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Walking Through Glencoe History

Glencoe is the most famous of all the Scottish glens, not only for its majestic beauty, but also for its dark and dramatic history. It’s also the perfect paradise for walkers, with low level woodland trails, and challenging mountain peaks. There’s a Glencoe hiking route for everyone, no matter what your experience and ability.

What’s the history of Glencoe?

You may have heard of the infamous Massacre of Glencoe, and it is one of the defining moments in Scotland’s history. It is estimated that 30 members of the MacDonald Clan were killed on 13 February, 1692, following a clash with the forces of government.

It’s often told as a tale of Scottish clan feuding, involving a rivalry with the Campbell clan, but the background is more complex than that. The leader of the local branch of the McDonald Clan, MacIain, had been reluctant to swear allegiance to King William, and this antagonised government forces.

The order was made to the local militia, led by Robert Campbell, to carry out the massacre: ‘You are hereby ordered to fall upon the Rebells, the McDonalds of Glenco, and putt all to the sword under Seventy.’

The soldiers attacked the Glen at 5am in the morning, killing anyone who appeared to be under 70 years old, including women and children. Altogether, 38 men, women, and children were killed. However, many of those who escape the attack were driven into the mountains in freezing winter conditions, and later died of exposure.

When the news of the massacre spread, it caused shock and outrage, partly because the MacDonald Clan had offered hospitality to the Campbells, and the crime was classed as ‘Murder Under Trust.’ The real protagonists of the attack never met any repercussions, because King William III and his associates were absolved of blame.

Where can you visit the massacre sites?

For those who are keen to combine history and walking, there is the opportunity to take the haunting and unforgettable route to Signal Rock. Some sources claim that the boulder was where the government force, commanded by Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, gave their orders for the onslaught.

It’s an opportunity to reflect on a terrible crime against humanity, but it also offers some soul restoring views. The walk itself is not too strenuous, and the paths are good, although there are some steep sections. The end of the Aonach Eagach ridge is visible from An Torr.

Another popular Glencoe walk is the Lost Valley. This route goes up Coire Gabhail, which is said to be the path taken by those fleeing the onslaught. It was also known to be used by cattle rustlers. It’s a more challenging route, with some steep sections that may require scrambling (the use of both hands and feet).

At the start of the walk, you will cross the River Coe, via a footbridge built by the Royal Navy in 1966. You will then pass through mixed woodland, which is deliberately protected from deer and sheep grazing to allow for species regeneration and biodiversity. It’s a a short walk suitable for those with moderate fitness levels.

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