Friday, 4 May 2012

Glencoe and Glen Etive

This blog takes me away from my beloved Northumberland and into the dramatic hills and Munroe’s of the Scottish Highlands.  If you ever want to take a hiking, climbing, skiing or photographic break (or a combination of all) then I would recommend staying at either the Clachaig Inn or Kings House Hotel (Glencoe). Both are dedicated to the outdoor enthusiast and keep a fine selection of ales, whiskey and food to die for.  I would certainly recommend the venison stew, aberdeen angus steaks, haggis and salmon.

The journey north through Scotland takes you past the beautiful scenery surrounding Loch Lomond.  The most distinctive sight you will see is the towering bulk of Ben Lomond (974m). 
Ben Lomond

Eventually the A82, being the principle road passing east to west across the Highlands, will take you through the majestic scenery of Glencoe and Glen Etive.  The history of Glencoe is steeped in Celtic mythology and early Viking influences.  The Clan MacDougall, which owed its origins to the Vikings, ruled over Glencoe until the end of the 13th century.  However, their empire collapsed after 1308 when Robert the Bruce gifted Glencoe to Clan MacDonald.

By 1501 a feud had begun between the MacDonalds of Glencoe and the Campbells of Argyll.  The basis of the feud seems to have been the Campbells' attempts at expanding into MacDonald territory and the MacDonalds' frequent theft of the Campbells' cattle.  On the mountain Bidean nam Bian (1150m) there is a hidden valley, Allt Coire Gabhail (Glen of Capture).  Here the MacDonalds' found a perfect hiding place for the stolen animals.

Waterfall leading up to Allt Coire Gabhail (hidden valley of the MacDonalds)

  Allt Coire Gabhail - the Hidden valley with Stob Coire Sgreamhach (1072m) in the background
A' Chailleach (997m) from Allt Coire Gabhail
The traditionally held view is that this feud provided the background for a tragedy which has become the most famous event in the Glen's history “The Massacre of Glencoe”.  However, in reality the massacre was the result of the clans' involvement in a wider conflict between King William III and the House of Stewart.  In 1689 when James II was ousted from the throne most highlanders remained loyal to the deposed king and an uprising began.  Amongst James' supporters were the MacDonalds of Glencoe while many Campbells owed their positions in government and in the military to the new regime.  Although the uprising eventually failed measures were taken to ensure the Highlands were brought to order.  Alistair MacDonald, Clan chief of the MacDonalds was 5 days late in taking an oath of fealty to King William III.  Alistair's lack of punctuality was enough to seal the MacDonalds' fate.

Believing the oath had been accepted, the MacDonalds welcomed a government force of about 120 men, led by Captain Campbell of Glenlyon, which came to Glencoe at the beginning of February, 1692.  For 12 days the government soldiers received the Highlanders' hospitality: slept in the MacDonalds' beds, shared their food, drink and company.  At 5 am on the 13th of February the government troops turned on their hosts: murdering men, women and children.  However only 38 of around 400 defenceless MacDonalds were slain by the soldiers while the remainder escaped into the mountains, where an untold number died of starvation and exposure.  Despite the ineptitude of the troops, The Massacre of Glencoe has gone down in history as a day of infamy.

Glencoe is epitomised by the famous pyramid of Buachaille Etive Mor, the guardian at the entrance to the glen. The highest peak is the great multi-summited massif of Bidean nam Bian (1150m)  who’s three great buttresses rise impressively above the road and are known as the 'Three Sisters', whereas the north wall of the glen is the turreted and notorious ridge of the Aonach Eagach (967m).
Gearr Aonach (Short ridge) - one of the three 'sisters'
Glencoe Valley from Creag nan Gobhar
Glencoe Pass

The buttresses of Aonach Dubh and Chasm of An t-Sorn from Creag nan Gobhar 

Creag Bahn from Creag nan Gobhar

The River Etive rises on the peaks surrounding Rannoch Moor, with several tributary streams coming together at the head of Glencoe. The River Etive flows for about 18 km, reaching the sea loch, Loch Etive. At the north end of Glen Etive lie the two mountains known as the "Herdsmen of Etive": Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag.
The Glen Etive road meanders for some 14 miles to the head of Loch Etive, where it ends in a turning circle near a pier. And that's it. The road down Glen Etive is the original "road to nowhere".  The single track road first leads you down the south eastern flank of the ridge of Buachaille Etive Mor. As soon as you are out of sight and sound of the main A82 the sense of retreating into another place and time begins to build.
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The first half of the Glen is a steady descent of an open heather-clad valley. The character changes at the southern end of the twin mountain ridges of Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag. Here, near the large house at Dalness, is a junction with two of the great mountain passes of the highlands, the Lairig Eilde and the Lairig Gartain, both extending north to Glencoe and providing the punctuation for the Buachailles, dividing them from one another and from Bidean nam Bian.
The southern half of the glen is more enclosed and wooded, and all too soon you find yourself at the road's end. Looking back along the glen you see a magnificent view of Stob Dubh (956m).

Stob Dubh
Loch Etive is a beautiful and serene area which quickly gives you a sense of solitude – if you are looking for somewhere to chill far from the madding crowd, this is the place.  The Loch is surrounded by majestic Munroe’s which are a haven for climbers and hikers alike.  The local wildlife mainly consists of otters, birds of prey, deer and stags which roam freely wherever you look.

Loch Etive with Creag Dubh (947m) and Dubh Choc in the distance 

Loch Etive with Stob Dubh and Bienn Ceitlen in distance

Loch Etive with the snow capped peaks of Ben Cruachan (1126m)
 and Stob Diamh (998m)  
Beinn Trilleachan (840m) dominates the western shore at the head of Loch Etive.  It is a steep sided hill with the summit at the confluence of its two ridges and dominates the western shore of Loch Etive.  This hill is famous for its huge inclined granite slabs which lend themselves to friction climbing.  However this was the hill we decided to climb.  Experience is a hard task master and reality shows hills can be deceptive in height and gradient.  However after deciding to tackle Beinn Trilleachan, my intrepid set of explorers and hikers managed to climb about three quarters of the way up before common sense took over from the adrenalin.  Again I would suggest from experience that it is far easier to climb with a lightweight day sack than a heavy ‘bergan’ complete with camera, kit and tri-pod.  However, as any serious photographer will tell you, the images captured by trying to balance a tripod at a 45 degree angle with one hand, hang onto a rock with the other and wedge your body into extremely boggy mountainside are worth all the pain, aches, injuries and soggy clothing.  The whole experience of hiking, climbing and photography in the Scottish highlands is very memorable and a cracking 2 days and enjoyed by all.

As far as we got – Beinn Trilleachan
  A team of happy hikers


          Ready for a Pint!