After breakfast at the Kingshouse Hotel, we were ready to start an exciting new day. The hotel was the perfect base to explore Glencoe, and today we were going to hike to the Lost Valley of Glencoe, also known as the Hidden Valley.
The valley is not so much lost or hidden in our time with hiking stories shared across the world wide web and social media. The Walkhighlands website is a fabulous resource for finding out about walking and hiking all around Scotland. This is where I first found the Lost Valley (Coire Gabhail) Glen Coe (Walk Highlands). I saw lots of videos and photos online too.
The mysterious name intrigued me. A place that has the name “lost” or “hidden” seems to lure us in to find out more and wanting to go there. The Lost Valley is also one of the Kingshouse Hotel’s top ten things to do in Glencoe.
It was a short drive from the hotel to the Three Sisters Car Park where we would start the hike.
My Lost Valley adventure
Glencoe is an ancient landscape formed by a super volcano hundreds of millions of years ago, then huge glaciers in the last Ice Age sculpted the landscape we see today. How cool is that!
The peaks of Beinn Fhada, Gearr Aonach and Aonach Dubh (east to west), are the mountains that are known as the Three Sisters of Glencoe, but also known as Bidean Nam Bian (Walk Highlands).
These mountains are like a famous postcard of Scotland, a well-known image across the world showing one of Scotland’s most breathtaking scenic locations. Many thousands, or even millions of visitors stop off at the Three Sisters Car Park each year to capture a moment in time with Scotland’s beautifully sculpted mountains.
Today though, I wasn’t going to be a stop off and look in awe person, I was going to be much closer to the mountains.
The Lost Valley is a place I’ve wanted to see for many years. I was feeling like an excited child, ready to put one foot in front of another into the unknown. There was some doubt in my mind as to how I would manage, but at the same time I was determined to get there. We both were.
I planned not to carry too much as I knew it was going to be difficult enough just carrying myself. I took one walking pole to help take some pressure off my knees as it was going to be a steep hike with some scrambling.
The soft winter light from the low sunrise was kissing the mountain tops, not reaching the ground we were standing on. It was bitterly cold. I put my gloves on as my hands were freezing within five minutes of standing around while Alan organised his backpack.
Wearing gloves is such a juggling act when I’m trying to take photos or video and also carrying a walking pole. I usually drop something when I hold too many things at once.
From the car park we walked down onto the path below the Three Sisters, then followed the trail to the left. We were going to be hiking between two of the Three Sisters, Beinn Fhada and Gearr Aonach.
Watch a short video clip below, which starts looking up at the Three Sisters Car Park, then pans round to the left and the path we would be walking. At the end you’ll see a drawn line showing the hiking route up through the gorge, between the two mountains.
Who would have thought there’s a path up there … it is well hidden after all!
The path quickly took us downhill towards the gorge where the River Coe runs through the glen. It’s not until you reach the metal steps you realise there’s a gorge and river there. Each individual step down into the gorge was high and a steep decline.
At the bottom of the steps, we turned left towards a wooden footbridge to cross the River Coe.
The first rock climb was next, a short climb up to the path. It might look daunting to some, but using the wire rope and my walking pole, I managed this fine. If it had been slippery with rain or ice it would have been more difficult though.
The path was a gradual rocky incline through the silver birch trees. I stopped often to look at the winter landscape, and also to catch my breath. The cold freshness in the air made me feel alive and happy. I didn’t even feel cold now. It was time for the annoying gloves to come off.
I couldn’t help but notice the contrast of colours all around me. Summer greens, shades of autumn browns, and see-through winter trees that opened up the mountain views.
We stopped for a bit longer here and chatted briefly to another couple who were hiking and staying at the same hotel.
I looked back at the Three Sisters Car Park and the main road that runs through the glen. They looked so far way in such a short time. This in itself made me feel good as I had come this far and still felt reasonably okay to keep going.
The sunlight was catching more of the mountain tops, a beautiful light that wouldn’t reach our path today.
The next part of the hike was a narrower path with sheer drops into the gorge. We’d both need to be extra careful with our footing and keep as far away from the edge as much as possible.
I was glad it was a dry day with no icy patches on the ground. It would be even more dangerous if there were wind and rain, or ice and snow, especially as the warmth of the sun doesn’t reach the ground here in winter. I wouldn’t have tried this in harsh weather conditions.
The gorge was stunning though. Beautiful waterfalls with the crystal clear water finding its way down through the rocks to blend with the River Coe.
We reached a flat pebbly area beside the water and knew this is where we should cross over to the other side. It looked like a beautiful wee spot to explore the rocks, go for a paddle or sit for a while, listening to the sound of the water.
We kept moving though, aware that daylight time was running out.
Thankfully, the water was low making it easier to step across the stones in the photo below. If it was in full spate this would have been a different story.
I was a little wobbly going across but my walking pole helped me balance. Once I was on the other side, this is when I thought to myself that I’m really going to do this now, there was no turning back.
This next tricky section was a short climb up a narrow rocky edge. There is an alternative way, to the right looking back down. I found this much easier on our return journey.
From this height we could see a higher path to the left, on the other side of the gorge. This has made me curious to find out where this path goes… I wondered if it was an alternative to the lower gorge path.
