Glencoe, Scotland: Visit This Breathtaking Village For Some Of The Best Hiking In The Highlands

Me: Hey Glen Coe, you’re like, really pretty.

Glen Coe: Thanks!

Me: So you agree? You think you’re really pretty?

Flowers on the side of the Pap of Glencoe trail

The Lowdown:

  • Driving in the Highlands
    • One of the best parts of my visit to Glencoe was getting there
    • It can be daunting so I’ve made a survival guide so others can learn from my mistakes
  • Pap of Glencoe
    • Solid first day hike, really helps you get your bearings of the valley and warms you up for more difficult walks
  • Buachaille Etive Beag
    • Walk 2953ft (900m) up to the ridge, then attempt one or both munros
    • Stob Coire Raineach to the left at 3035ft (925m), Stob Dubh on the right at 3136ft (956m)
    • Right next to the more popular Buachaille Etive Mòr, I chose it with the help of a hostel staffer because it was moderately challenging, less crowded, and he simply said he preferred it
  • Glencoe Village
    • Small, very cute, filled mostly with bed and breakfasts and cottages
    • Has a few restaurants, a craft store, museum and cafe
  • Clachaig Inn
    • THE pub for getting some grub and a pint after a long day of walking
    • 20 minute walk from Glencoe Independent Hostel
    • Bring a flashlight if you’ll be walking at night!
  • Glen Etive
    • Long and winding road with some beautiful scenery (and deer!)
  • Things I didn’t do that you may or may not want to consider
    • Lost Valley
    • Ben Nevis
    • West Highland Way
    • Buachaille Etive Mòr
    • Aonach Eagach
    • Bidean nam Bian

Don’t forget to check out all of my posts from my visit to Scotland (my favorite country of my entire Europe trip!), including a packing guide so you can be prepared and comfy in Scotland’s sometimes finicky weather.

Always feel free to ask me any questions here or on social media (links are in my bio).

 

With the click of the VW key my week in Scotland and my solo European backpacking adventure has officially begun

I did the most research and preparation for Scotland, which really isn’t saying much, but the promise of the tranquil beauty of lochs, hillsides, glens and mountains made it the country I was most excited for and I didn’t want to miss a thing.

The drive alone from Glasgow to the little village of Glencoe nestled in the U-shaped Glen Coe valley proved that this week was going to go above and beyond any of my expectations.

Since I wasn’t going to be in a city setting and I wanted to see and do so much, I decided to rent a car rather than take public transportation.

View of the Highlands from the window of the rental ECF

The VDub and I have been through a lot together. The rental place just handed me the keys and I was off, learning how to drive all over again, becoming well acquainted with the new “right” side of the road.

It went fairly well… until it didn’t, but I’ll save that story for another post (if you want to hear about my experience and advice for renting a car in Scotland check it out here).

The diverse scenery is overwhelming at first, I couldn’t go three miles without pulling over to take photos.

Dusk falling on the road to Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands

And it just kept getting better as I drew closer to Glencoe.

Blue mountains at dusk Highlands of Scotland ECF

Castle Stalker on Loch Laich ECF
Castle Stalker sits on Loch Laich. This was taken on the way to Oban just before sunset, when I had to travel down to the town in search of accommodations one night.

 

At one of the lochs I stopped at along the way (no, I don’t know which loch… do you know how many lochs there are in Scotland? 31,460!) I encountered the midges everyone warns about online for the first time.

“Pack midge protection,” “The midges are bad in the highlands,” the sites tipped about the little gnat-like bugs. Yeah, I would be a pile of bones if I stayed out there for more than a couple minutes (and I’m so not one to be dramatic).

Oddly enough, I really have the Hound, played by Rory McCann, from “Game of Thrones” to thank for my decision to visit Glencoe. The seventh season had just wrapped up and being my favorite character, I naturally had to do some light stalking and found his backstory very interesting.

In an interview he explained he’s an outdoorsman and chooses to live mostly in solitude on a sailboat in Glencoe, sometimes sailing up and down the west coast of Scotland.

The way he described the area’s simple, peaceful nature, void of crowds and the bustle of the rest of the world, seemed to be the very picture of the place I was looking to visit.

