The main circular route shown on the map in dark blue is 97 miles long, all on good quality roads. The route assumes a starting point of Oban, but it can be tackled from Fort William at the cost of 13 miles each way from Fort William to Ballachulish and the saving of 5 miles each way from Oban to Connel. The description assumes the route is tackled clockwise, primarily because Glen Coe is best appreciated when going from west to east.
The excursion down Glen Etive to the head of Loch Etive adds a further 12 miles each way along single track roads, but offers a wonderful glimpse of a much quieter side of the highlands. And the excursion to Port Appin involves an extra 2½ miles each way.
From Oban you travel north along the A85 as far as Connel. En route it is worth looking out for the side turning to Dunstaffnage Castle, a remarkably well preserved castle clinging to the top of an outcrop of rock. In Connel look out for a turning on the right (the "wrong" side) which leads you round to then over the Connel Bridge, an interesting structure that started life as a rail bridge
Beyond the bridge you find yourself in the area known as Benderloch. The main road curves round to the east as it meets Loch Creran. Beyond the excellent Scottish Sea Life Centre Loch Creran the crosses the loch over a bridge built in recent years to cut off a loop that goes round the head of the loch. Beyond Loch Creran you are in Appin. A side road takes you the 2½ miles to Port Appin, home to a passenger ferry link to the Isle of Lismore. Possibly the best aspect of this road, however, is in the views it gives of Castle Stalker set against the mountains beyond Loch Linnhe.
As you pass Duror and approach Ballachulish you enter part of Scotland that hangs so heavily with its history you can almost touch it. Two events, 60 years apart remain impressed on the landscape. Hidden in the woods above the road just over a mile before you pass under the Ballachulish Bridge is a cairn marking the site of the Appin Murder on 14 May 1752: while another memorial overlooking the south end of the bridge marks the spot where an innocent man was hung for the murder. The Last Clansman Trail links together a number of the sites associated with the murder in the area.
Once past Ballachulish Bridge your attention is increasingly drawn to the hills ahead. Most prominent is the Pap of Glencoe. The main road leads you round through the village of Glencoe and the NTS Visitor Centre into the mouth of Glen Coe itself. Tall mountains crowd in on both sides, making this one of the most impressive of Scotland's glens. It is also a glen whose atmosphere can feel very sombre, perhaps a reflection of the earlier of the two events which still resonate hereabouts: the Glen Coe massacre on 13 February 1692.
The road climbs 1000ft as to traverses Glen Coe. At its upper end it simply broadens out, offering excellent views of the mountains on its southern side and, in particular, of the mountain that many regard as one of the best in Scotland: Buachaille Etive Mor, standing like a great pointed sentinel overlooking the upper mouth of the glen.
At the top of the glen you should look out for a turning on the right, from which a minor single track road leads the 12 miles down Glen Etive to the head of Loch Etive. This is, literally, a road to nowhere: but it must be one of the most glorious bits of nowhere you are likely to find anywhere. This excursion is highly recommended for anyone wanting to stray off the main roads on which you are otherwise spending the day.
Back on the A82, you traverse Rannoch Moor. This can appear magnificent and beautiful, or simply desolate and dismal, depending on your mood and the weather you find it in. The road then descends to Bridge of Orchy before continuing south to Tyndrum. Note that although the route shown on the map above carries on along the A82 (almost) to Tyndrum before turning right on the A85, you can cut a bit of a corner by turning right half a mile south of Bridge of Orchy and taking the single track B8074 for ten miles along Glen Orchy until it meets the A85 near Dalmally.
West of Dalmally is the strung out village of Lochawe. Kilchurn Castle, at the eastern end of Loch Awe is well worth a visit. And a unique experience is gained from stopping at St Conan's Kirk in the village. This was built as a collection of the best bits of church architecture and the end result is bizarre, fascinating, and beautiful.
Beyond Loch Awe you descend through the Pass of Brander to Taynuilt. Here you can take a cruise on Loch Etive: and in this unlikely setting you also find the Bonawe Iron Furnace, dating back to the 1700s. Beyond Taynuilt you return to Connel. While doing so it is worth looking out for the Falls of Lora, the spectacular effect that happens at certain points in the tidal cycle in the narrow mouth of Loch Etive under the bridge. From Connel you retrace your steps to Oban.
Visitor InformationDistances: The main circular route covers 97 miles. It can be reached from Fort William by the addition of 13 miles each way. The excursion along Glen Etive to Loch Etive adds 12 miles each way along single track roads. The excursion to Port Appin is 2½ miles each way. The excursion to Dunstaffnage Castle is a mile each way.
Fuel: There are petrol stations open at least some of the time in Oban, Ledaig, Appin, Onich (north of the Ballachulish Bridge), Glencoe and Lochawe.