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History of Glencoe & Loch Leven

The history of Glencoe and Loch Leven spans over 5000 years, but the area is most famous for a tragic night in February 1692.

The Massacre of Glencoe
The infamy of the massacre of Glencoe is not so much in the numbers killed, but in the way it was carried out. In 1691, King William the Third, recognising the resurgence of the Jacobite cause, ordered all the clan chiefs to sign an oath of allegiance by 1st January 1692. MacIain of Glencoe delayed signing the oath and when he arrived in Fort William on 31st December 1691, he found he had to go to Inveraray. Difficult travelling and the absence of a sheriff meant that MacIain did not sign the oath until 6th January 1692. MacIain returned to Glencoe believing his signature was accepted. It was however decided to punish MacIain. Campbell of Glenlyon led a group of some 128 soldiers who stayed with the MacDonalds for some 12 days and then turned on their hosts in the early morning of 13th February, killing 38 of them whilst some tried to escape into the snowy hills. The infamy of the massacre is “murder under trust” murder of those who had offered them hospitality.

A monument to the fallen MacDonalds is situated in Glencoe Village in Upper Carnoch. MacIain was buried on the island of Eilean Munde in Loch Leven opposite Ballachulish.

James of the Glen
James Stewart of Appin was wrongly hung for the murder of Colin Campbell, nicknamed the "Red Fox".  The Red Fox was shot and killed near Hunter's Lodge at Lettermore by Kentallen (A forest walk takes you to the Cairn).  James had an alibi, but was arrested, tried and hung for the murder in 1752.  There was no love lost between the pro government Campbells and the pro Jacobite Stewarts and James was clearly "framed".  Locally, it was known who had actually committed the murder and the secret is said to be passed down through one local family.  A small stone monument at the south side of Ballachulish marks where James was hung and his birthplace in Glenduror is also accessible by forest track.  His body was eventually removed from the gallows under cover of darkness and was buried at the Keil Churchyard at Duror.  The story is adapted in the story of "Kidnapped" by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Until industry came to Kinlochleven, it was a small hamlet with half a dozen houses and a hunting lodge.  In the early 1900's, it was identified as a suitable industrial site for an aluminium smelter powered by hydro electricity. 

The North British Aluminium Company had already built a smelter at Foyers on Loch Ness and started their next development in 1905.  Massive construction work took place in the village and up at Blackwater Dam, high up in the hills, which provided the source of hydro electricity for the smelter.  The building of the Dam itself was a huge undertaking and was one of the last "navvy" built dams. 

In the valley below it was necessary to build the smelter and a complete new village.  The smelter consisted of a furnace room, the carbon factory, a lab, office and the baths and was opened in 1909.  To accommodate the workforce required to operate the smelter the British Aluminium Company built houses and amenties to support the community.

The smelter at Kinlochleven produced Aluminium of an incredibly pure nature right the way through to the smelter closure in May 2000.

You can read more about the history of the area in our “Guide to Loch Leven and Glencoe” which is available for purchase online.