Scotlands Highlands 2020: Part Twenty Four
16 August 2020
Well, I have two days free, what shall I do with them?
That question went round in my head for the night and into the morning, and eventually I settled on going back to Glencoe to re-do some of the areas that I had tried back in January. Everything back then went so badly, I literally haven’t written or thought much about the trip, although I guess I shouldn’t dismiss it entirely – I did get a couple of nice photos out of it, and it was, ultimately, a really good recce trip. It gave me a good idea on the layout of locations in the glen, as well as which sights I wanted to revisit, the conditions I hoped to try them in, and better than these, some spots that I had yet to find. One on the ‘yet to find’ list really struck me. ‘How on earth did I miss this one?!!’ was the question I asked myself when I found out about Steall Falls. Its only the second highest falls in the whole of Scotland (!) really picturesque, and a reasonable hike away that shouldn’t take a whole day… Today I decided that, as I now had the opportunity to find them for myself, this should be the location for my next exploration! Settled on this plan, I drove on over.
The route from Corpach was easy, and 45 minutes after leaving I found myself driving through beautiful hills where the cloud moved in the breeze, leaving dapples of sunlight dancing across the scene everywhere. Eventually I found a car parking spot and ran up a small mound to capture this:
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was driving through Glen Nevis, and wow, what a beautiful Glen! I continued to follow the road through here, absolutely loving the views with every turn of the road, and I found myself at a car park near a waterfall on the river that wound through here. I got out to have a quick look and saw that this wasn’t the Steall falls I was looking for, but the ‘lower falls’ on the Waters of Nevis, a much smaller one. I noted the price of the car park and the waterfall for future, got back in the camper, and continued following the road. It had started getting more forestry now, and as I passed a second car park (smaller this time) I thought that I might be getting near. The road carried on still further though, and then I started noticing cars parked up all along the roadside. Shortly after I found myself in another car park, that was crammed, and the road ended in the middle of it. This one was the Upper Glen Nevis car park. It looked to hold about 30 vehicles, and, as luck would have it, just as I debated how on earth I was going to turn round, someone behind me signalled that he was about to leave. Lucky me! I basically had the last spare spot, and rather pleasantly, this one was free parking as well! I sorted myself out and eagerly left for the hike that I understood would be through a gorge to the waterfall itself.
It was not the easiest hike – some points involved clambering over large boulders, a few were very slippery as some of the surfaces were largely scree or wet from trickles of water, many areas nearer water were heavily infested with midges, but I actually found myself managing all this pretty easily. At one point I over took a group of 5 Indian men who were huffing and puffing at a slower pace than mine. Clearly my fitness over these last few weeks had improved dramatically, and I wished I had thought of a better route for this whole road trip that’d maybe had the harder, more monro/mountain hikes, towards this point of it. I probably would have managed to have gotten one in after all had I have jigged the locations more considerately… Oh well, I might rethink other trips now I realised this. After a hike of about 45 minutes I started passing several people on their way back towards me. I also passed a deep bit of the gorge where I could hear water falling, but there was no way I could see the falls there… they sounded substantial though! Then the valley opened up properly, and as I turned round a bend I could see the falls in all their glory.
WHAT a place this was!! It was totally secluded here, and a large open grassy plain lay in front of me, with a gentle river flowing through it from where the water fell from the waterfall. As I walked along the side of the hill where the path still followed, I noticed that there was another river coming from further to the left and that the meadow opened further and continued on round that way. This to me would have been a perfect place to hide out from a threatening enemy. The mountains around the sides offered perfect cover, and as the sun beamed down, I could feel barely any breeze, which I assume would mean this place may have its own microclimate of more placid weather. Back then, without an obvious, well trodden tourist path, it would have been harder to find an obvious way in, but the open plain, fresh water, and lush carpet of grass may have been a perfect safe haven for a few hideaway huts or cottages. There was no evidence of any of this however, no ruins that I could see, and no big information board with a history telling of any of this, so I wonder if anyone ever lived here at all. For me today however, it looked incredibly peaceful, and although there was a steady stream of tourists milling around the area, I can’t say it was heaving.
