The Lost Valley
Photography: Mirko Nicholson
Words: Laura Pendlebury
The heavy air was tinged with grey and gentle cloud cover ensured the peaks of the surrounding mountains were completely obscured as I set off from Glencoe that morning. Without a car, I was limited by the infrequent Sunday bus service and knew that I had to make the 17:46 back to Fort William to catch the Caledonian Sleeper to London that evening. This left me with just under 8 hours. 8 hours, on foot, was far too short a time to spend in such a rugged, breath-taking place, but I was determined to make the most of it. Glen Coe is a glen of volcanic origins, lying north of Argyll in the Scottish Highlands. Considered to be one of the most spectacular and beautiful places in Scotland, it is well known for providing a setting for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and, more recently, Skyfall.
I was aiming for Coire Gabhail, the Lost Valley, a high-level glen with a narrow entrance formed by the weight of ice that could not escape from the valley as the huge ice cap flowed down to the sea through the pass of Glencoe from Rannoch Moor. A popular walk due to its length- around 3km long- and gentle incline of 750 feet, it starts from the car park at the base of the glen. Due to my lack of transport, I had chosen to start this hike from the village of Glen Coe, situated about 10 km away. The flat, easy terrain from the village to the start of the valley pass would provide me ample opportunity to absorb the scenic beauty of the mountains as I walked. For some reason, I decided to walk alongside the busy A82 for the first 3 km or so. This was a huge mistake as I spent most of the time concentrating on walking as far as I could from the edge of the road without having any form of path to walk on, and constantly watching for speeding coaches coming my way. Due to the popularity of the area, the road was extremely busy and it was a relief to join a path further along the route and start to move away from the buzz of constant traffic, which was slowly draining the peace and tranquillity from the beauty of my surroundings. As the path curved away from the road, my pace slowed, I breathed deeper and started to look around me. Closer now, the surrounding mountains were even more spectacular. They provided a lens through which I could almost see the seasons beginning to change; the fresh green of summer being replaced with a distinct tinge of burnt orange, and the purple heather that clung to their base gradually fading. Squinting into the skies above me, I could just make out the silhouettes of two birds of prey, their calls echoing across the stillness of the valley, gently circling as they peered out across the rolling landscape beneath them. Despite this being the last bank holiday of the year, I met no one else on my walk towards the valley, and was able to drink in my surroundings, to appreciate their beauty with every step I took, in complete silence. My mind became calmer, worries from the previous weeks evaporated. I was left with a sense of stillness I had always struggled to achieve, yet here, surrounded by the calming beauty of the dramatic Scottish mountains, I was at peace within minutes. I could see the entrance to the valley in the distance, marked by the cluster of coaches and cars at a small lay by. I knew the silence of my hike would not last for ever, the beauty of the Highlands pulls in tourists by the bucket load throughout the summer, and I had chosen to travel there on the busiest weekend of the entire year.
I reached the entrance and headed down the path which took me between the Three Sisters. As I moved further into the valley the scenery around me changed; instead of viewing the hillside from a respectful distance I had moved within them. Steep, grassy slopes ran straight up to dizzying peaks on both sides of me, and as I walked higher, at some points scrambling over rocks, I was left in complete awe by their intense beauty. I walked carefully alongside a steep gorge, its path carved out by the waterfall I passed further on. Crossing the shallow river, I was able to use a variety of stones and rocks as a makeshift path, managing the entire walk with relatively dry feet. From here the climb became steeper, rockier, and more volcanic, before the path opened up into a flat, circular area surrounded by the towering mountains. Broken rocks and stones covered the ground, and the greenery from further down had all but disappeared, the landscape sparser. Conscious that my time here was running out, I could only take a few minutes to sit and appreciate the surroundings I had climbed into. Reluctantly, I rose from the flat rectangle of smooth rock I had been lying on and began my steady descent out of the valley.
Later that evening, I was sitting on the train back to London watching the hills roll pass my cabin window. The mist had drifted in and was floating slowly amongst the mountains, but the eeriness of this was lost on me; I was already planning my return trip to the Highlands. The stillness and beauty of the mountains had had a profound effect on me, and I knew I couldn’t wait long before returning to be amongst them once more.