Glen Coe

Glen Coe is probably the most famous and most spectacular Glen in Scotland. Visitors from all over the world travel here year after year, to capture this beautiful Highland Glen and its surrounding mountains. Glen Coe is part of the designated National Scenic Area of Ben Nevis and Glen Coe. The main settlement is the nearby village of Glencoe.

Glen Coe is sometimes said to mean ‘Glen of Weeping’, which may be a reference to the infamous massacre of Glencoe in 1692 but the Gaelic ‘Gleann Comhann’ doesn’t translate as ‘Glen of Weeping’. The Glen is actually named after the River Coe which runs through it and had this name long before the 1692 massacre.

The Glen is U-shaped and was formed by an ice age glacier, about 16km (9.9 miles) long, with the floor of the Glen being less than 700m (0.4 miles) wide, which then narrows sharply at the Pass of Glen Coe, about halfway along.

In geological terms, Glen Coe is the remains of an ancient super volcano. This eruption happened about 380 million years ago and the volcano has long since become extinct. It is considered to be one of the best examples of Cauldron Subsidence.

The Mountains

The mountains are built from some of the oldest sedimentary and volcanic strata in the world. They were moulded, sheared and repositioned by a geological event called a ‘cauldron subsidence’.

On the northern side of Glen Coe is the famous Aonach Eagach or ‘notched ridge’. This is a pinnacled ridge, linking three peaks over 3,000 feet and stretches for over three miles. It is the narrowest ridge on the UK mainland.

On the southern side are a mixed gathering of ridges, peaks and valleys that rise up above the peat hags and scattered lochans of Rannoch Moor and carry on to the shores of Loch Leven.

When arriving from the South, visitors are greeted with the beautiful and immediately recognisable peaks of the Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag, when translated mean, ‘The Great’ and ‘The Little’ Shepherds of Etive. The star peak of the Glen is Bidean nam Bian, whose main summit is hidden above and behind the three great truncated spurs known as “The Three Sisters of Glencoe”.

The mountains give rise to a series of dramatic waterfalls that gather initially at the ‘Meeting of the Three Waters’ to form the River Coe. Less than a mile lower down at the very heart of Glen Coe, the river widens to form Loch Achtriochtan, which is a great place to view the entire Glen. It then passes through Glencoe village before flowing into the sea loch of Loch Leven.

Flora & Fauna

The weather in Glen Coe is unpredictable, snow can lie on the hilltops right up until July, yet some days in winter can be mild and bright. Due to a lack of natural shelter and rainfall of over ninety inches a year, the wildlife in Glen Coe is limited.

The most common wildlife to be seen are the red deer and roe deer. During the winter evenings, red deer can be seen feeding and looking for shelter, in the fields and on the low moorland slopes. Foxes are a common visitor on the higher mountain slopes, as well as the blue hare. Wildcat, pine martins and badgers are a rare sight on the lower slopes but vole, the common shrew and the long-tailed field mouse can be seen.

The bird life is much more abundant with ravens and buzzards being spotted regularly. Sightings of the Golden Eagle are not so common and they tend to stay in the areas south of the main mountains. One visitor did report seeing more than forty different species during a walk along the River Coe.

Traditional moorland grass is dominant on the lower mountain slopes, with heather and ling on the hills up to about 2,000 feet. Lower down you will see cotton grass and bog myrtle. On the high mountains, tucked away on the ledges, can be found a mix of alpine species, such as wild hyacinth, sorrel, common violets and lady’s-mantle.