You Go, Glen Coe

If Glen Coe, the valley, went to North Shore High it would totally get four candy canes. Scotland’s pretty pretty, y’all. The scenery in this glen of volcanic origin is rather surreal, and I say this despite that we had loads and loads of rain. Actually, one might venture to say that the rain added to the experience. Going out for a wet walk in the highlands, as a tartan-kilted bagpiper serenades you is just about as Scottish as it can get. Unless we had a tartan-clad Scottie walking with us and carrying our shortbread on his back. Then I guess we would win. Here is a quick video to give you a sense of the scene:

It feels very remote out here. The vistas as you drive in are dramatic, as you wind through verdant valleys surrounded by steep, craggy mountains and many brimming waterfalls. (By the way, apologies if we keep repeating ourselves in these posts on Ireland, the Lake District and Scotland…it’s just that it’s all so, well, verdant and craggy and waterfall-laden).

We learned quickly why Scottish people are so pale, as evidenced by our preparation for this August, summer hike:

This hike was actually wonderful, and since we were covered in rain gear we didn’t have to face the dreaded midges that we’d been warned about. We were a bit bummed to arrive close to the top only to discover that the river was glutted from the rains, meaning crossing it would require a walk through rushing (cold) water certainly above my hiking boots. We sat there debating and exploring alternate routes for close to an hour before I almost let Alan persuade me to do it. But then we decided dry (ish) boots sounded better and headed back down. We’ll never know for sure what the Hidden Valley looks like. It’s a good thing too, because the itty-bitty café we stopped in for lunch played our wedding song! First time that’s happened to us, and surely a sign. P.S. are we the only ones who find it odd they always use shredded cheese on their sandwiches in the UK?

Our first day coming into town we fit in a very, very short walk at Glencoe Lochen, which went up a little hill and then round a quaint wee lake with ducks and Scottish boys fishing. Picturesque.

Alan also ventured out on his own for one last quick hike in Glen Nevis. He walked through Nevis Gorge until it opened up to a beautiful meadow and Steall Falls.

Apart from the natural beauty, Scotland’s big draw is its spirits. Not just any canned heat, but Scotch whisky (yes, here it’s spelled without the “e”). Cue Alan saying, “I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly.” So Scotland is quite famous for its whisky. (And apparently, Scotch is basically just whisky from Scotland. Mind blown. If you don’t know, now you know.) I don’t know, I can’t drink the stuff; it smells like fire. But Alan began his tasting journey up in these Scottish Highlands with a visit to Oban Distillery. He was like a petulant child when told all the tours were full for the day, so we drove the 45 minutes over to the town of Oban anyway, so he could try some whisky in their tasting room and read some of the informational bits on display. He somehow managed to finagle a tour ticket purchase off of a lovely wife, who, like me, couldn’t care nearly as much as her husband about hard liquor. So while she and I sat in the waiting room for an hour talking about how much better wine is than whisky, Alan and her husband learned all there is to know about boiling beer fumes into whisky, or something like that. Anyway, I took his credit card and bought him a $100 bottle of some real fancy firewater as an early birthday gift, and all was very well.

One of my favorite activities while traveling (and really, just in life) is “picnicking” with wine, cheese and meats. We did this in our B&B room the night we arrived. We were staying kind of far from all the action (what little there is), so we had picked up supplies in Glasgow, and enjoyed some Roquefort on Fine Cheese Co.’s Toasts for Cheese (public service announcement: if you have not tried these with some good creamy blue cheese you have not lived life), terrific coppa and a bottle of Montepulciano that night. Lovely, just lovely. And our B&B was just about as remote as it gets, complete with gates you must open manually to get onto the property, and of course, loads of Scottish sheep.

Practical Info

If you want a taste of outstanding Scottish Highland scenery without driving so far from Glasgow (or Edinburgh), this area is a solid option. Glen Coe is stunning and has lots of great hiking. Fort William seems a little less beautiful but is no slouch, and it is the home of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles. You can easily visit Oban from Glencoe village. By the way, I’m pretty sure that Glen Coe refers to the valley itself and the area while Glencoe is the village.

Transportation: We drove from Glasgow on A82, up the west side of Loch Lomond and then through the pass and down to Glencoe (and then headed south on A828 towards Oban to reach our B&B near Duror). The scenery from, let’s say, Tyndrum through to Glencoe is beautiful. Diesel costs ~£1.35/liter.

Accommodation: We stayed at Bealach Country House in Salachan Glen near Duror. It is kind of in the middle of nowhere, a mile and a half up a dirt road which itself begins away from any town. Our room was nice with a very large bathroom (with tub), WiFi worked well and breakfast was great. They also serve dinner (not on Monday) for £30/person; we declined but sort of regretted it when we smelled the remnants after returning from Oban. There was a little bit of complimentary whisky in the room, and it was refilled the next day.

I think if your focus is hiking around Glen Coe, you probably want to stay in Glencoe village or near the hostel and Clachaig Inn. If your focus is hiking Ben Nevis, you probably want to stay in Fort William and maybe at the Ben Nevis Inn.

Food and Drinks: We had lunch at the Glencoe Cafe, a cute spot with good WiFi. And, they played our wedding song (Si Tu Vois Ma Mere), which never happens. Dinner in Oban at Piazza was tasty (though we only had a cheese pizza) and there are lovely views of the harbor. Lunch at Cafe Beag in Glen Nevis was also good.

Activities: We did the Lost (or Hidden) Valley hike in Glen Coe, which is a very nice and not so hard hike. We also did the short Mountain Walk at, and then circled, Glencoe Lochen. There are a number of Munros and other bigger hikes in the area.

My hike in the Nevis Gorge to Sheall Falls was pretty short, it took me an hour return though I was hustling as Jenni was waiting. I was pretty bummed not to hike Ben Nevis, but the forecast was kind of grim. The upper reaches are in the clouds most days and that is one thing, but gale force winds due to the low-pressure system from the remnants of Hurricane Bertha are another. You can also do some boating with various operators. In the winter, you could ski at Glencoe Mountain Resort.

Oban is not that far away. It is a sizable town that seemed pretty nice and gateway to the nearby islands. More important, it is the home of the Oban Distillery. I’ll do a separate post later on some distilleries.

August 11-13, 2014 (Monday-Wednesday)

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