Now here I am

Glencoe mountains and field ECF

Two planes, an uncomfortable walk prompting my first stop to get a new 65-gallon backpack, a scenic and trying car ride later, and I’m here in Glencoe, Scotland, all snuggled up in my bunk at Glencoe Independent Hostel.

I’ve always loved sleepovers, summer camp, occasionally waking up on the floor using a flag as a blanket surrounded by friends and acquaintances after a night out. So, sleeping in a little shed with some strangers in rickety bunk beds is a welcome and somewhat familiar experience.

Just as I was closing my eyes, fully relaxed after a big travel day, I realized the first item I forgot to pack.

A hairbrush.

I went on to survive without a hairbrush for nearly two months after that first fateful realization.

Learned a lot about myself this trip, how long my unruly hair can go without being brushed was one of the more surprising.

Pap of Glencoe

Me looking at Loch Leven on the Pap of Glencoe ECF

I woke up the next morning ready to get my nature on. A quick bowl of oatmeal and strained small talk with my fellow hostelgoers and I was on the road walking to the start of the Pap of Glencoe.

And then I was on the way back to the hostel to get a memory card!

And then I was at the start of the Pap of Glencoe!

Pap of Glencoe Sign

“3 hrs walk…” I’m going to tell you right now, they need to update the time on that sign.

Well, I started off strong

Beginning of Pap of Glencoe

I could see my final destination from the start, aptly called Sgorr na Ciche in Gaelic, meaning the rocky peak of the breast.

To the boob I go.

A quarter of the way through the hike I was more tired than I had anticipated. My optimistic boost of energy this morning was killed after having to walk back for my card.

But I’m glad I did make the trek, the view of Glencoe village from this point was excellent.

Glencoe Village from the Pap of Glencoe ECF

I stopped at the pretty viewpoint for second breakfast when a woman in blue caught up to me.

She stopped and joked about how exhausted she was and I was like girl me too, then the rest was history, we were buds.

Lucky I had Fiona with me, she pointed out all of the landmarks that to me were just pretty bodies of water and mountains.

Glencoe Valley and village ECF
Glen Coe Valley meeting Loch Leven, Ballachulish bridge and Loch Linnhe.

Originally from a small town in northern England, for now Fiona lives alone in a camper and travels around the UK enjoying the walks along the way.

In the past she’s done the impressive Camino de Santiago trail from Spain to France and the West Highland Way from Glasgow to the nearby town Fort William.

She told me about a coach trip she just took from Zakopane to Slovensky raj, Poland, for 15 euro, and encouraged me if I liked these views to visit Zakopane for some “proper” mountains.

We talked the whole way about growing old, walking, traveling. Well she mostly talked, I just kept bombarding her with questions.

Fiona on the Pap of Glencoe Hike ECF

“I’m quite jealous of all of you young people,” she said .

She explained that she wishes she did all of this walking and traveling when she was younger.

“My spring is gone, every step is like a thud.”

This added fuel to my belief to not wait to do these adventures. I was very glad to be out here in a young and able body, even though I was beginning to wonder just how able it really was.

What looked like a straightforward walk from the bottom ends up being a lot of demotivating zigzagging all the way up

Finally reaching the base of the pap we took the time to explore a little before attempting the steep rocky dome.

Pap of Glencoe dome ECF

Two people walking on Pap of Glencoe ECF

View of Loch Leven from Pap of Glencoe ECF

The other, previously hidden side of the Pap reveals the near end of Loch Leven, with Kinlochmore and Kinlochleven just out of view.

At this point we were both moving slower and slower and looking for any excuse to head back down.

“You know, the fog is getting pretty bad, it might even rain.”

“If we head back down I can get to bed earlier and wake up earlier tomorrow.”

The real story:

Then an old man that passed us a half hour ago was passing us again on his decent. Yup, time to go.

So we headed back down, said our goodbyes, and I walked straight to the Clachaig Inn Pub she told me about for a lonely pint and veggo haggis.

Haggis, traditional Scottish food

Half way through my lump of the local flavor and mystery pint, a couple from my hostel popped up.

