Glencoe – The Most Famous Scottish Glen

Black Rock Cottage, Glencoe
Black Rock Cottage, Glencoe

Glencoe is perhaps the epitome of what people expect of the Scottish Highlands. It is a dramatic landscape punctuated by towering mountains, rushing rivers, spectacular waterfalls and glittering lochs. This spectacular location is probably  Scotland’s most famous and arguably its most scenic glen.

Geographically Glencoe is located in the Lochaber area which is in the west of Scotland. It sits just north of Loch Lomond.  

Originally formed by an ice age glacier, the glen is U shaped and is about 12.5 km (7.8 mi) long. The glen is, however, surprisingly narrow at less than 700 m wide. It narrows further and quickly at the Pass of Glen Coe.

From a tourism perspective, and for the purposes of this blog, we will treat the area as covering not only Glencoe itself but also Glen Etive, Rannoch Moor and Glen Orchy. 

The Mountains of Glencoe

Buachaille Etive Mor
Buachaille Etive Mor

On the northern side of Glencoe is the famous Aonach Eagach or ‘notched ridge’. This is a pinnacled ridge that links three peaks standing at over 3,000 feet. This ridge stretches for over three miles and is the narrowest ridge on the UK mainland.

Glencoe’s southern flanks are, in contrast, a series of peaks, ridges and valleys rising above the peat bogs and lochans of Rannoch moor.

When arriving from the south, visitors are greeted by the instantly recognisable peaks of the Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag, – ‘The great’ and ‘The little’ Herdsmen of Etive. Perhaps even more magnificent is the peak of Bidean nam Bian; whose main summit is hidden above and behind the “Three Sisters of Glencoe” (made up of the ridges of Beinn Fhada, Gearr Aonach and Aonach Dubh).

As the rain waters are channelled from these high mountains they form a series of spectacular waterfalls that run into the River Coe. About a mile further down the river widens to form Loch Achtriochtan which is a superb place from which to view the entire glen.

As the river continues its flow it passes through a series of rocky channels and open pools to reach Loch Leven near the village of Glencoe itself.

Photographing Glencoe & Surrounds  

Glencoe and the surrounding area is a magical location for landscape photographers. The main draw is the mountains, but there are plenty of other subjects including rivers, waterfalls, lochs and wildlife (especially Red Deer) to keep most people happy for days on end.

There are, however, 2  main aspects to consider when planning a photography trip to Glencoe:

Tourists – Glencoe is a magnet for tourists from May through to September. This can make getting people free shots difficult at some of the more popular locations. However, if you take some of the roads less travelled, such as the Glen Etive road down to Loch Etive, or Glen Orchy which runs from Bridge of Orchy south of Loch Tulla, then you should be able to find plenty of areas free from too many people.

Winter Snow
Winter Snow

The Weather – Glencoe is a rather wet location. Whilst this can be a challenge for photographers, it is also one of the main contributors to this wonderful landscape. The rain water forms tumbling streams and waterfalls, meandering rivers and gorgeous lochs. This propensity for storms can also deliver quite dramatic photographic opportunities, so not necessarily a bad thing. In winter the temperatures can drop and indeed Glencoe has its very own Ski Resort. Personally, I love the winter conditions and find they can create magical images. The key here is to be well prepared with the right clothing and equipment and making sure people know where you are going.

A Few of my Favourites

The whole area is a photographers paradise, and we could easily list a whole host of locations that are worth a visit. The main locations, such as Rannoch Moor, Black Rock Cottage and Buachaille Etive Mor are easily found (see images above), so here are a few locations that are perhaps a little off the beaten track.

Loch Tulla

Whilst the view of Loch Tulla from the main road is pleasant enough, there is a wee gem to be found if you take the minor road at the western end of the loch next to the  Bridge of Orchy Hotel. The road is signposted to “Inveroran, Forest Lodge”. If you follow this road for just over 2 miles you’ll find a couple of Scotts Pines and a little tree covered island framed by the Black Mount mountain range.

Here are a few images from a visit in the spring, but great images can also be gained in the Autumn and Winter.

Loch Tulla
Loch Tulla
Loch Tulla
Loch Tulla

Lochan na Stainge

This loch is easily accessible from the main road and is just north of Lochan na h-Achlaise. There are a number of lovely images to be gained from this location, and I particularly like shots that capture the mountains reflected in the water.

Mountain Reflection at Lochan na Stainge
Mountain Reflection at Lochan na Stainge

Glencoe Lochan

This lovely lochan is tucked away behind Glencoe village. The most popular view is towards the Pap of Glencoe, but in the image below the focus is shifted a little further round towards The Nevis Range. When the waters are still there are some tremendous reflections.

Glencoe Lochan
Glencoe Lochan

Loch Leven

There are numerous place around this large loch that can offer good photographs, but one of my favourites is from a small outcrop of land just off the A82 in Ballachulish. This image shows the impressive peak of The Pap of Glencoe, as well as The Nevis Range.

Loch Leven and The Pap of Glencoe
Loch Leven and The Pap of Glencoe

If you are inspired to photograph the wonderful Scottish Highlands, do check out our latest workshop availability

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