Walk of the month: A light heart in the Valley of Weeping

Glen Coe's turbulent history hovers over its ancient paths, woods and waterfalls. Mark Rowe falls under its spell

Glencoe village is crammed with camera-toting coach parties, camper vans and day trippers. Yet above the village lies a very different world of moorland, craggy mountains, ancient forest and classical glacial valleys. Despite its murderous history, and a well-deserved reputation for bad weather, Glen Coe is the perfect choice for an uplifting walk taking in the glories of autumn.

My route is straightforward if serpentine, coiling around two Munros and slithering up, over and down two perfect glacial valleys that cut south from Glen Coe. In autumn, as summer visitors melt away, the landscape assumes an atmosphere that makes the walker feel very alone.

Before setting out, I brush up on the dark deeds that tar Glen Coe's history. The 1692 massacre of the MacDonalds left 40 dead and sent hundreds more fleeing for their lives into a perishing blizzard. As I plod up the first traverse in the valley, crossing the river Allt Lairig Eilde, I don't quite feel as if I am treading on ancient bones but, zipping up my jacket against the wind, I can't fail to pick up Glen Coe's special atmosphere. The name, appropriately, is Gaelic for "Valley of Weeping".

Were that not enough to keep the imagination boggling, the route follows an old coffin trail. The medieval parish demanded any dead had to be carried over the passes to Glen Coe for burial. A stone cairn across the road from the car park is thought to be a remnant of this trail.

Huge mountains rise up, streams pouring down their flanks. Yet delightful as it is, this walk is no doddle. Ideally, you've packed gaiters and poles for this one, and it's best done anti-clockwise, heading first over Lairig Eilde. This is because the river can sometimes be in spate and impassable – if you've walked clockwise, it's an awfully long way back.

Lairig Eilde translates as "Pass of the Hinds", and Glen Coe is a prime spot for Britain's largest land mammal. The annual rutting season got under way this month and the grunt of a red stag echoing, funnelling down the valleys, is a sound you don't forget in a hurry.

The trail is lined with inexorable false summits, each coquettishly suggesting I am upon the pass before dashing expectations. Hanging, hidden valleys emerge, fingers of mist jabbing gibbet-like from their depths. The solid lump of Buachaille Etive Beag rears up to my left, its ancient bronzed rocks mantled with a patina of grasses and mosses. The mountain keeps me company for the entire walk. Its twin summits are both classified as Munros and are popular with baggers at all times of year.

Finally, I reach the top of the pass. Ahead is a head-swimmingly steep and lengthy descent – though on a good path – that slopes away to the distant valley floor of Glen Etive and a succession of dreamy lochs. I sit down and twizzle a sandwich in my hands. Coming up from the valley, part hidden by the angle of the climb, a beetroot- faced walker inadvertently springs himself upon me. He's startled and annoyed – reasonably I think – to find someone hogging the exact spot he's coveted for the past hour of sweaty ascent. "Worth the admission fee," I say brightly, by way of an ice-breaker, nodding at the view. He stares back, gives a slight but withering shake of his head and marches on.

The tramp to the valley floor is a journey of great beauty. Lonely birds of prey zip back and forward and there are glimpses of deer. I pass through a deer fence, whereupon the landscape is transformed and becomes positively tropical with lush, waist-high ferns drooping across the path.

The walk is like a bungee jump: finally reaching a paved road at the bottom of Glen Etive, I am immediately bounced back up the parallel pass of Lairig Gartain. It's a very different route, though. The name translates as "Pass of the Ticks" and, even at this time of year, it is well named: the midges here appear to have evolved into a subspecies that can drill through denim. And the track is much rougher, erratic and sometimes indistinct.

Confused by a plethora of paths, I make a dart for the deer fence, where I follow the fence line to the River Coupall and tackle the steep track. The scenery is simply sensational. I'm on a hidden path, inches from waterfalls, looking up at overhanging alders, rowan and birch trees. At times I heave myself over stones. My heart beating like the clappers, I think about the coffin trail. How often did the pallbearers tacitly agree to ditch the deceased into the deep peat and head off to a pub to synchronise their story?

At the top of the pass, I pause on a large boulder. Behind me the view swoops down the pass. Did I just walk up that? Ahead, the route is much flatter and the A82 is visible, perhaps two miles distant.

The final stretch is easier and I bounce over more huge rocks that navigate a path through the peat. It feels like a moonscape. As I arrive at the A82, a camper van tips out its occupants. They peer doubtfully down the valley before clambering back on board. As the VW's engine fades I prepare to get all romantic about the emptiness of the Highlands. Then I am forced to wait to cross the A82 by a succession of HGVs. Glen Coe never lets you settle.


Getting there

Mark Rowe travelled by Caledonian Sleeper (08457 55 00 33; scotrail.co.uk), which serves Fort William from London Euston, via Crewe and Preston.

Staying there

He stayed at Natural Retreats’ West Highland lodge (0844 384 3166; naturalretreats.co.uk) at Tulloch Station, which offers a three-night self-catering stay from £570 (sleeps up to eight).

More information


Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Life and Style
Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Arts and Entertainment
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style