Visiting Glencoe & Dalness in Scotland
Scott McCombie, property manager and senior ranger at National Trust for Scotland Glencoe & Dalness, talks to History Scotland about the appeal of this region and what life would have been like in Glencoe in years gone by.
Glencoe is one of Scotland’s most picturesque and stunning glens and has appeared in many films and TV shows, including Braveheart, Rob Roy, Skyfall and most recently, in the opening credits of Outlander.
Scott spoke to History Scotland about his work with National Trust for Scotland (NTS) and the history of Glencoe & Dalness, particularly the Glencoe Massacre of 13 February 1692.
Has this area changed much since National Trust for Scotland began to care for it in 1935?
Glencoe & Dalness was the National Trust for Scotland’s first countryside property and we’ve seen photos from the 1920s where there’s not a tree to be seen. Over the years, Forestry Commission Scotland has planted conifers and now NTS is trying to increase heather and woodland cover.
Before the Trust took it on, there were just three sheep farms and up to 6,000 sheep. The sheep had been eating any tree saplings before they had chance to take root and so the valley would have looked quite different to how it does today.
What would life have been like for the people who lived here in years gone by?
There was no road through the glen till the 1780s and so until then, the only way in was on foot. It was only in the Victorian age that tourists began to come here, when there was an emphasis on walking and shooting in Scotland.
Around the time of the Glencoe Massacre in 1692, life would have been very hard. There were around 350 people living in the area and families had a house and land to grow vegetables. They paid a rent to the tacksman and then he paid the clan chief. By the 1830s these households had been cleared out of the glen and there were just three sheep farms.
Is there a big interest in the history of the Glencoe Massacre from visitors?
Absolutely. The main questions we get are about the battle, although it wasn’t actually a battle because the victims were unarmed when the British army came in. Another question is about it being a Clan incident. Although the troops had been conscripted from Campbell country, to the south of Argyll, the Campbells had allied themselves to King William’s side, it was carried out by troops of the British army. Undoubtedly, the clan rivalry was part of it, but religion, politics and inter monarchy in-fighting played the bigger parts.
Our visitor centre tells the story of the massacre and its history, and within the glen there are some ruins that date back to that time. Our archaeologist has been examining mounds that look too regular to be piles of dirt; they are almost rectangular and he thinks they’re footings for turf buildings which would predate the drystone buildings that are here. We have got around 120 archaeological sites within the area and most are dwellings and associated buildings, as well as kilns and dykes built to keep animals away from the vegetables.
Whereas nowadays most of the population in this area is concentrated in Glencoe village, around the time of the massacre people would have been living in townships all along the glen.
What can people look forward to when visiting Glencoe?
We do tours and Landrover safaris and when I drive people through the glen or take them on a guided walk, they are stunned by the grandeur of the landscape and how awe inspiring it is to be enclosed and surrounded by the mountains.
One ‘hidden’ spot to try is the track road down our eastern boundary. It’s actually a dead end and we own about the first ten miles or so, then the road goes on down to the head of Loch Etive and we find camper vans and people wild camping there – it’s a lesser known spot that’s really enjoyed by those in the know.
Also, something to note for this year is that we’ve extended our winter opening days at the visitor centre, shop and cafe. From 1 November we’ll be open seven days a week from 10am to 4pm, whereas previously we’ve restricted the opening days from Thursday to Sunday.
(Glencoe image copyright Gil Cavalcanti)