The Highlands II – Glencoe Valley

Having traveled across Scotland through the Highlands to Oban on the west coast (Oban and the Highlands I), we now turn around and hightail it back to the Lowlands and the east coast, to Edinburgh.  Why do that, you ask?  Well, we do want to see more of the Highlands, for sure, but we also want to catch the Scottish Ballet, which, like us, travels around.  We’re feeling a bit culture deprived here on the road, and getting the Ballet and us in the same city at the same time is a challenge.  So we book ballet tickets and head off to the big city, deciding to backtrack by a different Highland road that goes through Glencoe Valley.  Edinburgh is far south of us, but to get there via Glencoe Valley we have to go north.  It’s not too bad, though, because it takes us Stalker Castle, with a view of Loch Linnhepast pretty Lochs Creran and Linnhe.  As an example of the surprises that Scotland has to offer, we stop at a roadside restaurant for lunch in the middle of nowhere and discover, off to the side, this unanticipated view!  It’s a tower house; no sign, no path, just part of the Scottish scenery.  Wouldn’t it be cool to wake up to that view?  And wouldn’t it be a great fixer-upper?  Your very own castle?  I just had to go looking for this castle on the internet – it’s called the Stalker Castle, built around 1446, and now in private hands.  When the tide is in, it’s totally surrounded by water, making pictures of it even more evocative.  The castle and this area have a long history of wars between the clans Stewart, MacDougall, MacLaren and MacDonald, mostly precipitated by murders or raids.  Later, King James IV often stayed at this castle on hunting and hawking trips.  It seems everything in Scotland has an interesting history, though you might have to dig a bit for it.  Scotland and England do not allow billboards along the roads, unlike the US where it’s hard to see the scenery for the flashing roadsigns saying “George Washington Slept Here”!

Below are some other gorgeous views as we head north along the Lochs.

Glencoe ValleyAt last we turn south and head inland into Glencoe Valley and the Highland moors with their craggy hills and heather.  The nearly complete lack of trees on the hills is remarkable; consequently, people burn peat here, not wood.  As you can see, the view is on a grand scale, quite striking in its austere way.  Hopefully you’re as impressed as we were.  It’s beautiful!

Part way through Glencoe Valley, we decide to do what’s billed as a 3-hr hike to the Lost Valley of Clan MacDonald.  The View of area to be hikedtrailhead is poorly marked on a gravel pull-out directly off the main road, and there are not many hikers in sight.  It looks more like a spot for gawking than for hiking as we start up the trail.

We were hoping to see the mountainsides covered with heather, but we’re here at the tail-end of its season.  The extensive heather patches – they’re everywhere – are mostly covered with dead flowers and seed heads, as shown in the first picture below.  There are occasional patches still blooming here and there, and it is pretty, but clearly we have missed the “Wow!” time.

The trail goes down to a beautiful stream,

then starts seriously up.  Pretty, though!

At this point the trail alternates between being reasonable (first picture below) to being uneven and dicey (sometimes very dicey!) as indicated by the two vertical pictures both above and below; actually, there’s more of the dicey than the reasonable.  Scotland’s

trails are far removed from the highly engineered, trenched and staired trails we found in New Zealand!  These Scots are tough!  Like their whiskey, their trails are not for wimps!

We find occasional unexpected flowers along the trail – not many though, since it’s early October and a bit late for blooms.

A look back at the trailheadThe trail is steep and we’re going up fast.  This is a look back at the trailhead.  The trail there at the lower right snakes back to those parked cars on the road.  We’re already pretty high up!

As we enter the notch between the mountains, the trail stops being just “up” and now becomes up and down.  Oh joy.  Going down can be quite tricky, as Ginger demonstrates.

The trail follows a very pretty and a very happy stream as it bounces and burbles down the mountain that we are struggling up.

There are numerous small waterfalls coming off the mountain that add to our stream in picturesque ways.

Unfortunately, the clouds overhead are now dark gray and moving fast, and Ginger is concerned about rain.  The Eternal Optimist doubts it, but if it does rain, the steep parts of the trail will be really tricky to negotiate as we head back down, and remaining daylight is getting short.  Surely, though, we’re near the “Hidden Valley”?  We’ll go just a little further.  Soon the trail arrives at a spot where we need to ford the fast-moving stream – and for

sure we’ll get our feet wet since the few stepping stones are too far apart (and there’s not a friendly log in sight).  Getting across isn’t that bad at the moment, mind you – probably just a single foot kerplunk, maybe two – but if we get some rainfall it will be a lot trickier coming back.  Witness what’s feeding this flat spot, just 2 feet upstream, shown in the right picture above.  So discretion wins over valor, and we decide to turn back.  We meet a couple coming down from a higher, diverging  trail (1 of only 2 couples we meet the whole trip), who describe our intended destination as simply a level meadow nestled between the mountain peaks.  So the “Hidden Valley” doesn’t sound hugely exciting (and the grapes were probably sour anyway).  Really, the hike has been pretty enough to keep us happy.

The bank is made of peat, many feet thickAs we hike back, we note this bank of solid peat on the left.  The stuff is many feet thick!  It fascinates me that one can burn what looks like dirt for fuel here, but as noted earlier, with few trees, there’s not much alternative.

As we retrace our steps, note the dwindling light, shown below!  Hmmm.  With the mountains in the way, twilight comes pretty early here.  Glad we turned back.  I suspect there are times when optimists should be shot on sight.

As we drive further through the Highland moors, the landscape becomes increasingly stark and desolate, but still awe-inspiring.  This is Rannoch Moor, a large expanse of boggy land

that is unrelentingly bleak, almost hostile.  For long distances the only man-made thing is the road;Beginning to leave the Rannoch Moor apparently just building a road across this stuff was really difficult.  The scenery only begins to look a bit more friendly when we enter Trossachs National Park again.

That’s it for this part of the Highlands.  Hope you enjoyed it.  We’ll see the Highlands one more time, when we traverse a different part later in our travels.

Our next post will be a visit to one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Scotland.  Doune Castle, near Stirling Castle and Edinburgh, is our favorite so far.