“Ooo are you eating haggis?” The girl from eastern Scotland asked as they sat down. After I told her it was vegetarian, but had no idea what real haggis actually was, she enlightened me.

While she explained I looked down at my plate and suddenly felt very full.

“Huh… sheep heart, liver and lungs cooked in their stomach… tasty,” I thought.

Not a bad day to be a vegetarian.

Then I was informed about black pudding.

Oh yummy, I really am missing out, aren’t I?

Buachaille Etive Beag

Map of Buachaille Etive Beag

Feeling like a failure for not completing the walk the day before, I was determined to make up for it in a big way today.

I asked the front desk guy at the hostel for any recommendations since the day before multiple people talked me out of Ben Nevis, the very popular and highest peak in the British Isles.

I leaned in and told him, “Give me moderate to hard today my friend, I’m feeling crazy.”

He came up with Buachaille Etive Beag.

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?

Go Beag or go home (sorry)

Heart rock along the trail up Buachaille Etive Beag ECF
Heart-shaped rock giving me a little encouragement at the start of the walk up.

I had to drive to the start of this one (probably didn’t have to). The little car park at the base was packed when I got there, mostly with people there to take photos of the mountain rather than walk up it, so I eventually grabbed a spot and hopped out of the car full of confidence and a protein-rich breakfast this time.

There’s a fork in the path hostel man neglected to tell me about, so me, this family of four and a Belgian couple were all standing there guessing which way to go.

The family swore you’re supposed to go right.

The Belgian guy swore left.

I didn’t have the faintest clue so I figured I’d sit back and let them sort it out.

Eventually we figured out that the family was planning on doing an entirely different walk from the beginning (the Lairig Eilde), and we all went on our ways.

“Oh, wonderful,” I thought as I looked up the really inviting steep set of rocky stairs that the path to the left led to.

Ugh

A quarter of the way up (quarter of the way seems to be the point on every walk where I hate everything and want to turn around) I was sweaty, miserable and doubtful that I could make it to the top.

I would make it up a few steps, stop, look around, sigh, eye a new point a few more steps up and tell myself I can take another brake once I make it there.

Up ahead the Belgian couple were making me feel even worse about myself, the guy briskly taking on the steps like a overzealous freshman running the bleachers at basketball tryouts.

Joke was on him once we got further up, they must not tell the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare” back in Belgium.

“Patients you must have, my young Padawan”

Three boys walk along the ridge to Stob Dubh, the highest peak of Buachaille Etive Beag. ECF.
Three boys walk along the ridge to Stob Dubh, the peak seen just over the next small hill.

I pushed on, intent on not letting this day be like the last.

Pretty soon I reached the top of the ridge and it gave me all the motivation I needed to climb one of the two munros.

To the left sits Stob Coire Raineach , to the right, a little closer to where the path drops you off along the ridge, Stob Dubh, the one I decided to try first.

Looked pretty straightforward, a little less intimidating than the one across the way.

After a very steep walk to the “top,” the real peak of the munro revealed itself a ways down a continuation of the ridge. The deception!

I’ll leave it to you to imagine the long, drawn out word I let out upon this realization.

“Do or do not, there is no try”

The cairn atop Buachaille Etive Beag ECF
Cairn marking the top of Stob Dubh.

Even steeper than the last, my thighs burning, the wise words of my boy Yoda motivating me, I finally made it to the actual top of Stob Dubh.

Hats off to me, despite my efforts to do the easier, lesser peak, it’s actually the highest of Buachaille Etive Beag.

Remember when I was hot and sweaty and wanting to toss my pack to pick it up on the way back down? Well I didn’t tell you that last part, but that’s what was going on during the rocky steps portion of the day.

Now I’m impossibly freezing. I’m snotty, red cheeked, my ears are stinging from the wind, I’m wearing every article of clothing I brought, including extra socks over my hands as gloves.

Perfect time for a photo, no?

No. But here it is anyway.

On top of the Buachaille Etive Beag ECF
Smile through the pain you giant purple monster.

Since it took all of that effort to get there, I stayed awhile talking to an Israeli guy around my age about his dream of going to school in the States, and how he’s deciding whether to start university immediately or first go into the military back home.

