Monday, March 11, 2019

Scotland: Steall Falls at Glen Nevis

Steall Falls, Glen Nevis, Scotland – 6/5/18 - 3 miles

When Jim and I were planning our trip, we envisioned that this day would see us hiking to the summit of Ben Nevis, the highest point of Scotland, actually the highest point of the United Kingdom. As the trip got real close, I began reading detailed descriptions of the endeavor and felt those trail jitters, waking me at night and filling me with doubt.  The main route is long and steep and takes all day, and even if you begin in clear skies, it’s likely to end in fog and rain and having to turn around just short of the summit.  Hmmm…did I mention that we also planned to drive to the Isle of Skye after this hike?

So last night at the Fort William hostel we had conversations with hikers who had climbed Ben Nevis just that day, some of them less than half our age, and their tales confirmed that I for sure did not want to attempt the hike.  Maybe if we were staying in town another night…but definitely not with an hours-long drive the same day. With that settled, I had the best night’s sleep of the entire trip – in a full eight-person bunkroom!

So we had time to do something else this morning: Steall Falls. We can do a drive-by of the Big Guy on the way. First we walked a few streets in search of breakfast [note: next time, allow a day to knock around Fort William, looks like an interesting place] and headed off to Glen Nevis (glen is valley and ben is mountain, remember?) Getting out of town was confusing - one-way streets, is it the second or third roundabout, is that the train station again, we could never survive living in this country – but we found our way. 

The road through the Glen parallels the River Nevis. On the left, the green slopes of the base of Ben Nevis are so close that the summit was hidden – or is that the summit? Instead, those cute Scottish sheep captured our attention.

The Glen tapers down and the mountains close in, and at road’s end the parking area was filling up – we were in the right place. Though Steall Falls is a major attraction, there’s much to explore here. The powerful waters spilling from the gorge towards the valley have worn away the rough edges of massive boulders that have tumbled down with time. There are also more trails and loops for those with more time than we had. [Note: the Ring of Steall, a16km route that appears to require nerves of steel.]

The cobblestone-type path lured us into Nevis Gorge, quickly becoming more rugged with steep sides and overhanging boulders. There’s a pinched-in feeling similar to walking up the washes in Death Valley, only with trees.  In several places we tiptoed over small streams that flow down to join the River Nevis.

In less than a mile we popped out of the trees where the unexpectedly grand Steall Meadow spreads out wide. Just around a bend to the left, we could see across the meadow to Steall Falls (An Steall), flowing like a loose skein of white yarn down the rock face of An Gearanach.

At 120 meters, Steall Falls is the second highest waterfall in Scotland, and Harry Potter fans may recognize its appearance in tournament scenes in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” But if you are an HP fan, you already know all the places in this area that were used in filming. 

To the right of the waterfall there’s a sketchy cable wire crossing over the River Nevis, but Jim and I scouted to the left and found a good rock hop so that we could investigate more closely.  

Which is more dramatic, taking in the waterfall’s massive scale from across the valley or sitting beside it, hearing the thunderous pounding and feeling the spray? I say both!

The trail continued past the waterfall, pulling us further up the broad valley to the Steall Ruin. I couldn’t find much information about this other than that it dates from the 1700’s.

Jim conquered the cable crossing – and then had to come back!

We met a steady flow of peeps on our return hike and were glad we’d started as early as we did, for now cars lined the roadside for a half-mile past the parking area. The flower report today:



Bluebell/wild hyacinth

Our drive to the Isle of Skye was filled with more adventures (we’ll stop to look at just about anything) and with daylight until after 11:00 p.m., there was a lot to see.  Our B&B for the next two nights was on a farm outside of Portree.  How about some sheep with your sunset?

“Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time deid.” ~Old Scots proverb