I walked over to the Water of Nevis in front of me, and crossed over, realising that the ground was quite boggy in places, and then I had to cross again closer to the falls where the stream from those cut across the meadow. Further down, after the two waters joined, there is a rope bridge, but that was not possible for me to use with a dog, so I had walked on to find to find the shallowest bits of river. Today that wasn’t really too hard, the water maybe got as high as half way up my wellies… but I am not sure how easy this might be at wetter times of the year! (Having said that, there are no formal wooden or stone bridges here, so maybe its never been an issue…?) I took photos of the falls from every angle I could, from one side, from the other, and from the bottom where you can actually climb over big boulders to stand right by the base of the falling water. Here I sat for ages just taking in the sound of these stunning falls. As I sat here, I watched as a number of tourists made their way from one side of the falls to the other over these huge stones and through the pools of water that the falls made in between them all. Some were clearly having an absolute ball, but I was quite sad to watch one man pretty much bullying his partner through them. She was quite clearly feeling highly unsure of the jumps across and the steps down into unknown depths, but I could see from the gestures he was making, that he had no patience for her fear and was pretty much forcing her to go across with him. It really left a mark on me watching her trying so hard to please him, but him being totally ignorant to her needs. She was clearly terrified as she paced each rock, or sat on them, trying to stretch her legs across enough to just touch the next boulder, before working out enough courage to either jump or slide over. It brought back some bad memories and feelings I didn’t want to remember…
Once they disappeared out of view behind the trees and bushes in the middle, I decided to get myself a little closer and to try a selfie. I don’t generally do these, but I wanted something that would help show the height of these falls when you were at the bottom. My phone didn’t do the height any justice sadly, but cropped, it made a nice shot for the header of this blog…
I was here for several hours, partly because I just felt so at home here, and partly because many of my shots were hampered by visitations from my favourite (!!) pest. I would set up and either tolerate their tickles, or move around until they had cleared and then went back to the camera to quickly snap a few shots. Eventually though, I had captured much of what I could, and I had to leave this beautiful place. River and I walked back this side of the falls, and found ourselves by the rope bridge. Well, I obviously couldn’t use it to get across the river, so I decided that I would simply have to walk across. It was deeper here, and wider than the river closer to the falls, as it was two streams of water merged into one by this point, but some of the rocks on the riverbed helped form a sort of stepping stones across. Halfway I met another woman coming the other way, a lovely big black lady with a fantastic accent from somewhere I couldn’t pinpoint, and a glorious laugh. For a few moments we actually had to hold onto each other for balance in the middle of the stream! We laughed as we paused to regain ourselves and she explained that she couldn’t do the rope bridge because, unlike her boys, she felt it was way too scary. I think she was partially regretting that decision now though! I nodded towards River happily paddling across and we laughed at how easy she was making it look. Once balanced, we let go of each other, made sure each other were OK, and continued on our ways.
As the walk progressed through the gorge, I stopped at a beautiful viewpoint and wondered about taking a photo of River and I together. I wasn’t sure how I could set it up, and take it without her not sitting ready, as the moment I moved to the camera to take a timed shot, she would surely come over with me. As I mused over the sight, pondering ideas, I was stopped by a couple who asked if I could take their photo with that view behind. I happily obliged, as they were so nice about it. I often get asked, as (I assume) they think I might be very capable of taking a nice shot (having a full kit gives that impression!) I am not sure where they were from, but although neither were British (judging from their accents), I didn’t think they had the same birthplace either. He looked Scandinavian, and she oriental. (I am not a good judge of accents, but they spoke differently too) As a couple they were really beautiful together, but she, especially, was a beauty I was happy to photograph. It struck me by now, that nearly every interaction I had been having here, and indeed many throughout the whole road trip, were with people non native to UK soil. As this was still in the midst of Covid restrictions, I became most curious as to how each of them had ended up here, in this country, at this particular moment…
After I gave her phone back she asked something no-one has ever asked me before. ‘Do you want me to take your picture?’ I was most taken aback… no-one has EVER asked ME before, most people just say thank you and go on their merry way. I obviously answered in the affirmative, but explained that I didn’t want to just stand there looking at the camera, would she mind taking a photo of me and River looking out at the view?? She happily did as I asked, firing several pictures off on my phone, and commenting on how beautiful it looked like that. After taking my shots, she moved her partner into a similar position, and took his photo too. When I saw the photos on my phone, I fully agreed, and I absolutely loved them – she did such an awesome job framing them up!
After this I was left with a bit of time. Evening was definitely creeping on, but it wasn’t so late that I couldn’t look for somewhere else to visit. I thought back to January, and remembered that one loch, in particular, was nice and quiet, but hadn’t produced a photo I wanted because of the low cloud that had obliterated all the mountains. This was Torren Lochan, so I decided that I would drop past there to check it out, before I headed off to my planned stop for the night. I turned up and happy that the mountains behind the lochen were visible, trotted over to the waters edge on a little island in the middle. Sadly there were less chances of reflections than there were in January, but I just sat for a while taking in the calm, watching as the water tried its best to smooth out (it genuinely seemed to be trying to comply with my hopes!) There is something about this particular place that really grounds me, and I can’t put my finger on it. I could sit on the little island for hours given a chance!! Maybe its because its small, almost private, maybe because its not a particularly huge tourist draw, being so dwarfed by the many other sights of Glencoe – but no matter what the reason I felt so good here was due to, the spell was broken a few minutes later when a big group of people entered the water with paddle boards. Any chance of the water calming was totally gone, as was the peace. So, for now, I have to settle with my reminder photo from January to keep me encouraged to try here again a third time. I suspect very early morning would be my best chance for super still water… and looking online, this may well be my dream reflection spot too, as the Black Hills behind are very picturesque… normally (!!)