Sunday, 27 October 2013

Buachaille Etive Mor - The shepherd

As we pulled on our walking boots and grabbed the rucksacks, the morning sun was setting the hills aglow, Glen Coe’s shapely peaks and ridges sat below a cloudless, blue sky and the air was crisp and clear. It might have been a perfect day out on Buachaille Etive Mor, the Great Shepherd of Etive, except for the tragedy that was to play out below us.

Bart’s campervan was parked up for the weekend behind the Kingshouse Hotel on a short section of old, single-track road much favoured by hippy trucks and wild campers. After a week of mixed weather on our cycle tour, we were really excited to slide back the door to reveal a calm, perfect day of sunny, blue skies. We made a decision to head for Glen Coe to bag a peak.

We set out on foot from the Kingshouse on the West Highland Way path, walking west for an hour, too close at times to the noisy, fast traffic on the main road beside us. At Altnafeadh we crossed the road and started our climb up the Buachaille. A narrow path rose steeply into Coire na Tulaich and where the low October sun didn’t reach, there were small patches of ice and smatterings of snow.  A final steep pull brought us up onto the ridge and a pleasant, airy stroll took us to the pointed little top of the peak. 


The Buachaille is an incredibly dramatic mountain, rising suddenly above the moor in a classic, symmetrical outline of rock. Being slightly detached from the other Glen Coe hills, it also makes a superb viewpoint. To the north Ben Nevis dominates and to the west the jumble of tightly packed peaks of Glen Coe extends to the sea. To the east stretch the empty lands of Rannoch Moor, dotted with lochans.  But, despite the stunning views, our attention was drawn to the road far below at the foot of the mountain. Traffic had stopped and was backed up behind a vehicle that was billowing smoke. It was clear there had been an accident just moments before.

We put on our duvet jackets against the cold, found a spot in the sun and nibbled some lunch before heading back down. At the bottom we picked up the West Highland Way path again to return to the van but this time there was no noisy traffic passing, just a deathly silence. Further on, the path came alongside the scene of the accident. We could see the burned shell of a car and in the middle of the road lay the body of a motorcyclist. It was an incredibly sad scene, especially as there was a large section of road cordoned off so that nobody was near the body or tending to it or looking after it. It seemed so lonely on that empty road high up on the moor with only the Buachaille watching over it.

Back at the van, we sat with the door open to soak up what heat remained in the late afternoon sun. With the road still closed, there was an eerie silence to the place and the only sound was the whisper of the grasses as a chill breeze blew through. We talked about what we'd seen and how a seemingly simple decision to head to Glen Coe on such a beautiful day had ended in tragedy for somebody. 

Eventually the sun set on the day in a blaze of peach and crimson and all we could see was the dark silhouette of the mountain that had watched over the motorcyclist ... the Shepherd. 

Please drive safely.


  1. So thoughtful you wrote about this poor man's last day. A beautiful setting for such a sad event.

  2. It's a very fine line between life and death and it's better we don't now how often we walk the line.