This deep glen, filled by Loch Leven, shows clear signs of recent sculpting by glaciers. Loch Leven is actually a fiord – a valley carved out by glaciers and then flooded by the sea. The ancient rocks around the loch have a long and dramatic history that tells us of ancient seas, ice and the forces of mountain-building. This geotrail takes you on a circular tour of the loch to learn more…
The stopping points below start at Ballachulish, but the circular trail can be done in either direction.
1. Ballachulish Slate Quarry – Cuaraidh Sglèat Baile Chaolais
Turn off the main A82 into Ballachulish and stop in the car park at the tourist information centre. You’ll see Ballachulish Quarry clearly signposted across the road.
Take a close-up look at the rock face in the quarry and you’ll see the planes of weakness or ‘cleavage’ in the surface - it’s this feature of slate that allows it to be split for roofing. You may also see some cube-shaped crystal of iron pyrite, or ‘fool’s gold’. The white lines in the rock face are veins of quartz that has crystallized from fluids flowing through the cracks in the rock.
2. High Point Layby – An Camas Rathaid Àrd
Follow the A82 eastward towards Kinlochleven, and stop in the first layby on the left 2.3 miles past Glencoe village. There are great views of Loch Leven from this viewpoint. The Mamore mountains dominate the northern skyline, with Ben Nevis just out of sight beyond.
The rocks here are made of quartzite – you can tell this from their pale colour and sugary texture. These particular rocks are made from what’s known as Glencoe Quartzite, and they contain traces of ripple marks in the form of cross-bedding. This can be seen in the roadstone quarry across the road, where the cross-bedding appears as thin dark lines cutting across the rock at an angle to the main layers.
3. Viewpoint and Picnic Site – Àite-Seallaidh is Làrach Picnig
Drive towards Kinlochleven for another 2.6 miles then turn into the picnic site on the left. From here you’ll enjoy spectacular views to the north and west. A steep and sometimes boggy path leads west from the picnic site down to the shore. Along the path you can see outcrops of Dalradian rocks, known as ‘Leven Schist’. They have been strongly folded and you can pick out these folds by tracing the layers rich in mica crystals.
4. Seagull Island Layby – Camas Rathaid Eilein Na Faoileig
Continue through Kinlochleven and onto the road towards North Ballachulish, stopping in a large layby 2 miles west of the village. There’s an excellent and much photographed view down the loch from here.
The loch is a fiord, a glacially carved valley that flooded by the sea as glacial meltwater poured off the land and caused sea levels to rise after the last Ice Age. While some parts of the loch are shallow, it is over 50 metres deep in places. The narrow section halfway down the loch was deepened by blasting to allow small steamers and ferries to sail up to Kinlochleven before the road was built from Glencoe during the First World War.
5. Roche Moutonnée Layby – Camas Rathaid Roche Moutonnée
Drive west for another 2.6 miles and stop in a layby on the left where there are low rock cuttings on either side of the road. In these grey rocks, you’ll see the characterstic sheen of mica. These Dalradian rocks are known as ‘Binnein Schists’, and in this cutting the originally horizontal layers of sediment are tilted steeply upwards as a result of the pressure of ancient mountain-building processes. These schists have also been smoothed over by glaciers moving down Loch Leven to form a feature called a ‘roche moutonnée’ (commonly known as 'rock sheep', which is also the literal translation of the French term). These rocks have a distinctive smooth back where ice has scraped up and over the rock, and a steeper face where the rock has been plucked by the ice on the downstream side.
A short walk to the shore reveals a large area of ice-smoothed slabs that extend below the current sea level. Turn westwards and follow the shoreline. On the smoothed surface you can see intricate folds within the schist as well as scratch marks (striations) caused by moving ice.
6. Forest Road Entrance – Inntrigeadh Rathad na Coille
Continue to drive west for 3.5 miles, to where the road twists and climbs after a long straight section. Stop in the forest road entrance on the right at the top of the hill.
As this is a working foresty area, take care not to block access when you park and be aware of any ‘work in progress’ signs as the Forestry Commission cannot be responsible for your safety. Walk up the hill on the forest road for about 2 miles. In road cuttings along the way you’ll see fresh exposures of two types of Dalradian rock: grey, shiny schists (Leven Schists) and pale quartzites (Glencoe Quartzites).
As the road climbs, you’ll have excellent views to the east along the loch to Kinlochleven, south-east across to the volcanic rocks of Glencoe, south to Ballachulish and its slate quarries and south-west to the white quartzites of Sgorr Bhan and Sgorr Dhearg.