking day hikers.
8. Sgor na h’Ulaidh and Beinn Fhionnlaidh
Often billed as the forgotten hills of Glen Coe, Sgor na h’Ulaidh (994m) and Beinn Fhionnlaidh (959m) see far fewer visitors than their celebrated neighbours. That’s because they are hidden to the south-west, tucked away out of view by the bulk of Bidean nam Bian. Somewhat inaccessible from Glen Coe without a long walk-in, a better bet is to drive down Glen Etive and tackle the duo from the east at Invercharnan. While the scenery isn’t a spectacular as elsewhere, the sense of remoteness and escapism is greater.
9. Glencoe Lochan trails
Glen Coe isn’t just about petrifying ridges and exhausting Munros, it also has plenty to offer for family-friendly ambles, wet weather bimbles and Sunday afternoon strolls. The Glencoe Lochan trails, for example, are three waymarked paths (up to 2km) suitable for all ages and abilities. Located just to the north of Glencoe village, these trails explore a beautiful lochan and its surrounded North American pine forests, and serve up vistas of the isle-dotted Loch Leven, Ballachulish bridge and the hills of Morvern.
10. Beinn a’Bheithir
Detached from the main Glen Coe hustle and bustle, the twin Beinn a’Bheithir Munros – Sgorr Dhearg (1,024m) and Sgorr Dhonuill (1,001m) – dominate the landscape to the south of Ballachulish, at the join of Lochs Leven and Linnhe. The duo offer first-rate hillwalking terrain featuring deeply etched corries, sweeping ridges, densely forested flanks and fine views towards Ben Nevis and the Mamores, and Loch Linnhe stretching out towards the Atlantic. From Ballachulish it’s a 16km (10 miles) circular with almost 1,500m of ascent to bag the two Munros – an arduous but rewarding day’s walk.