We drove into Glencoe first, as we wanted to visit the MacDonald monument on the edge of town, which memorializes a dark chapter in the history of the glen. Back in the 17th century, the
The Jacobite chiefs, including MacIain of the MacDonald clan of Glencoe, would not take the oath without James’ approval, but James was exiled in
Orders to “act against these Highland Rebells…by fire and sword…and by all manner of hostility to burne their houses, seise or destroy their goods or Cattell…and to cut off the men,” were transmitted down the line from John Dalrymple, Master of Stair, to Sir Thomas Livingstone, commander of the King’s armies in Scotland, to Colonel Hill at Fort William (who was sympathetic to the Highlanders and thus distanced himself from the events), and finally to Hill’s deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton, who seemed almost giddy at the prospect of destroying the MacDonald clan. In the end, 120 redcoat soldiers led by Captain Robert Campbell arrived in Glencoe on February 1st with a letter from Colonel Hill instructing the MacDonalds to board the soldiers in their homes.
For twelve days,
The MacDonald oath was eventually acknowledged by the Privy Council and the clan members rebuilt their homes in Glencoe under the leadership of MacIain’s son John. The clan continued to support James and fought for the Jacobite cause in the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Members of the MacDonald clan owned property in Glencoe until the mid-20th century, when the lands were consolidated under the National Trust for
Afew patches of blue sky were peeking through the clouds by now, so we decided to take a chance on the weather and go for a hike up the Devil’s Staircase, a small segment of the famous West Highland Way. We retraced our route up the Glen a few miles to the roadside pulloff at Altnafeadh, near the base of Buachaille Etive Mòr. A couple of other cars were parked there, but we still felt a little odd leaving our car totally exposed at the side of the road. It was overcast but not raining as we started up the steep slope, outfitted with the best we could manage in terms of rain gear (raincoats, zip-off nylon pants, and our hiking boots, which we knew from our Goodwood experience were slightly less than waterproof). The trail zigzagged up a moderately steep slope alongside a gurgling stream ("Devil’s Staircase" makes it sound worse than it is; the name was given by soldiers who constructed the trail under much more adverse conditions in the 17th century). The sound of water was everpresent, even though the stream sometimes disappeared beneath the peaty soil. The heather was in bloom all around us, its tiny fuschia blooms brightening the scene, along with a variety of wildflowers including yellow and purple saxifrage and the miniscule lavender-hued heath spotted orchid. We hadn’t gotten very far when it started to sprinkle, but only lightly, so we decided to keep going. After about forty minutes we reached the pass, the highest point on the West Highland Way (about 1600 feet, according to the Clachaig Inn’s hiking guide), which was marked by a large rock cairn. From here we had a relatively clear panorama up and down the glen, including a gorgeous view across the valley to Buachaille Etive Mòr (photo, above) and its little brother, Buachaille Etive Beag (Little Herdsman of Etive), to the west.
At this point we had several options. The trail continued on down the other side of the pass to the town of Kinlochleven, but there was no way for us to get back to our car without retracing the entire route or taking a bus, and we had no information about the bus schedule. We could hike east out to a low rise to try to get a better view of Rannoch Moor, or we could hike west up a steep, rocky slope to a small outcropping above us, which had been periodically enveloped in clouds as we were hiking up to the pass. The outcropping was hidden in a cloud right now, so we opted for the lower route and the moor view. We followed a sporadic footpath over uneven, water-logged terrain to a cairn overlooking what turned out to be a large reservoir (we later identified it as the Blackwater Reservoir). Rannoch Moor was actually mostly hidden around another mountain to the east. We stopped here for lunch, which consisted of salami, crackers, a tomato (the last of our Sussex Pad provisions), and a granola bar. It started blowing rain around this time so we quickly packed up, took a few pictures (photo, above), and headed back to the main trail. Along the way we stopped to investigate some of the marshy pools that dotted the landscape. The edges of the pools were thickly carpeted with clumps of red and yellow bog moss (photo, right) and feathery liverwort, and a narrow-bladed grass variegating from green to bright red was growing right out of the water.
The rain had let up and the mountain above us was mostly clear when we arrived back at the cairn, so we decided to head upwards. It was slow going, as the trail was not much more than a muddy sheep track. Our efforts were rewarded when we reached the top of the knob of rock we had seen from the cairn – the clouds cleared for about thirty seconds and we got an incredible panorama of the glen, from the edge of Rannoch Moor all the way to the Three Sisters, with the thin silver ribbon of the A82 bisecting the valley below us. I scarcely had time to take my pictures before another cloud moved in and it started to rain again. At this point our pants were beginning to soak through and we knew it was time to call it quits. Fortunately the rain and wind lessened as we retreated down the mountain, so we didn’t get any colder or wetter, but we both agreed that it was a good time to turn back. After returning to our car we crossed the road and walked out to a wooden footbridge over the River Coe. We used our binoculars to try to find the trail up Buachaille Etive Mòr in front of us, as we are still entertaining the idea of trying to climb a “munro” tomorrow (what the Scots consider a “real mountain”, or anything above 3,000 feet). We’re not sure if the outcropping we climbed today has an official name, but it is at the easternmost end of the 9-kilometer ridge comprising the Aonach Eagach (I am pointing to the knob of rock that we climbed in the photo, right).
On the way back down the glen we stopped to get some pictures of the Three Sisters, whose peaks were momentarily clear of clouds, and then a bit further down the highway we finally got an up-close look at some
We looked for a seafood restaurant on the waterfront that was recommended in Fodor’s but couldn’t find it, so we parked in a visitor lot and walked down the High Street in search of dinner. We knew from our guidebooks that Fort William is not known for its charm; a dual carriageway (that's British for four-lane highway) effectively destroys the waterfront and the downtown area is a bit rough around the edges. There were a few people wandering around, but I couldn’t figure out how all those B&B guests could be supported by the apparently limited number of restaurants. Most of the places had the same basic fare – steaks and burgers, fish and chips, etc. We stopped to buy a couple of magnets in a curio shop and two very expensive bottles of single malt at The Whisky Shop (Glenfiddich Solara Reserve and Glenmorangie Port Wood Finish). We ended up eating at the Ben Nevis Restaurant, with a view out over Loch Linnhe (we have yet to see Ben Nevis itself – the highest mountain in the