Glencoe Youth Hostel makes for an ideal base for both exploring the Glen Coe area in general and in hiking all over it. The youth hostel has plenty of maps and walking books on hand, as well as other walkers with their fresh route and conditions advice. It offers hot meals and has a great drying room for walking gear too.
I’ve spent a lot of time in and around Glen Coe, but when I sit talking to other walkers at the youth hostel or the legendary Clachaig Inn (which is great for a post walk pint) I always find that there is still more of this tough granite wonderland of hulking mountains, brutal buttresses and epic peaks to discover.
You have to be very careful in Glen Coe and many of the higher walks are only for the experienced and well equipped. Always make sure not only that one of your party has a map and compass, but also knows how to use them. A guide is handy on the tougher routes – I can recommend, from recent experience, Rona Yard. Rona was one of the local guides suggested to us by Glencoe Hostel manager Thomas.
Guide, Rona Yard, in action
I’d like to share with you a few routes I’ve enjoyed, from gentler options, through to tough Munros and on to arguably the toughest ridge walk anywhere on the UK mainland. I’ve steered clear of snow swathed winter walking (that would be another blog altogether!).
Glencoe Lochan WalkThe area around this lochan – easily reached from the eponymous village – is great for gentler walking. There are three waymarked trails with something for all the family. The trails are relaxed and alive with wildlife. Make sure to bring a picnic as the lochan is a top spot for just lying back smelling the roses as you appreciate the epic mountainscapes all around.
Lost ValleyThis is a popular, shortish classic that any reasonably fit person can manage. I say that, but it is by no means a walk in the park, as there is a steep gorge to tackle on the way up to the deep corrie and open land where the legendary Macdonald clan used to graze their sheep, many of them notoriously of the rustled variety. The gorge walk requires a good sense of balance and some light hands-on work, with a burn to ford too. Make sure not to avoid the ford and head off up the ‘shortcut’ as you’ll likely just get stuck on a big bank of scree. The reward for your efforts is the epic view out across the Lost Valley, a real jaw dropper.
Robin in the Lost Valley
The Devil’s Staircase
This is one of the most famous stretches of the West Highland Way. It sweeps up from the valley floor of Glen Coe just west of the Kingshouse Hotel. I love that it offers a taste of the world famous long distance walking route without having to walk the full 96 miles! It is arguably the most dramatic stretch as you forge up the aforementioned staircase in search of a saddle that leads you out of the clutches of Glen Coe and over a high pass to Kinlochleven on the banks of Loch Leven. I did it last year with my eight-year-old daughter (and her teddy) and she breezed through it. There is a sturdy, easy to follow path, though you still need all the usual mountain walking gear.
Robin's daughter, Tara, approaching the top of the Devil's Staircase
Buachaille Etive Mor
Things step up a notch here as you enter serious Munro territory. If you struggle on the tough pull up Coire na Tuilach you might want to think about turning back before the walk turns into a scramble. Once you gain the ridge the going normally gets easier and the effort is instantly rewarded as you have access to a quartet of rugged mountain peaks. Three are above Munro height, but only two, Stob na Broige and 1,022m high Stob Dearg, are Munros. The latter is a favourite of mine, a hulking monster that offers epic views over Glen Coe and out across towards the Nevis Range. The walk along the ridge is one of my favourites in Scotland with an ever-changing panorama of mountain, glen and loch, with eagles and red deer in the epic mix too.
Aonach Eagach RidgeStrap in now for a breathtaking, some would say frankly terrifying, ridge walk that handily ends near Glencoe Youth Hostel. I met one guy on my most recent trip at the youth hostel who told me the ridge ‘put the fear of God into me’, though he did have a huge smile on his face and said he wouldn’t have missed it for the world! I would strongly recommend getting a guide for this one and avoiding it if you don’t have a head for exposed heights. The experience of tackling this fearsome ridge is mind-blowing with tricky steps, knife-edge ridges and unremittingly epic views. Once you’re on the Aonach Eagach there is no getting off, no quick escape route, which certainly keeps your concentration levels high and the pulse racing!
Glencoe Youth Hostel is open all year round, for more information see syha.org.uk/where-to-stay/highlands/glencoe
Biography for Robin McKelvie
Robin McKelvie (www.robinmckelvie.com) is a Scottish travel writer, broadcaster and blogger who has been covering his native land since the 1990s. A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, Robin is the author of a number of guidebooks, including National Geographic’s Scotland guide. He regularly contributes to a variety of newspapers and magazines across five continents, such as the Times and the Scotsman, as well as doing travel slots for BBC radio. Robin can be found on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robinmckelvie.