Glen Coe, is Scotland’s most famous glen.

A glen is a narrow, deep, often glacial U-shaped valley with a watercourse running through it. The river Coe meaning “a hollow in a hill” meanders through the hollows it finds through the whole stretch of the valley. It rises at the north-eastern base of “Buachaille Etive Beag”, cascades in spectacular waterfalls at the “Pass of Glen Coe” and then flows into the sea at “Loch Leven”. The glen itself lies in the north of Argyll and is thought, by many, to be one of the most amazingly exquisite places of Scotland. (Mountain’s name is – Little Herdsman called Etive).

To enter the glen from the east you see the glen encircled in the rugged, steep, bleak slopes of craggy peaks. From the west there is a vision of gentler, greener, inclines to the valley floor. At the foot of the glen is the village of Glen Coe which lies very close to the scene which makes the glen so well-known, that of the notorious massacre of the MacDonald’s by the Campbells and the English.

In 1691 King William III decreed, “a free indemnity and pardon to all Highland chiefs that had taken up arms against him”, if they came and swore their allegiance, before January 1st 1692. He threatened untold heinous crimes on the absconders. Only MacDonell of Glengarry and MacIan, chief of the MacDonald’s of Glencoe failed to show.

But MacIan had set out, and arrived in Fort William before the prescribed time. But on finding no sheriff there to accept his swearing in, he was promptly given a letter of dispensation and sent on to Inveraray. The snow storms and appalling weather hindered his progress and it wasn’t until January 6th 1692 that MacIan finally took his oath.

Sir John Dalrymple, Secretary of State in London, cared nothing for the highland clans nor letters of reprieve and wanted to make an example that would bring the clans into order with the British Crown. He chose MacIan MacDonald.

Instructions were passed to Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton in Scotland, winter is the best time to attack, don’t trouble the Government with prisoners. Letters went back and forth from one commander to the other until finally Captain Robert Campbell was instructed to march to Glen Coe and rest with the MacDonald’s until further orders. With one hundred and twenty men he reached the glen on February 1st. MacIan received them as friends, not knowing the betrayal that lay in wait. For two weeks the MacDonald’s accommodated the soldiers in their homes.

In the next few days Dalrymple, wrote to the Earls of Argyll and Broadalbine to hem in the pass on every side. Hamilton with Major Duncanson was to march on Glen Coe  and had orders to let no-one through. On the afternoon of February 12th, the Campbells were given their orders, to murder every male under seventy, the following day. At five o-clock on the morning of Saturday February 13th 1692 the carnage started. One of MacIan’s son’s let in some soldier’s looking for a friendly game of cards and they shot the chief dead. In all, about thirty eight men were killed in their beds.

But the massacre was a “failure”. Due to another storm raging that night Hamilton did not get to the west entrance of the glen till about nine in the morning. By that time some of MacDonald’s sons had escaped and led their people over the lesser ridges of the pass, to safety.

With such slaughter there is no doubt the ghosts of MacIan & MacDonald and their men will never rest. Visit in the early morning of the anniversary of their deaths and see and feel the dread and fear that engulfs the eerie hanging mist that shrouds the tops of the mountains. Listen to the muffled wails and howls of those fleeing the carnage and struggling through the blustery winds. Watch the deepening shadows swirl and drift between the bushes on the desolate moors.

Before you go – if you are superstitious, and visions and noises can inflict horror into your soul – be sure your name’s not Campbell.


















  1. Zoe Williams 4 years ago

    You are going to have to take me to Scotland one day granny, and show me all these awesome places!

  2. Zoe Williams 4 years ago

    Maye we can avoid the noises that will inflict horror into my soul though…

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