As a generally educated American I’m obviously ignorant of the entire world around me, hence one of the purposes of this trip, so I listened intently as he taught me about taking the Israeli version of the SAT, how military is a requirement of all Jews in Israel, and his hopes of one day moving back to the States, where he spent a few years as a small child.

Can’t really imagine this guy in any type of military setting so I hope he figured out a way around that.

Realizing I never really have anything prolific to say about the tops of things besides “damn,” “views,” “so pretty,” “gorgeous.”

This is another one of those times, but check out these spectacular (new word alert) views!

Man rests at the top of Buachaille Etive Beag and enjoys the views of Loch Etive ECF
My new friend’s father resting and taking in the views of Loch Etive at the top of Stob Dubh.

Man rests at the top of Buachaille Etive Beag and enjoys the views of Loch Etive ECF

Well well well, look who it is! About a half hour later my favorite Belgian couple makes it to the top. I’m smiling ear to ear, very pleased with myself for turtling it past them.

Although, they did the other munro while I decided to head back down and drive down Glen Etive with the remaining couple hours of daylight.

I’m still better.

Glencoe Village

Glencoe Village ECF

With a population of only a few hundred people, Glencoe Village is small, charming and takes the back seat to let the natural wonders that surround it shine.

One evening as I was going into town to get some food for the following day, I passed by these sailboats and let me tell you this was one of the most beautiful scenes I had ever laid eyes on.

Glencoe sailboats at sunset

Glencoe sailboats tight

Sailboats on still waters on a loch in Glencoe ECF

I only wish I were a better photographer so I could do the scene justice. With the setting sun and reflection of the mountains and boats on the still water I just about lost my mind.

The village is filled with the cutest bed and breakfasts and the friendliest people in the world. I know because I was without accommodations one night and knocked on the doors of just about every single one of them 🙂

Offering me tea and a snack, these families welcomed me into their homes and chatted with me while they worked on whatever they were doing (why aren’t we all like this?!).

A few had cats too, even better. I imagine this is a great place to be a cat.

Get accommodations early everyone, the closest town that had a bed for me that night was Oban an hour away. Nice little harbor and good food by the way.

Glen Etive

Glen Etive

A long long winding road to a dead end. But it’s not just a long long winding road to a dead end.

The premise doesn’t normally warrant any excitement, but when we’re talking about the Highlands, a drive is a whole new story.

Look out the driver’s side of the window the whole way and back to not miss any part of the changing scenery.

This is a great thing to do between things, or to have a little picnic, or camp if you’re planning on camping.

It’s not more impressive than any of the other drives around Glen Coe, but the solitude and river make it extra special.

I wasn’t blown away, but I think I’m just mad I didn’t see any deer and everyone else sees deer here.

Things I didn’t do that you may or may not want to consider!

  • Lost Valley
    • The moderate hike through the valley comes highly recommended, I really wish I could have squeezed this one in
    • Get’s trickier in the rain, I hear
  • Ben Nevis
    • Highest mountain in the British Isles
    • Fiona and others steered me away from it, saying it’s a long trek and would be my entire day
    • Next time I’m in Scotland I’m going to work it into my plans
    • If you want to say you did it, go for it, it’s certainly an achievement
  • West Highland Way
    • Multi-day walk from Glasgow to Fort William (town over from Glencoe)
    • Lot’s of whisky distilleries along the way!
    • You really earn your “Highlands walker” patch after this
  • Buachaille Etive Mòr
    • This range is all the range, the most popular in Glen Coe
    • Similar to Buachaille Etive Beag (and right next to it) it has two munros to summit at the top
    • It’s a little higher, a little more challenging and takes a couple hours longer to complete than its neighbor
  • Aonach Eagach
    • Narrow and rocky ridge that seemed a bit above my ability
    • Again, there are two munros to summit at the top
  • Bidean nam Bian
    • It’s a taller one at 4318ft (1316m) for the whole mountain, 3773ft (1150m) for the single munro
    • A mountain with many ridges, it contains the famous Three Sisters ridges
    • There are a lot of different ways to tackle this, at the time it seemed a bit more confusing than the straight-forward trails I chose to walk
    • Next time!

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Hiking Buchaille Etive Beag in Glencoe, Scotland

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