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Issue 27 - Falls for your loving

Scotland Magazine Issue 27
June 2006

 

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Falls for your loving

Scotland has some stunning waterfalls. Emma Newlands picks five of her favourites

The Scottish landscape is notorious for being dramatic, and its many spectacular waterfalls are no exception.

Some you can swim at, others are more in the James Bond mould involving five hour long hikes and crossing hair-raising wire bridges to be reached – and another is said to be twice as high as Niagra.

Through the ages many of the falls have inspired poets, authors and, nowadays, Hollywood film makers who have taken advantage of their striking scenery.

A spectacular experience is Steall Falls, at Glen Nevis, a 15 minute drive from Fort William. Steall literally means torrent or waterfall in Gaelic, and it is here that the River Nevis tumbles down from the surrounding mountains heading towards the sea.

The site has become a Mecca recently for visitors, not only for its beauty, but also because it was used as a filming location for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for scenes for the Triwizard Tournament.

Less recently, filming for Braveheart took place here as well as extensively in the surrounding Glen Nevis area.

Leading up to the falls is a short but pleasant walk over rocky ground. The gorge, where you can admire the wild flowers, Highland cattle and spectacular views, eventually opens up to reveal a hanging valley with Steall Falls pouring into the scene from high above.

Muggles and wizards alike will find plenty to enjoy, although a flying broomstick may be a preferable alternative to crossing the precarious three-wire bridge to reach the incredible views. It can be a little hair-raising, particularly in wet weather when the falls are in full flow. From here you can also get a good view of An Gearanach, one of Scotland’s 284 munros.

Further south, one of the most renowned falls in Northern Europe can be found at the dramatic and scenic Falls of Clyde at World Heritage site New Lanark. These falls have influenced many an artist and poet, and you can follow in the footsteps of Rabbie Burns and William Wordsworth. The latter even described the 27m Corra Linn, the largest of the four waterfalls, as ‘the Clyde’s most majestic daughter’ after a visit in 1802.

Home to the falls is the 59 acre Falls of Clyde nature reserve that is managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. It has a newly refurbished visitor centre which has closed circuit television links to Corra Linn, and a birds-eye view of the peregrine nest.

There are also kingfishers, otters and badgers, and you can hear hooting owls or see bats flying as dusk falls. Badger Watch events also take place here, as well as plenty of events for kids, from a creepy Halloween walk looking at the world of nocturnal creatures to a Minibeast Safari insect expedition for children.

A walk along the reserve’s old Victorian paths reveals the Falls of Clyde’s hidden treasures such as the 15th century Corra Castle, Wallace’s Cave, Forgotten Viewpoints and the Mausoleum and Chinese Bridge of Corehouse Estate. There is also a Hall Of Mirrors.

Further north are the Falls of Bruar near Blair Atholl. Only a short walk from the constantly-busy House of Bruar shop and restaurant complex signposted from the A9, they offer a surprisingly quiet view of both the upper and lower falls, and make for a landmark in a popular walking route along the water past Scots pine and birch.

Although the climb isn’t steep, the path winds past some sheer drops and on hot days people have been known to go swimming in the large deep pool by the bridge.

Heading from the car park, the path eventually meets a set of wooden steps, which allow great views of the lower falls, and a little further on you are greeted with the sight of the lower falls, middle falls, pool and cave. You can then head anti clockwise around the circular path to a prominent viewpoint overlooking the upper falls and upper bridge – just be careful not to lose your footing.

No prizes for guessing how the Grey Mare’s Tail, in the Moffat Valley in Dumfries and Galloway, got its name. With a 90m drop over a series of falls, it is one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in Scotland, and is also the fifth highest waterfall in the United Kingdom, cascading into the Moffat Water Valley up steep slopes to Loch Skeen and the peak of White Coomb beyond.

The waterfall is a result of the valley being scoured out by glaciers during the last ice age, leaving the outlet burn from Loch Skeen falling down a sheer and dangerous cliff face.

Its dramatic moorland setting is managed by the National Trust for Scotland, and you can see wild flowers, mountain goats, peregrines and occasionally, mountain hares here. There is also said to be evidence of Iron Age settlers and 17th century Covenanters who took refuge here from King Charles II and Episcopalianism.

The falls also inspired Sir Walter Scott, who, despite having a bad introduction to the area when he was thrown from a horse into a peat bog on a visit at Loch Skeen, went on to write the poem Marmion which was inspired by the landscape and again alludes to the waterfall’s equine resemblance.

It includes the lines: “Where deep deep down, and far within toils with the rocks the roaring linn; then issuing forth one foamy wave, and wheeling round the giant’s grave, white as the snowy charger’s tail.” The surrounding area is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and was mostly bought in 1962 by the Trust’s Mountainous Country Fund, formed by Percy Unna.

A test of sheer dedication, however, is the pilgrimage to the 113m Falls of Glomach near Shiel Bridge, Kyle of Lochalsh, which can only be reached on foot. Set in a steep narrow cleft in remote country, this is one of Britain’s highest falls at 113m, is the second highest in Scotland, and is said to be twice as high as Niagara. The falls are located on the Kintail and Morvich estate, which was bought by the National Trust for Scotland in 1944, and the organisation now runs a ranger service there.

Glomach means gloomy, and at some points that would be a fair description of the journey, depending on the weather. Reaching the destination takes between five and eight hours through remote and wild countryside, although most people opt for the former; experts advise inexperienced walkers or those not familiar with the area to opt for a guided ranger walk, which is available in the summer months.

Starting from the Dorusduain car park off the old A87, once you’ve walked through the woods, crossed the bridge over a burn and completed the stony track which rises steeply to the Bealach na Sroine, you can hear and even feel the vibrations of the falls before you see them at the steep descent to the Allt a’ Ghlomaich.

At some of the easier parts of the route, you many spot red deer on the hillsides, and many even hear the sound of stags rutting in the autumn.