Keeping Cosy in the Clachaig Inn, Glencoe.
Glencoe epitomises the mysterious and rugged allure of the Scottish Highland, and is honestly unlike anywhere else on Earth. I travelled to Glencoe on public transport and spent two nights in the cosy Clachaig Inn, before continuing on to the Isle of Skye. Read on for my top tips and obligatory summary of the infamous Massacre of Glencoe.
“Oh, come on. How are you going to put this into words?”
The wee voice in my head was raising concerns from the moment the bus became enveloped in Scotland’s most dramatic landscape. I’d travelled through Glencoe on many occasions, but this felt like seeing it all again for the first time.
The mountains and their weather-carved creases appeared to be in high-definition, and the mist was really playing tricks on the scenery. Clouds encircled Buachaille Etive Mòr like an active volcano on the brink of eruption, and a heavy curtain of mist marked the entrance to the glen itself.
Oh, and it didn’t stop there.
The layers of cloud had enough shades of grey to fill a Dulux colour chart, while the mist, in varying degrees of visibility, wrapped itself around the peaks and hovered randomly in wee patches. The cloud cover was backlit by afternoon sun, which momentarily burst through any gaps, casting a laser-like beam on the land. ‘Atmospheric’ doesn’t quite cut it.
Prior to this bombardment of epic beauty, the bus route took in Scotland’s largest loch (by surface area) and the longest enclosed glen; Loch Lomond and Glen Lyon. Then, as if to maximise the visual impact of the mountains, there was Rannoch Moor; 50 square miles of vast, flat, uninhabited wilderness. A stark contrast to what lies beyond in Glencoe.
My final destination was a historic inn in the heart of Glencoe, and I couldn’t wait to make myself at home.
Welcome to the Clachaig Inn.
The Clachaig Inn has been serving Highland hospitality for over 300 years, and a warm welcome is guaranteed to this day. Expect to be well fed and watered, and to rest your weary head in traditional, comfortable lodgings. Sounds like a great place to be stuck indoors during a storm, doesn’t it? I should know!
My single room was small but perfectly equipped, with a bonnie vista, quite unlike any other. My uninterrupted view of the mountains was amazing, and made me feel much closer to them that I actually was. The storm’s heavy downpour turned up the pressure on the many waterfalls, which I lay watching from the comfort of my bed, with a Talisker in hand. That folks, is where contentment reaches its peak.
On the day of the storm, I swapped the cosy comforts of my room for The Bidean Lounge with its flickering fire. This is where I spent my time drinking tea, eating soup, and watching the gale-force wind carry the rain in distinct vertical stripes. Later that night, I moved onto The Boots Bar.
Dimly lit with rustic wooden-panelled walls, The Boots Bar really feels like a historic Highland watering hole. I was there during the week, but could easily imagine the antics which unfold at the weekends, with traditional tunes, and head-splitting hangovers to follow.
The food is perfectly unpretentious and hearty, with a seriously well-stocked bar featuring craft beers, numerous gins and over 200 single malt whiskies. I ordered the haggis, neeps and tatties; the portion was massive, and doused in a creamy Ben Nevis whisky and mustard sauce. I can also highly recommend the venison burger. YUM.
I spent two nights at the Clachaig Inn, during much of which I was confined to the indoors. I’m not complaining though, as it forced me to appreciate my cosy lodgings. I love that the inn is not modern, or trying to be something it’s not. I also love the Stornoway black pudding you get at breakfast, the universally friendly staff, and the fact the mountains are right there.
When’s the next storm? Book me in!
Additional Info about the Clachaig Inn:
- You can check prices and availability on the website here.
- The WiFi isn’t great, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I used a weak personal hotspot on my phone to get some internet access during my stay.
Things to Do Near the Clachaig Inn.
1. Glencoe Café.
Glencoe, Ballachulish PH49 4HP (2.4 miles from Clachaig Inn)
Glencoe Café is a modest wee building, tucked into Glencoe Village. I was craving a quintessentially comforting soup and scone combo, and I didn’t leave disappointed. The homemade potato and broccoli soup warmed me from the inside out, and I loved the cheese, chive and herb scone. Despite the café’s remote location, the WiFi was good and they had dedicated charging points. Having just got off the bus from Glasgow, this was exactly the welcome to the Highlands I was after.