I stopped and took a deep cold breath, looking back again at how far we’d come. Endorphins were running through my body from the strenuous climb, helping me feel this tangible natural beauty and what’s important in life. Look at all the shades of colour, shadows and light.
Scotland, you are beautiful!
I continued climbing the boulders step by step, with more regular stop, breathe and look moments.
A group of people were coming down towards me, so I stood to the side to let them pass. One person who passed me said I was almost there and it’s really worth it and beautiful. I was happy to hear this. Looking up at what was ahead of me, it was difficult to tell where the top was.
After a few more steps, snow-capped mountains appeared right in front of me. I was close!
A shivery exciting feeling came over me just at that moment. The scene before my eyes already looked so beautiful and it wasn’t even in full view yet. I turned around to Alan who was close behind me to let him know we made it.
As soon as we were past the last short set of boulders, the landscape opened up it. There it was. The Lost Valley of Glencoe. Wow!
I had no words … well just the usual wow, it’s beautiful, and I stood for a minute in awe. The pastel colours of winter enhanced the contours of the uniquely sculpted mountains sheltering the valley below.
The couple we’d met earlier were there too and they soon descended into the valley. After all that effort a walk down into the valley is a must.
I asked Alan to take a photo of me standing with my arms stretched out, as if to shout: “Yay, I made it!” I didn’t know how to stand to be honest, but I like this photo.
I made my way down to the valley floor which was bigger than it looked from above.
I felt like I was standing on what was once a loch or riverbed. I read later there would have been water here at some point, but with landslides and huge falling boulders over the centuries, a river way became blocked or buried. It’s difficult to know for sure though unless you’re a knowledgeable geologist.
When the snow melts from the mountains or there’s heavy rainfall, water will find a way through the valley making its way downstream.
This is the valley looking the opposite direction, and Alan in his red jacket. We came down to the valley floor from the right in this photo.
Apologies for photos overload… I couldn’t decide which other ones to share so I’ve created the gallery below. Tap or click to scroll through larger photos of this spectacular place.
With it being so cold in December, thankfully there were no midges pestering us. Summer months could be a different story… Imagine wild camping here in the summer and you had to hide in your tent and miss all the glorious light and changing sky. We’ve had to hide from the midges in our tent or a camping pod many times in the past.
In the photo below I was a tiny blue dot in a Jurassic-like world, praying Tyrannosaurus rex (T.rex) didn’t appear any moment now! The valley reminds me of a game I used to play years ago, the original Tomb Raider. Lara Croft is exploring a valley and there’s a jumpy moment when a T.rex comes stomping towards her.
Three young people passed me, walking through the valley to other side where there is a route that takes you up to the peaks and back down to the Three Sisters Car Park. If I were fitter and faster, I would love to do this as well, but not today.
I was beginning to feel cold again, and we needed to make sure we had enough time to get back before darkness fell. It was time to climb out of the valley and back down the way we came.
The hike in total is around 4km (2.5 miles). It should take no more than two hours round trip without stopping and depending on your own level of fitness. My Garmin recorded 5km (3 miles) and a 325m elevation. We stopped a lot and took most of the day to soak in the scenery and spend time in the valley.
We were looking on Google maps at Glencoe and found a 360 photo that shows you the valley from the mountains on the other side of the glen. You can just make out the flat area in between the two mountains and the route to get there. It looks so tiny, like a floating valley in between the mountains: Google Maps: Glencoe and the Lost Valley by Hannes Truter.
The infamous Glencoe massacre (National Trust for Scotland) tells the true story where men, women and children from the MacDonald Clan were slaughtered in their sleep by government troops under the command of Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, a fellow Scotsman.
The MacDonald’s Clan Chief did not pledge allegiance to the King of England in time, resulting in orders given to kill any MacDonald under the age 70, including women and children. In the early hours of 13 February 1692 across various areas in Glencoe, 38 souls were lost.
It doesn’t sound like a lot of souls but the way it happened was treacherous and heartbreaking. The MacDonald Clan welcomed the troops into their homes for 12 days, giving them food and shelter. It must have been so difficult to trust anyone in those days.
Any remaining MacDonalds fled for their lives into the freezing snowy mountains and to the Lost Valley for safety, some losing their lives to the harsh winter weather.
The MacDonalds of Glencoe were also known to steal cattle from other clans and hide them in the Lost Valley. My first thoughts are, how did they managed to herd cows through the route I’ve just walked. It’s not a suitable path in our time.
They must have travelled from a different direction over the mountains into the valley, or a secret way that we don’t know about. The people who lived here past and present will know the lay of the land better than any visitor.
Back at the Kingshouse Hotel
When we arrived back at the hotel I could feel my legs starting to ache, but I was proud of them carrying me today, and worth every effort to reach the Lost Valley of Glencoe. Both of us also returned safely with no injuries.
The next morning we would be checking out of the hotel and driving back home to Ayrshire. Not straight away though, I had a geocache to find with a trackable to place in it, and a visit to the Glencoe Visitor Centre to see the new recreation of a 17th century turf house.
Thanks for coming along with me on this most beautiful adventure!
Videos to watch
The Lost Valley of Glencoe
I created a short video of the Lost Valley hike for Instagram below, which is similar to all the photos in this post. If you’re on TikTok, there’s another version there as well. The music makes it feel even more magical.