Address: Argyll, Scotland

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Glencoe History

By far the most famous event in Glencoe’s history came in 1692 when what is known as the Glencoe Massacre took place. 38 members of the Macdonald clan were killed by soldiers from the Argyll regiment for not pledging allegiance to King William and Queen Mary. The number of deaths rose as a further 40 women and children died of exposure in the Highlands after their houses were burnt down.

As a prelude to the story, William of Orange was offered the English throne in 1688 and subsequently both he and James VII of Scotland were considered for the Scottish crown. Due to James’s arrogant response to the situation, the crown was given to William and his wife Mary. This led to rebellions in 1689 and 1690 by supporters loyal to James, which became known as the Jacobite Uprisings.

On 27th August 1691, William offered the clans a pardon for their part in these battles in exchange for an oath of allegiance to the Crown, to be taken in front of a magistrate, but with a deadline of January 1st 1692. The Highland chiefs contacted James VII, who was then exiled in France, asking permission to sign the oath, and when James recognised that any return to Scotland would be after this deadline, he gave permission. His reply reached the clans in mid December.

Most chieftains complied immediately, but Alastair Maclain, the Chief of Glencoe, waited until December 31st to arrive in Fort William. He asked Colonel Hill, the governor, to accept the oath, but the offer was refused on the grounds that the governor was not authorised to receive it. But due to the deadline now expiring, Hill gave him a letter of protection and a letter for the Sheriff of Argyll, asking him to accept the oath as it had been offered by Maclain within the deadline. Hill also gave an assurance that no action would be taken against him without the chance to appeal in person before the King’s privy council.

It took Maclain three days to reach Inveraray, purposely delayed for 24 hours on the way by the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot, under Captain Drummond. On reaching his destination, Maclain had to wait a further three days for the arrival of the Sheriff, who had been away celebrating Hogmanay. The Sheriff reluctantly accepted the oath on his return.

All seemed fine, but the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a fierce opponent of the Highland clans. He felt they were a threat to the union with England and saw this as the chance to diminish the threat. In contrivance with the forces Commander, Sir Thomas Livingstone and maybe even King William, a plan was put into action to destroy the Macdonald clan.

On 1st February 1692, 120 red-coated government troops arrived with the orders of collecting the Cess Tax, a payment instituted by the Scottish Parliament a couple of years before. The soldiers stayed on the Macdonald estate for a couple of weeks and were freely welcomed as the Captain in charge of the troops, Robert Campbell, was related to the Macdonalds through the marriage of his niece. The Macdonalds were perfect hosts, accommodating the soldiers and providing hospitality.

On February 12th 1692, Captain Drummond arrived and he was the officer who delayed Maclain a few weeks before. He wasn’t welcomed as warmly as Captain Campbell, but was given hospitality nonetheless. Unknown to the Macdonalds, he delivered orders to Campbell which instructed a massacre of the 200 strong community.

The orders read:

“You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the M’Donalds, of Glencoe and putt all to the sword under seventy. You are to have special care that the old fox and his sons doe upon no account escape your hands. You are to secure all the avenues, that no man may escape…. This is by the King’s special command, for the good of the country, that these miscreants be cut off root and branch. See that this be put in execution without feud or favour, else you expect to be treated as not true to the King’s government, nor a man fitt to carry a commission in the King’s service. Expecting you will not faill in the fulfilling hereof as you love yourself, I subscribe these with my hand. Master of the Stair (John Dalrymple).”

The massacre then took place as the soldiers slew their hosts. Some soldiers refused to complete what was a murderous act, but all the same 38 highlanders lay dead, with another 40 succumbing to the harsh winter elements when escaping. The fact that so many survived seemed indicative that the soldiers were against this heinous crime, with at least two breaking their own swords to prevent participation in the slaughter. Two large units of redcoats were mobilised to cut off the exit roads, but were delayed due to the weather, but some say purposely as they wanted no part in the event. The Chief’s sons escaped.

There was uproar and an inquiry when news circulated, but the orders seemed to emanate from the King so limited action could take place. The inquiry that ensued recognised the murderous act and called for harsh punishments and compensation, but in the end a short term token jail sentence for one of the perpetrators was the only punishment.

It was an action that has gone down in Scottish folklore and is remembered to this day with remembrance services.

 

Glencoe Visit

Whilst remembered for the massacre of 300 years ago, these days Glencoe is best known for its stunning scenery and ideal mountain walks, being visited by thousands of people each year from all over the world.

Coming here you expect a huge outdoor adventure industry and large local community – but pleasantly, this couldn’t be further from the truth! There’s much activity around the visitor centre, but all else is understated. The visitor centre is located on the main A82 road, in the heart of the mountain area, and it offers you all you want. There are mountain details, advice, an exhibition, film show, cafe etc. This is the ideal place to begin your adventure and plan your trips, although it’s good to do some research before getting here.

The village of Glencoe is a few miles away and is fairly small. There’s a long main street with an exhibition and a few shops and a monument down one of the side streets, but there’s little else apart from the small local community.

Between the village and the visitor centre is the Craighill Inn. This is a hotel and restaurant and seems to be at the hub of mountain and social activity.

Mountain-wise, Glencoe seems to be a series of huge mound shaped hills, some connected, some not, and these offer a host of different climbing routes, each with varying length and degree of difficulty. There seem many that are just a good walk, but if the harder climbs are fancied, guides are available if needed.

A lot of walks and climbs can be accessed from three car parks located on the main A82 road that run through the mountain valley and these are found about a mile or two from the visitor centre. If you go past the car parks, you’ll see on your right a road leading up to the winter sports area.

Also on this road you’ll find the An Torr area, a forest location with gentle walking routes and one in which you can spot red deer at times. This isn’t too far from the visitor centre. The area has a car park and the forest contains ‘Signal Rock’, a vantage point that is believed to have been the place where a fire was lit to signal the start of the Glencoe Massacre.

I must say that for such a famous area, apart from the glorious scenery and opportunity for fantastic climbs and walks, there is little else – but maybe that’s the great thing about the place, you come for the natural environment and find it wonderfully free of commercialism. Many thousands of people can’t be wrong!