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Issue 84 - The Village of Serpent and Slate

Scotland Magazine Issue 84
December 2015


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The Village of Serpent and Slate

Keith Fergus takes a trip to Ballachulish

The village of Ballachulish, at the western end of Glencoe, may be small but its legacy within the Scottish landscape is huge.

Ballachulish was a major centre of slate quarrying during the 19th Century when millions of slates were quarried every year. Ballachulish Quarry dates from the late 1600s and such was the superb quality of the slate it was used in a vast number of buildings across Scotland, including those designed by Charles Rennie McIntosh who loved the colour of Ballachulish slate.

Almost the whole community was involved in the industry and many families living in the village today are direct descendents of those who worked here. The quarry closed in 1955.

Ballachulish sits comfortably on the banks of the fjord-like Loch Leven and its name translates as ‘Village of the Narrows.’ Towering above are the angular slopes of Beinn a Bheithir, which encompasses the mountains of Sgor Dhonuill and Sgor Dhearg, both rising skywards to well over 3,000 feet in height.

Sgor Dhonuill and Sgor Dhearg form a magnificent horseshoe above Loch Leven and provide a glorious day for those who like hillwalking.

It is thought that Beinn a Bheithir (pronounced Ben a Vay Heer) translates somewhat ominously from Gaelic as ‘Mountain of the Large Serpent’ and relates to a time when nature played a crucial role in Gaelic culture with many mountains and hills named after birds, reptiles and mammals.