Our third day in the Scottish Highlands was the one I’d looked forward to perhaps the most, since it was the day that we’d finally get to explore the majestic Glencoe properly (instead of just seeing it from the window of a bus). Glencoe is one of Scotland’s most famous valleys, partly because of its gruesome history – in 1692, over 30 members of the clan MacDonald were massacred in their own homes by Campbells heeding the commands of John Dalrymple, the Secretary of State (I recommend reading a full account of the sad events over here). Knowing about the area’s grim past adds a certain sad vibe to its beauty. I’m quite sure, though, that Glencoe would be famous even in its own right, without its brutal history – it’s such a magical place.
When we set out towards Glencoe on a Wednesday morning, we had no idea that reaching its most famous spot, the Three Sisters, would prove harder than we’d thought. We took a bus from Fort William to the Glencoe Visitor Centre, but from the centre, it would have taken us about 1,5 hours to reach the Three Sisters by foot. Since our plan was to hike up into the Lost Valley between two of the Three Sisters, we weren’t really keen on spending a lot of our time walking all the way to our actual starting point. So, we decided to hitchhike, which was easier said than done.
Our first experience hitchhiking had gone well the day before, but that was because we walked up to people getting into their car at a parking lot and asked for a ride. This time, we had to do it the more traditional way, standing on the roadside with our thumbs up. I felt a bit embarrassed standing there, begging for a lift, especially since no one stopped. After a while, we decided to start walking up the road and try our luck whenever a car drove by. We made our way along the road slowly, in bright sunshine, feeling a bit desperate since the road really looked like it would never end. When we were about halfway to the Three Sisters, an old Scottish gentleman finally pulled over and let us in. We couldn’t believe our luck! It was incredible that the rest of the journey took us only 5 minutes by car (thanks to the high speed limits of the highway), but by foot we’d have been walking at least for another 45 minutes, always stopping when a car drove by.
At the Three Sisters viewpoint, we stopped to adore the landscape. It was impossible to get all three of the mountains called the Three Sisters into a photo on my DSLR, but a panorama shot on my iPhone did the trick. It’s impossible to illustrate the magnitude of the hills in these photos. The Lost Valley, where we were planning to hike, lies between two of the Three Sisters – it’s the valley on the left in the picture below. From the viewpoint we were standing at, it was hard to judge the distance to the foot of the valley. It didn’t look like it was very far, but when we saw people as tiny as ants walking at the foot of the mountains, we came to realize that we had quite a long way ahead of us.
When we started making our way up to the Lost Valley, we knew we wouldn’t have a lot of time to explore it – we had bus tickets from the visitor centre back to Fort William for later in the day, and we would have to allow ourselves time to get back there (worst case scenario, by foot). Still, we couldn’t resist climbing up between the mountains, to explore further than most tourists who just take a quick look at the Three Sisters from the car park.
The way up into the Lost Valley was beautiful. We crossed a growling river on a small steel bridge, and walked through an alley of small trees dressed in the light green baby leaves of spring. The scary part was walking right next to a cliff with a long drop into the flowing river below, but once we got further up, the river turned into a series of tame mountain springs with crystal clear water. We even filled our water bottles in one!
We must have taken a wrong turn at some point, since the ground slowly started to become impossible to climb. There were huge stones everywhere, and finally we couldn’t go over or around them anymore. Over on the other side of the mountain springs, we saw other hikers climbing upwards, so obviously we were on the wrong side. At that point, we were running low on time, so we just decided to enjoy the views for a while and then turn back. So, we didn’t quite make it to the famous Lost Valley (which is where the MacDonalds fled the massacre of 1692), but at least we gave it our best shot with what resources we had!
When we got back to the Three Sisters car park, we were starting to feel quite tired and hungry. The wind was getting stronger, too, so we were also a bit cold. We kept an eye on cars stopping at the parking lot, and whenever we saw a car heading the right way with only two people in it, we asked for a ride. We were denied a ride a couple of times due to either pets or a lot of stuff in the back seat, but finally a lovely tourist couple took us in their car. They actually denied us seats at first because their car was so full, but apparently they took pity on us as we stood there looking for other cars, since they came back to us and told they’d rearranged their stuff to make room for us. One of them joked that we didn’t look like very experienced hitchhikers so he thought he’d do us a favour 😉 We talked to the couple a bit as they drove us to the visitor centre, and it turned out to be a win-win situation as they had been looking for a toilet on the way, and we were able to tell us there were nice ones at the centre were they dropped us off!
Before we got on to the bus that took us back to Fort William, we had some time to enjoy the centre. At the back, there was a yard with amazing views up to the mountains. We also took a little walking tour around the woodlands, which was mostly a bit of a disappointment since most of the trees had been cut down as part of a “native woodlands” project. The interesting part of the walk, though, was Inverrigan – the site of the Glencoe massacre. The stony ruins of a small cottage stood in the middle of the woods, with a sad little wooden cross sitting against the wall.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, our day in Glencoe wasn’t a huge success planning-wise. It was a shame we didn’t make it all the way up to the Lost Valley because of time constraints. Glencoe is definitely a place you should visit by car, so that you can get around easily – public transport in the Highlands proved pretty useless in reaching remote areas! Despite all the hassle, I enjoyed the day a lot. Glencoe is just breathtaking. A true must for anyone touring Scotland!