These three views made near Ballachulish appear to be the first that Turner made during his diversion to Glencoe, from his steamboat journey from Oban to Inverness via Fort William and Fort Augustus. Although it was apparently not a scheduled stop, Turner broke his journey up Loch Linnhe by stopping at North Ballachulish.1 Here he made his first sketches of Loch Leven and the Pap of Glenco, before crossing by ferry to South Ballachulish and travelling east along Loch Leven to the village of Ballachulish, and from there on to Glencoe. It can be stated with certainty that Turner went at least a mile past Loch Achtriochtan in Glencoe (see folio 31; D26801), and David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan have suggested that the sketch on folio 32 verso (D26803) may indicate that he reached the end of the glen where Glencoe and Glen Etive come together, at the western end of Rannoch Moor near the Kings House Hotel.2 This identification, however, is uncertain and there are no sketches between Loch Achtriochtan and this point to confirm it. From Glencoe he returned to Ballachulish to continue up Loch Linnhe.
This diversion from the scheduled journey north may have been self-motivated, as Turner had not at this stage been commissioned by Sir Walter Scott, or anybody else, to make a picture of Glencoe. Passing within five miles or so of Glencoe as he travelled up Loch Linnhe, however, it is not surprising that Turner took the opportunity to see the site of the famous 1692 ‘Massacre of Glencoe’, written about by Scott in his short story The Highland Widow (1827) and in Tales of a Grandfather (1829, vol.IV, chapter 58). Even if Turner had not anticipated that he might one day be asked to illustrate the subject for Scott, he would have foreseen that sketches of the famous site might prove useful for a Romantic painting. The visit did prove useful as Turner was later commissioned to paint a watercolour of Glencoe to be engraved for Scott’s Prose Works: Glencoe circa 1833 (Rhode Island School of Design);3 although the design was not closely based on any one of his sketches.