The Scottish Highlands are one of the most interesting places in Britain. Here we can find the highest peaks (munros), hidden valleys (glens), deep lakes (lochs) or mysterious bogs (moors). Today we will focus together on Glen Coe – Scotland’s top valley, which attracts not only tourists but also drivers, and should definitely not be missing from your Scottish bucket list. So don’t hesitate and come with us to Glen Coe.
Glen Coe Valley
Glen Coe Valley is located in the Scottish Highlands, not far from Ben Nevis and the important tourist center of Fort William. Like most valleys, it was formed by glacial action and is U-shaped. This is also indicated by the width of around 700 m. The length of the valley is 16 km and it is flanked lengthwise by mountains reaching up to a height of 1000 m. It seems like nothing, but in Britain the peaks exceeding a kilometer in height are among the highest. And the fact that two very famous films were shot here also indicates that the valley is really one of the top .
What to see when traveling by car
The A82, a key artery connecting Glasgow to Inverness, runs through the entire valley, so you can see it from behind the wheel. If you drive from the south, the first thing that catches your eye is the unique vast moors and bogs of Rannoch Moor , which you won’t see anywhere else. At first glance, the landscape looks inhospitable, but it’s actually home to some interesting plants and animals, including countless deer that you’re sure to come across. You can tell for sure that you are approaching the valley of Glen Coe by the iconic peak of Stob Dearg, which literally rises out of the ground in front of you. If this place looks familiar to you, then you are absolutely right. The road to the top appeared in the film Sky Fall , where James Bond and “M” drove to Bond’s birthplace.
Even if you don’t have an Aston Martin DB5 at the moment, your drive will be an experience and worth continuing further into the valley. Gradually, small parking lots will begin to appear along the road, where you can take a “baby” break or go on a hike, which we will talk about later. One of the vantage points is a waterfall (GPS: 56°39’43.953″N, 4°57’56.109″W), which you will pass while passing through the gorge. Especially on rainy days (we don’t like to state that they will be like that) it really excites you. There are actually two falls and they fall into the River Coe, which drains the water from the valley down to the sea.
Three sisters who take your breath away
Another place you must not miss is the Three Sisters viewpoint. These are three peaks standing side by side (Aonach Dubh, Gearr Aonach and Beinn Fhada) which at first glance look similar. All three peaks are part of connected ridges and together form the whole of the Bidean nam Bian massif, see below. Leave the car in the parking lot (GPS: 56°40’4.052″N, 4°59’12.369″W) and enjoy the breathtaking view of the valley and the three massive sisters . When you’ve had enough of the fun, take the final journey through the valley.
The place where Harry Potter was filmed
The road descends to a lake with the breakneck name of Loch Achtriochtan, on the opposite shore of which the sharp dark walls of the last of the Aonach Dubh sisters slope down. A short distance past the lake, the narrow Old Glencoe Road turns right. If you leave the main road and follow this “single-track road”, you will reach the place where Hagrid’s hut stood in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban . Chajda itself is no longer here (GPS: 56°40’3.435″N, 5°3’36.234″W), but it is definitely worth making a stop here. To get out of the valley, continue along the narrow road or go back to the main road. Both routes take you to the village of Glencoe, on the shores of Loch Leven, from where you can set off on your next Scottish adventure.
Three tips for hiking in Glen Coe
Driving through Glen Coe is of course a fantastic experience. However, it would be a sin to be in Scotland and not tackle a ‘munro’, and this is doubly true here.
Note: a munro is a designation for Scottish peaks that are higher than 3,000 feet (914 m)
Ascent to the iconic Stob Dearg
As we wrote earlier, the Stob Dearg pyramidal peak will impress you from afar. Its position at the beginning of the valley offers wonderful views of the surrounding peaks, but also a great idea of the vastness of the Rannoch Moor bog. The route to Stob Dearg starts at the car park below the Devil’s Steps, which are the most challenging climb of the long distance route > West Highland Way <. After parking, cross the river and continue past the photogenic cabin into a clearly visible gully, where it climbs to a saddle, from which it then turns to the summit (1021 m). Tourism is typically Scottish. A short rise and then a sharp climb . The elevation gain of 700 m in 3.5 km can be difficult, but the ascent can be managed in approx. 1.5 ha and the views are really worth it. A similar amount of time must also be calculated for the return trip, as the steep descent is demanding.
Through the hidden valley on Bidean nam Bian
If you had to choose only one hike, this is the best choice. The circular route in the heart of the Glen Coe valley offers everything you want to experience in Scotland. Hiking starts and ends at the aforementioned parking lot at Tří sester (GPS: 56°40’4.052″N, 4°59’12.369″W). It’s up to you which direction you choose, but we can recommend climbing to Hidden Valley first. The valley is actually called Coire Gabhail, but you will definitely understand its nickname. Then it is only necessary to ford the stream for the second time in a day and continue climbing to the viewing peak of Bidean nam Bian (1115 m). It is definitely worth waiting for the weather to enjoy being surrounded by peaks with a view of Ben Nevis.
From the summit, swing to another munro, Stob Coire nan Lochan, which descends through the valley of Coire nan Lochan, between the two sisters. Compared to the previous ascent, the route is much more demanding and it is good to set aside a whole day. Also typical of hiking in Scotland is that it starts almost at sea level, so although the hills are relatively low, the elevation gain is high . This hike is no exception, and 1,100 meters of altitude await you.
The challenging ridge of Aonach Eagach
Our last tip is the Aonach Eagach ridge, a pearl for the able-bodied hiker . While wandering around the Scottish mountains, you are sure to come across rocky places where you need to use your hands. In English, they have the term “scrambling” for this technique (something between hiking and climbing). The Aonach Eagach ridge is considered one of the top hiking routes for scrambling and you could say it resembles the “Martinka” on the Gerlach Peak. Like the previous route, this one also starts at the parking lot at Tří sester. First of all, you have to overcome the sharp climb to the top of Am Bodach (943 m), which will test your fitness. After boarding, the ridge traverse finally begins, during which you will rise and fall, descend and climb, all with a view of the most beautiful part of the Glen Coe valley and the surrounding mountains.
In total, the ridge is about 10 km long, but only its most attractive part, which is about 3 km long, is climbed. Especially here you should take into account the weather, because in the rain the rocks will be slippery and climbing will be very dangerous . With snow cover, it pays to have crampons and an ice axe, or at least a rope and abseil critical sections. To retrace your steps back to the car, there is a steep descent from the summit of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh to Glen Coe. So most people descend towards the village of Glencoe, from where they have a transport. This route is beautiful, experiential, but really suitable only for experienced tourists who are not afraid of occasional climbing and aerial passages.