- My soup and scone cost £6
- Open 10.00 – 17.00 every day except Thursdays
- For more information visit the Glencoe Cafe website
2. Glencoe Folk Museum.
Glencoe, Ballachulish PH49 4HS (2.4 miles from the Clachaig Inn)
The Glencoe Folk Museum is contained within a cluster of 18th century thatched cottages, which would have been demolished, had Rae Grant – one of the museum’s founders – not literally stood in the way to stop it. Legend! Instead, the buildings were restored and the museum was opened in 1972. I was greeted by a lovely lass when I stepped inside the low door, who let me leave my bags behind the desk while I had a nosey around.
Inside, you’ll find an array of exhibits and memorabilia; from children’s toys and snippets about the old railway, to medicine and tools used in years gone by. There is also a room dedicated to the Massacre of Glencoe (more on that later in the post), which details the lead up to the infamous event, and has a replica of the letter signed by William of Orange ordering the despicable deed to be carried out. This museum is a unique wee gem which gives an interesting insight into the local area.
- Entry to the Glencoe Folk Museum is only £3
- Open from Tuesday to Saturday, 10am – 4.30pm (last admissions 4pm)
- For more information visit the Glencoe Folk Museum website
3. Glencoe Studio Gallery.
Glencoe, Tighphuirt PH49 4HN (0.3 miles from the Clachaig Inn)
Glencoe Studio Gallery is where the super-talented Caroline Cooke exhibits her paintings and crafts. While the weather did not permit me to wander along to the gallery (seriously, even although it wasn’t far), I admired Caroline’s paintings on display in the Clachaig Inn. They completely capture the atmospheric and evocative vision of Glencoe, and I’ve decided that I totally deserve one for my birthday. I love buying gifts for myself!
- Glencoe Studio Gallery is open Monday to Friday from 11.00 – 16.00
Visit the Glencoe Studio Gallery website
4. Signal Rock Walk.
I would like to say I enjoyed the Signal Rock walk in the ‘calm before the storm’ but the weather was still pretty wild. The circular trail begins just outside the Clachaig Inn, and can be extended by continuing onto the black trail into An Torr forest. The River Coe roared as it pounded through the gorge under the bridge at the start of the walk. Signal Rock itself is allegedly where the signal was given for the Glencoe Massacre to commence. The information board promises views of the glen from the top, however the signage must’ve been installed before the trees grew!
As I trailed the pretty forest, mountains seemed to spring up from nowhere. I stopped to just look up, and appreciate these things that man did not create. I returned to the Clachaig Inn with a clear head, frizzy hair, and an artistic splattering of mud up my trousers.
- Check out the full trail description on the Walk Highlands website
5. Glencoe Lochan.
Near Glencoe Village, closest postcode PH49 4HT (2.4 miles from the Clachain Inn)
The trail around Glencoe Lochan is a gem of a woodland walk, which was landscaped in the IN THE WHAT? by the Earl of Strathcona in the 19th century to resemble the Canadian Rockies; a loving gesture for his homesick wife, who was from Canada. What a guy! The red trail goes around the lochan, and the walk can be extended by joining the Woodland Trail and/or the Mountain Trail. On my visits to the lochan (not actually this trip?), the water has been serenely still, casting a mirror-like reflection of the surrounding peaks. I love the wee wooden pontoons, and the tranquil scenery.
- For full trail description and directions, visit the Forestry Commission website
6. Glencoe Land Rover Safari
Glencoe Visitor Centre, Glencoe, PH49 4HX
The Rangers for the National Trust for Scotland offer weekly Land Rover Safaris from the Glencoe Visitor Centre, where visitors can learn about the landscape, its history and the wildlife. The tours range from 1.5 – 3 hours, and operate on different days of the week depending on the time of year. Sadly, my trip was cancelled due to the storm but I will be returning to Glencoe very soon to do it, and will update this post with my personal summary of the experience.
- The tour prices range from £15 – £35 per person
- Check the days and availability on the National Trust for Scotland website
The Massacre of Glencoe.
(my attempt to keep it brief)
King James VII of Scotland and II of England was the last King of Scotland, and the last in the Stuart bloodline to sit on the British throne. In 1688, James was deposed and sent to live in exile in France.
Why, you ask?
