Stay at the Clachaig Inn and explore Glencoe with Dan Aspel's fantastic walking route.
Image © Copyright Johnny Durnan via Geograph.co.uk
Approaching the Clachaig Inn from the south couldn’t make for a more dramatic roadtrip. After winding through the settlements of Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy - the landscape undulating between the grand and the mountainous as you go - you’ll reach the vast plain of Rannoch Moor. Watery and knotty to negotiate in summer, in winter it can become a frozen wasteland - with an atmosphere of iron dead dullness that only deep cold can bring. From there you’ll soon see the great herdsman of Buachaille Etive Mor (1,021m, and instantly recognisable as the peak that launched a thousand shutter releases) rising to the north-west. This is where things become truly spectacular. The descent into the pass of Glen Coe reveals some of the most imposing mountain scenery in Britain, with fine clusters of peaks such as The “Three Sisters” and the Aonach Eagach ridge rising to either side. At the far end of this magnificent Glen sits the Clachaig Inn.
Steeped in history and mountaineering tradition, the heritage of the Clachaig is apparent on arrival. In reception a clean, metallic plaque kindly requests “no hawkers or Campbells”, hinting (presumably with its tongue firmly in its cheek) at the brutal history of clan warfare that dominates the region’s increasingly distant past. That same red bloodedness does carry in some way into the Inn’s present, though: as it was only with the recent refurbishment of the Boots Bar, a place of open fire and rough slate, that the ice axe marks - left by eager climbers keen to prove their skills to doubting peers - were removed from the wooden overhead beams.
The walls of the Clachaig are decorated with mountaineering photography, some bold and imposing, some a little more playful (the nude ice climber dubbed “five points of contact” is sure to raise a grin), but you’ll receive a hearty welcome no matter what’s brought you here. Throughout the year you’ll find live music, mountain safety lectures, whiskey tasting (there’s a vast rack to peruse behind the bar), pool competitions and more to entertain you in the evenings or on days where the weather’s too dreich to venture outside for any sustained period. Spread across a roomy site and nestled amongst evergreens it’s easy to feel cosseted from the elements throughout the Clachaig’s ground, whether you’re staying within the rooms of the main building, or renting one of the self-catering chalets.
But, assuming that all’s well with the weather, the walks around the Clachaig are some of the best in Scotland. In the colder, winter months we’ll forgo the more technical choices of the Aonach Eagach ridge (a definitive Grade 2 scramble) and perhaps even the ascent of the Pap of Glen Coe (a shapely wee peak to the north that nevertheless requires at least 700m of ascent and with a rocky summit that could prove troublesome under ice) and concentrate instead on the “Lost Valley”. This hanging slice of 400m high flat land sits between Gearr Aonach and Beinn Fhada in the centre of Glen Coe.
> Double bedrooms from £49pp
> Dinner mains from £9.65
Distance: 6.5km, 440m ascent
1 It’s claimed that the MacDonald clan used to stow their rustled cattle in the lofty folds of the Lost Valley, and the walk to it remains a dramatic and unlikely one. To reach it, drive to either of the Glen’s central car parks, which are separated by only a few hundred metres (it’s possible, but relatively undesirable to walk all the way here from the Clachaig). After enjoying the view of the Three Sisters on the other side of the glen, head down from the road onto what should be an obvious path. This heads to the left - continuing up the glen - before slowly breaking right down to the River Coe. Here you’ll find a wooden bridge which spectacularly spans the gorge. Cross it.
2 On the other side of the bridge the way becomes much rougher and rockier underfoot. Care is needed here in summer, and if there’s considerable amount of ice here (possible in deep winter) then you may have to either don crampons or abandon your walk. Assuming all is well, continue along the path - which takes the form of a rock staircase and rises up through birch woods. It should be quite difficult to lose the path, but bear in mind that as you near the Lost Valley you will have to cross the stream (the Allt Coire Gabhail) on potentially slippery stepping stones, and that soon after this a slanting ramp across a boulder pile will need to be negotiated too. Neither should present great difficulty to the adventurous walker.
3 Once above this last difficulty the ground levels out and you can see into the Lost Valley for the first time: a quiet and wild-feeling place ringed by toothy cliffs on three sides. Take your time up here, it’s a place that few people visit and is worth investigating fully.
4 An exploration along to the Valley’s end will take you along the walls of Gearr Aonach and Bheinn Fhada to the base of Bidean nam Bian, a winter mountaineering summit of considerable appeal. When you’re satisfied, return the way you came and back to the warm confines of the Clachaig.
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