Highlands: Not a famous mountain, but Cow Hill

Lots of people come to Fort William to climb Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain. We’d thought about it, but it’s a ten-mile hike (round-trip) and all the guidebooks caution that conditions near the top can be foggy and snowy at any time of year. We decided to visit Glen Nevis instead on our second day here, and ended up on a hill anyway, taking a four-hour hike to the top of a lower peak called Cow Hill. It was a fun hike and since it started pouring rain when we were partway up, it felt like an adventure all the same. I’ve put most of the description in the mouseovers, so check for those!

(Fun fact: we left the car at the Braveheart Car Park, so named because the lot was built for the Braveheart film crews!)

Erik along the trail

{as always, click to enlarge}

Little daisylike yellow flowers

It was an extraordinarily beautiful landscape, full of tall thin evergreens, ferns, mosses, lichens, mushrooms, groundcover with star-shaped foliage, and little streams everywhere trickling over the rock, and the mountaintops were all misty. We remembered being in Taiwan and thinking everything there looked like a painting — same here, only a different style, with different fantasy lore! 

Greenery on the hillside


Evergreen branches over the trail

A logged area

Big mushroom

Curving trail

Pinkish foxgloves

There were little streams everywhere

Two older hikers

At one point we thought we’d arrived at a summit, but no, it was only a leveling off of the path where it forked. From there we climbed to a higher point, and then the trail forked again. One side took us on a roundabout way back to the town center (not what we wanted, because our car wasn’t there!), and the other took us up Cow Hill, so up we went.

Posted trail map

Trail going around the hillside

A few minutes after I took the above photo, I said to Erik, “I’m getting chillier. I think I’m going to put on my sweater. Wait — are you feeling drops?” Even as I spoke, I could feel more and more of them. “Never mind,” I continued, “I will put on my rain jacket instead!” I’d left my heavy-duty hooded rain jacket in the yurt, because we hadn’t intended to go on a serious hike that day, but luckily my lighter rain jacket (which I bought in Edinburgh) was packed in my duffel in the car, so I’d brought it along in my backpack. It came in very handy on Cow Hill (and so did the waterproof hiking shoes I also bought in Edinburgh). I put on the jacket and opened my umbrella, and we proceeded on our way.

With the rain falling heavily on my umbrella, we hiked up the hill, and after a few minutes we heard a sheep maaaa-ing loudly. I went over to the side of the trail and said “hello” to it, and to my great surprise it started toward me. “Um, that one has horns,” Erik observed. I backed away a little but it kept coming, maaa-ing all the way.

Sheep on the trail

I admit I was a little apprehensive when it bounded onto the trail (after all, it had horns!), but after gazing at us for a few moments, it ignored us and went past us up the trail, without ceasing its maa-ing. We gave it a little head start and then followed. After we went around a bend I gasped. There were sheep all over the trail, and our new friend mingled among them, maa-ing (in greeting?). I took a video: it starts with the single sheep going up the trail, and cuts to it joining the group; toward the end of the video I turn the camera around so you get a 360-degree view of what we were seeing. It was amazing.

View from near the top

When we finally got to the top I was initially dismayed to see some kind of power station, but we skirted it and found fabulous views of the water below.

View of the sea lochs (I think)

Erik stacking rocks

Skinny white mushroom in a cow pat

Stream near the top

Happy Lisa

TwobugsAs we made our way back down to the bottom of the trail, my adrenaline ran out and I started to notice just how tired I was. The views were still beautiful, but I was a little sunburnt and my knees hated the downhill climb. But there was nothing for it but to keep going.

Brown mushrooms


We did have one diversion on the way down. On our way up we’d seen a wooden bridge leading off to one side of the trail. The first of the planks had Outlandia carved into it. The path was not marked on the map, so we opted not to explore it on the way up, but we vowed to do so on the way back, and we did.


Curving planked pathErik along the planked pathThe path went on for quite a while, and every now and then we spied a brightly painted rock along the way. I felt sort of funny because of the place not being on the map, but as I said to Erik, “It can’t be a private house or something, right? It would just be unkind to not put a sign, if we aren’t supposed to be here.” But I had misgivings. It felt like such a private place.

Three of the painted rocks along the trail

Painted rocks on ferns

Path covered in brown evergreen needles

Finally, after a flight of steps downward, we came upon a little house.


I hung back, worried that we were trespassing, but Erik went up to the door and tried it. He pushed, pulled, and tried to slide the door handle, but nothing happened. There was no sign and no windows, and no indication anywhere of what the structure might be. Finally we left. My tired feet complained about the detour, and so did I, briefly, but then I took it back. “No,” I decided, “I’m glad we checked it out.”

Much later, as we sat weary and grateful in a restaurant on Fort William’s High Street, eating Sunday roast and steak and ale pie, I used their wi-fi to look up “Outlandia, Glen Nevis.” It is an art project of some sort, used (as far as I can tell) for creative collaboration as well as just being a cool place to hide away. It’s not a place you can get to easily, and the building can’t be more than about eight feet by eight feet, but just the idea of such a forest retreat captures the imagination. I really am glad we took the time to investigate it.

That night, we returned to the yurt exhausted and happy, and we slept very well.