Guide to Glencoe, Scotland

  • Remote and rugged but accessible flying
  • Stunning scenery in the Western Highlands of Scotland
  • Watch the weather and go when it’s good
  • April and May can offer brilliant days 
Buachaille Etive Mor on the left, with snowclad Ben Nevis on the horizon. Photo: Jerome Maupoint

Buachaille Etive Mor on the left, with snowclad Ben Nevis on the horizon. Photo: Jerome Maupoint

WHY GO?
Remote but accessible flying over rugged terrain in some of Europe’s finest scenery.

WHERE IS IT?

WHAT’S IT LIKE?
On a good spring day the Highlands of Scotland offer just the right mix of roads and wilderness for some truly adventurous flying. The mountains are relatively low at around 1,200m, but many of the valleys are close to sea level and there is a great variety of terrain. Flying here often means exploring new lines and little flown routes.

Glencoe Ski Station provides an easy way for pilots to access this terrain, with a chairlift to launch that runs most of the year. Given a good forecast – post cold front, north or north east wind – weather-watching pilots from across the UK will make the pilgrimage.

The rewards are many, from simply spending the day flying with a view of the mighty Buachaille Etive Mor, meaning the Great Herdsman of Etive in Gaelic, or heading south on an open XC that can stretch for 100km or more. Land by a road and hitching back should be easy, or take the easy option and land by your tent, which, if you’ve done it right, will be pitched near the Kings House Hotel and its welcoming bar.

FLYING CONDITIONS
Only a few kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean conditions are very variable, but each spring there are classic days when the combination of cold ground, sparkling spring air from the Arctic north and a bit of sun produce excellent thermal conditions. Alpine pilots will find the mix of meteo, valley and slope winds subtly different from what they are used to.

The weather in Glencoe is strongly influenced by the sweep of Atlantic weather systems – just like the rest of Scotland. In addition, it has interesting seabreeze effects cutting up the steep-sided valleys. Convergence patterns are very variable in time and location.

Pilots who fly here keep a close eye out for the four- and five-star days on RASP, the gliding forecast that covers the whole of the UK. Locals say that accuracy is good in high-pressure conditions from up to 48 hours before flying.

WHEN TO GO
April and May. July and August are usually wetter, with lower cloudbase and poorer thermals.

ALTITUDE
Launch: 750m
Landing: 320m
Average cloudbase: up to 2,000m

HANG GLIDER ACCESS
Yes. Hang gliders can use the ski lift. You can land anywhere as there are no trees.

MUST BE FLOWN
North towards Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK; SW down the winding valley of Glen Etive which leads, after a section with no roads, to the flatlands around the town of Oban; SE towards the Orchy Hills and on to Stirling. In recent years, FAI triangles of 60-100km have been achieved.

DANGERS AND ANNOYANCES
One of the great things about flying in the Highlands is that it really is free flying – there is little to distract from a pure experience. Mid-week flyers should understand the low-flying military jet training in the HRA airspace 50km to the NW.

Landing out in the hills means you will be in tough hill walking and potentially scrambling territory; you should be equipped for this.

ACCOMMODATION
Open access land laws mean wild camping is common: many pilots camp on the banks of the River Etive or near The Kings House Hotel. Bring a warm sleeping bag – it will be cold the night before the classic days. There are also bunkhouses, campsites, bed-and-breakfasts and hotels in the area.

GUIDES AND COURSES
There are no guides or schools close by but you will find a warm welcome from local pilots. Try the Google Group at the Lanarkshire and Lothian Soaring Club and the Aberdeen Hang Gliding and Paragliding group.

TAKE THE FAMILY AND RAINY DAYS
From hill walking to kayaking and world class mountain biking there is a lot to do outdoors. Bring clothes for every season and midge repellent from June onwards. Glencoe Folk Museum is worth a look and boat trips on Loch Linnhe to see porpoises, sea eagles, otters and seals are worthwhile.

WEATHER INFO
UK RASP (Regional Atmospheric Soaring Prediction). Look for four-star and five-star days.

GETTING THERE
Two hours from Glasgow and three from Edinburgh a car is the best option. You can get a bus to Glencoe on Citylink buses from the airports at Edinburgh and Glasgow but if the wind is not N or NE then you will need to walk or hitch to other sites to take off.

USEFUL CONTACTS
Lanarkshire and Lothian Soaring Club
LLSC Glencoe site guide
Aberdeen Hang Gliding Club
Glencoe ski area, including webcam
Kings House Hotel (closest camping and pub)
Clachaig Pub
Camping

 


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