Small Walks, Big Views: the Best Short Walks in Glencoe

Think of Glencoe and you think of its grand mountains: the rocky buttresses guarding the entrance to the glen, the towering peaks, the dramatic ridges and the sprawling mass of the Three Sisters. Even the names are enough to strike excitement into the hearts of keen walkers up and down the country: Buachaille Etive Mor; Bidean nam Bian; Aonach Eagach.

But there is more to this area than its famous summits. If you are not an experienced hiker or have limited time in the area, there are plenty of short, relatively low-level walks which still provide the kind of incredible views that Glencoe is famed for. Since lockdown has kept me off the hills, I’ve been rediscovering some of these myself…

Glencoe Lochan

The Lochan was originally part of the grounds of Glencoe House, built by Lord Strathcona in 1896 when he returned to Scotland from Canada with his Canadian wife, Isabella. Strathcona landscaped the grounds of their new home to look like the Canadian Rockies in order to ease his wife’s homesickness.

With three trails of varying gradient to choose from, this Forestry Commission spot has something for everyone. The lochan trail is flat and gentle, with a buggy and wheel-chair accessible path and beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. Its sheltered location amongst the trees means that it is often still, its mirror-like surface reflecting the grand Glencoe mountains and North-American pines.

The woodland trail has a few steep inclines and bumpy paths, but it makes for a lovely wander through the trees – particularly in Spring, when the forest floor is carpeted in bluebells. Keep an eye out for deer and red squirrels, and listen for woodpeckers! The ‘mountain path’ is a short, steep walk up to the top of a small rise, where a picnic bench is perfectly located to allow you to catch your breath. The overgrown trees unfortunately mean that the views across to Loch Leven aren’t impressive as they might be, but it’s fun to look down on the Lochan from above. Each trail is around 1K long, and can be easily linked together for a longer walk.

Glencoe Orbital Trail

Starting in Glencoe Village, this trail is a gentle walk which follows the route of the old main road past the Clachaig Inn. Though it is meant to be a circular route, there is unfortunately one unfinished section (between An Torr and NTS Glencoe Visitor Centre) which means retracing your steps back to the village rather than continuing along the main road. The walk I recommend is below, though it is also worth walking the final section from Glencoe Village to NTS Glencoe in order to visit Inverrigan -one of the sites of the Massacre of Glencoe - and the Visitor Centre itself.

Park in Glencoe Village and head along the main village road. The rounded hill in front of you is Sgorr na Ciche, the Pap of Glencoe. Stop off at Glencoe Café to grab a coffee or some home-baking, and of course we recommend that you visit the museum in passing! In fact, this section passes quite a few sites of note. At the end of the road, just before crossing the bridge, you can take a short detour up the road to the right to visit the Glencoe Massacre Monument, a memorial to the MacDonalds murdered in the massacre of 1692.

Further on, you will pass the beautiful Torren Lochan. This is a great place to stop for a picnic or a short break, and it often offers reflections to rival those at Glencoe Lochan.

As the path begins to climb slightly, you will see a track heading up the hillside to your left. This leads to the filming location of Hagrid’s Hut, first seen in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Obviously the hut is no longer there, but Harry Potter fans will have no trouble recognising the spot with its views down to Torren Lochan.

Your next iconic stop on the Glencoe Tour is the famous Clachaig Inn. Thought to have been around for over 300 years, the Clachaig is a classic walker’s pub offering a warm welcome, traditional food, good beers, a cosy atmosphere and even live music. Head into the Boots Bar for some haggis and a pint, or save it for the walk back!

Once you’ve satisfied your thirst, continue walking along the road towards the A82, ignoring the tracks into An Torr woodland for now. When you reach the main road, quickly cross over to the carpark on the other side, where you will find one of the most famous views in Glencoe:

This cute little cottage is Achnambeithach Farmhouse, probably one of the most photographed houses in the country. The towering mountains and cascading waterfall make an incredible backdrop – but remember that it is somebody’s home and grazing land so please keep your distance and respect their privacy. Once you’ve had your fill of photos, cross back over the A82 and join the path that runs west alongside the road. This will lead you along the river to An Torr carpark, from where you can explore the woodland or take the walk up to Signal Rock - supposedly where the MacDonalds would light fires to warn of danger.

Exit An Torr woodland at the Clachaig Inn and retrace your steps back towards the village.

(This route could also be extended by continuing up into the Glen after visiting Achnambeithach. The path runs alongside Loch Achtriochtan and rejoins the old military road, taking you as far as the Three Sisters carpark.)

Brecklet Trail

The ‘Brecklet Trail’ - taking its name from the forest it passes through - begins at the entrance to Ballachulish Quarry, meanders through the woodland on the hillside above and finishes in the heart of the village.

The initial climb out of the quarry is steep and relentless, but the increasingly beautiful views make it worthwhile. When you reach the slate picnic bench at the top of the final climb through the woods, you can rest east knowing that it’s all downhill from there! In fact, pack a picnic and sit here a while, taking in the incredible vista across Loch Leven towards the Ballachulish Bridge and the Ardgour hills beyond.

When you finally drag yourself away, the remainder of the walk is a gentle stroll downhill through coniferous woodland, past the hidden ruins of an old settlement. If you’re lucky, you might even see some fairies!

Turn right at the junction at the end of the trail and you will find yourself back in the village. A right turn here takes you back to the quarry, which is also worth exploring to learn about the history of slate mining.

Ballachulish Peninsula

Following the shoreline next to the Isles of Glencoe Hotel, this short stroll offers a range of colourful plants (including gorse, bluebells, thrift and blossom), the possibility of glimpsing deer, herons or seals, beautiful views across Loch Leven on all sides, and even information boards. The peninsula also gives the best view of Eilean Munde, the Burial Island, where local clans used to bury their dead. If you look closely, it is possible to see some of the gravestones.

The Devil’s Staircase

Ok, so it’s maybe not quite as “low-level” as the others on this list, but the Devil’s Staircase is certainly not as scary as it sounds, and its well-constructed path makes it non-hiker friendly as well. Originally a drove road, then later converted to a military road as part of General Wade’s road-building scheme, it is now one of the highlights of the West Highland Way. Park in the lay-by at Altnafeadh and follow the well-defined stone track up the hillside. The climb starts relatively gently, and the views are already fantastic. Behind you across the A82 is another of Glencoe’s iconic scenes: Lagangarbh Hut nestled in the shadow of Buachaille Etive Mor.

The Devil’s Staircase was first given its nickname by soldiers involved in the construction of General Wade’s road, as they carried heavy building materials up the steep slopes. Thanks to them, the path now makes for relatively easy walking, zig-zagging up the steepest section. When you reach the top of the pass, you are rewarded with incredible views all around: ahead of you, the towering peaks of Ben Nevis and the Mamores, the Buachaille behind you, and the flat, desolate expanse of Rannoch Moor to the east.

Enjoy the downhill section now as you head back to the car!

What's your favourite short walk in Glencoe?

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