The Protestant Reformation had swept across Western Europe in the 15th century, however James was a Roman Catholic, and this made him very unpopular with Protestant nobles, who feared that the Stuart Monarchy would reestablish the Catholic faith in Britain. As such, James was overthrown by his daughter’s husband, the protestant William of Orange.
There were many supporters of the new Dutch King William – mainly in England and the Scottish Lowlands – however, James had a following of his own and the ‘Jacobite’ cause was quickly established. ‘Jacobite’ derives from ‘Jacobus’, the Latin for James – the Jacobites were essentially the followers of James.
A series of Jacobite rebellions against the British Government would take place between 1689 and 1746, until the brutal finale at Culloden. During his reign, William of Orange tried to nip this in the bud, and hush the unruly Jacobites. He ordered that all clan chiefs sign an Oath of Allegiance to him by the 1st of January 1692.
The clans were reluctant and sought guidance from their exiled king.
James gave permission for his loyal clans to sign the oath – albeit last minute – to buy some time until the next rebellion. Clan Chief Alasdair MacIain of the MacDonalds of Glencoe defiantly dragged his heels a wee bit and didn’t set off to sign the oath in Fort William until the day before the deadline! On arrival, he was told there was no one to receive his signature and that he must travel to Inveraray (sixty miles away!) to do it in the presence of a sheriff. In the end, he was six days late because travelling such distances was no easy feat in those days.
This didn’t go down too well.
Nonetheless, when MacIain returned to Glencoe he was under the impression that the spirit of the oath was intact, and there would be no repercussions.
Fast forward to the 1st of February, when Sir Robert Campbell arrived into Glencoe with 127 government red coats soldiers, under the pretense that they were seeking shelter from the harsh winter elements. Clan Campbell – who had a long and bitter rivalry with the MacDonald clan – had infamously sided with the British government during these turbulent times.
The MacDonalds welcomed the soldiers into their homes, offering them food and some even giving up their beds. The soldiers stayed with the MacDonalds for twelve days.
Eh… I thought you said the Campbells and MacDonalds were enemies Kay? Why were they so welcoming?
The answer is that Clan MacDonald were simply honouring the old rule of Highland hospitality, whereby food and shelter would be offered to anyone who came knocking on your door; friend or foe.
During their stay, it is thought that the government soldiers bonded with the MacDonalds; who were tragically unaware of their impending fate. Little did they know the government soldiers would soon be sent an order, signed by William of Orange, which stated “Put all to the sword under seventy”.
The life expectancy back then was below seventy. There were to be no survivors.
In the early hours of the 13th of February, the massacre commenced. Thirty-eight members of Clan MacDonald – including the Clan Chief MacIain – were murdered by their guests as they slept. A few clan members fled into the hills but perished in the cold. It is alleged that some of the soldiers were so disgusted by their orders, that they tried to help the MacDonalds escape.
Glencoe was stained with the blood of the Clan MacDonald.
William of Orange hoped that this despicable act would make an example of the MacDonalds, and send a warning to the Jacobites, and anyone else who was thinking of joining them. Instead it sparked outrage, and was used as propaganda to fuel the Jacobite cause which reared its rebellious head again in the 1715 uprising.
The Massacre of Glencoe won’t be forgotten.
Conflict, rivalry and bloodshed were all commonplace back then, but where this event differed, was in the brutal betrayal of Highland hospitality. Clan Campbell have never been forgiven for their role in the massacre. In fact, the Clachaig Inn displays a sign in the entrance engraved with the message “No Campbells”.
If anyone tells you Scottish people don’t hold grudges, they’re lying!
When you visit this stunning Scottish landscape, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s so beautifully untouched. It’s important to remember that it hasn’t always been that way, and that it was once the home of Clan MacDonald. This clan community and Highland way of life was sadly lost during the aftermath of this pivotal period in Scotland’s history.
The Massacre of Glencoe is bleak tale to say the least, but one that will continue to be told and remembered.
Travelling from Glasgow to Glencoe by Bus.
- The bus from Glasgow Buchanan Street bus station to Glencoe takes approx. 2.5 hours
- You can view the timetable here
- I strongly recommend pre-booking your journey, as you are otherwise not guaranteed a seat on the bus. To book, visit the Citylink website
- A single ticket is £22.70 and a return is £38.60
“You’ve not really experienced Scotland, until you’ve seen Glencoe”