Glenlyon is one of Scotland’s most famous and
beautiful glens, yet it is also one of the least visited. Being a
cul-de-sac has certainly saved Glenlyon from becoming a major through
route, and over-populated with tourists. It is not until you look at it
on a map that you realise just how significant a presence Glenlyon has
in the Central Highlands.
Glenlyon is the longest glen in Scotland, and is possibly the
narrowest. The beauty of this wild and unspoiled place, with its
Caledonian Pine forests, lochs and waterfalls, is unmatched and in many
ways unique. The glen opens from the Appin of Dull, at Fortingall, and
extends 25 miles westwards to Cashlie, roughly parallel with Loch Tay.
In the grounds of Fortingall Church you will see the remains of what is
perhaps Europe’s oldest tree. This tree is approximately 3000 years old,
making it possibly the oldest living thing in Europe. It is not much to
look at today, but in the 18th century it was measured to be 54 feet in
circumference and 18 feet thick.
Close to Fortingall is a Roman bridge and although the bridge is not
amongst Britain’s most spectacular Roman remains, it is complete, and it
is an interesting reminder of how far north the Romans ventured. There
is also the remnants of an early camp, thought to be of Roman origin.
Local fables, and the writings of the medieval historian Holnished,
suggest that one of the Roman children born in the Fortingall camp was
The standing stone in the middle of a field, across the road from
Fortingall hotel commemorates a medieval plague (probably the Black
Death of the 14th century) during which all inhabitants of the village
died, except one old woman; she loaded the bodies onto her donkey-cart
and buried them in the field.
West from the village of Fortingall, only a mile up the glen, where the
Lyon river tumbles through a deep gorge and over a small waterfall, the
rocks on either side of the gorge are less than 20 feet apart. The gorge
is known as “MacGregor’s Leap”, from the time in 1565, when the Chief of
the outlawed MacGregor clan made an incredible escaped by leaping across
the river chasm when fleeing from Campbell Bloodhounds.
Two miles further up, there are a series of spectacular waterfalls, as
the Allt Da-gohb rushes down to the floor of the glen.
At the next hamlet, Innerwick, there is the 18th century Glenlyon
Parish Church. But the hub of the glen is a little farther on, at Bridge
of Balgie. Here the road forks, one branch turning south-westwards to
climb steeply over the shoulder of Ben Lawers to Loch Tay. The other
road continues up the glen, climbing to avoid the lands of Meggernie
Castle, a fine late 16th century structure, whitewashed and set amidst
ancient trees built by Cailean Gorach, or Mad Colin Campbell in 1580.
Three miles further on, the Glenlyon road passes Loch Cashlie where, at
the side of the road are a group of cairns and what appears to be an
At its west end is lonely Loch Lyon, hiding behind the mountains that
lie to the east of Bridge of Orchy. Just past Loch Lyon, the glen merges
into a high pass that leads to the head of Glen Orchy. Throughout that
long distance it winds in wild beauty amongst ever more solitary peaks,
and varies as much in character, as in width and height. Indeed, its
constant variety, between gentle beauty and fierce grandeur, is part of
the great attraction of Glenlyon. Beyond rear the mountains of, Ben
Achallader and Heasgarnich, and ranging to the south the fierce contours
of the Tarmachan mountains
As the head of the glen is neared, or at least the road-end, the scenery
becomes more bleak and treeless. The upper glen is mountain-bound and as
lonely as anywhere you are likely to find in this part of Scotland. The
only through route is on foot.
A few miles to the south of Glenlyon stands Ben Lawers, one of
Scotland’s tallest mountains at 3,984 ft, and to the north an arc of
high, broad ridges forming what is known as the Carn Mairg Group or Glen
Lyon Horseshoe. North of this range the ground falls away gently over
open moor and forests towards Loch Rannoch.
Glenlyon is infamous for having been the home of John Cambell of Glen
Lyon, who was responsible for leading the Campbells of Glenlyon at Glen
Coe massacre. The Macdonalds who had raided Glenlyon the previous
winter, leaving the Glenlyon Campbells reliant on the mercies of their
neighbour Campbell of Breadalbane.
Glenlyon seems to have been inhabited principally by Campbells,
MacCallums and MacGregors, although the MacCallums of Glenlyon do not
seem to have been a prominent clan.
Glenlyon later became a favoured hunting ground of the Scottish Kings.
The fertile floor of Glenlyon was once a thriving agricultural area but
is now a shadow of its former days. At the beginning of the 19th
century, almost 4,000 people lived and worked here but, 200 years later,
the few houses that remain are mostly holiday homes lived in, sparingly,
during the summer months and lying empty throughout the winter. There
are now only nine farms in the entire length of the glen. The population
of Glenlyon has since reduced considerably, and been replaced by the
modern hydro-electric dam that spans Glenlyon at its head.