Steall Falls

Glen Nevis / near Fort William, Inverness-shire, Scotland

Rating: 4     Difficulty: 3
Steall Falls

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INTRODUCTION

Steall Falls (Eas an Steill [Steall Waterfall] or An Steall Ban [the spout] in Scottish Gaelic; I've heard it pronounced like "shtowl" [almost rhyming with "towel"] and I've also heard it pronounced like "steel") was a very beautiful waterfall ostensibly tumbling 120m into a wide open scenic valley backed by tall mountains. It's said to be Scotland's second highest waterfall so if true, I guess it would be fitting considering that almost everything about this waterfall just screamed the word majestic to us. Not only was the wide open valley that the falls was in (technically in the Nevis Gorge) part of the larger scenic valley called Glen Nevis, but the impressive heights of the mountains surrounding the valley probably should have come as no surprise because it was the same range responsible for Britain's tallest mountain, Ben Nevis, which itself was in the vicinity of the trailhead. The hiking experience was truly back to Nature as the area was owned by the John Muir Trust whose aim was to restore the area to a state as if people hadn't interfered with Nature. The only thing that kept us from lingering longer and basking in this sublime place was the swarm (more like clouds) of midges that had to have been the worst that we experienced as far as our four-week UK trip in late Summer was concerned.

While we were preparing to visit this waterfall, Julie alerted me in her spontaneous browsings of the web that Steall Falls also happened to make a cameo appearance in one of the Harry Potter movies titled Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If true, that would mean millions of people would have at least seen this waterfall (albeit not in person), and they might even recognize it without having even been there. Since I wasn't much of a Harry Potter fan, I wouldn't be able to tell exactly where in the movie the falls made its appearance as I still haven't seen any of these movies, but if I ever catch a TV-syndicated re-run or some playback on cable, then I'll be sure to look out for it.

Julie on the trail surrounded by tall mountains We began our hike at a car park at the end of the road passing right near the head of Glen Nevis (see directions below). From there, we went on a well-established trail that before long started to climb as well as get rockier as it clung to ledges on the north side of the gorge. For the most part, the ledges were fairly wide enough to keep us from being too nervous, but the dropoffs were significant enough to induce butterflies if we were to step closer to the edge. Even though we had some concerns about Tahia falling in some of the trickier spots, she seemed to do quite well though we did have to help her across places that require a bit of a hot over a stream gully as well as the odd high and awkward rock step. Other hikers who noticed our three-year-old on the trail seemed quite impressed by her fearlessness.

This uphill climbing would persist for about the first 45-60 minutes (we probably were slow because we let Tahia do the hike with some help). That said, we also had opportunities to look back towards Glen Nevis as well as back towards the trailhead where we saw an impressive sliding cascade tumbling on the slopes of Ben Nevis. As we continued on the now-seemingly-unending climb, the valley then narrowed to a point where we were in a gorge as the rocky walls closed in on both sides and the Water of Nevis (the stream passing through the valley) could be heard even louder. The midges were also starting to get increasingly more annoying at this stage of the hike.

Julie and Tahia on the steep uphill trail as we passed through the narrow and rocky Nevis Gorge Eventually after getting through this narrow and rocky gorge section, the climb leveled out and we found ourselves in an open valley where we caught our first satisfying views of Steall Falls as the Allt Coire a'Mhail made its dramatic tumble beneath 800-1000m peaks before joining the main Water of Nevis watercourse that we had been hiking alongside the whole time. The views were already good from the start of this open meadowed valley, but we hastily continued further to get a closer look. Unfortunately, this meadow was also where the midge swarms were really at their worst as we would suddenly be surrounded by them as they looked for orifices to fly into while the females looked for a way to draw blood.

We probably lingered for 15 minutes at a point where the trail branched in a couple of directions within view of Steall Falls. At this branch, one path continued further east within the valley as the mountains would start pinching it off. The other path headed straight towards the Water of Nevis, where there was a three-wire bridge traversing it. Julie and Tahia didn't last very long because of the midge swarms so they headed back to the car first. However, I stayed behind so I could make the attempt to get right up to the base of Steall Falls. It turned out while there was a bit of a queue on the three-wire bridge, I was able to cross the Water of Nevis the old-fashioned way using the waterproofing of the Gore-tex and some nifty rock hopping without getting water inside my boots. However, on the return, I would later try the three-wire bridge myself.

A hiker crossing the three-wire bridge On the other side of the Water of Nevis, the path continued past some house before degenerating into a really muddy walk where the combination of grass and water saturation (from the frequent rains here, no doubt) made for a boggy experience. I had to be real selective about where to plant my foot (I generally looked for rocks to step onto) so as to not be ankle or shin-deep into the mud. Eventually after 10-15 minutes of hiking (noticing that Steall Falls was actually a sloping cascade from this angle), I'd then scramble towards the middle of the base of the falls on an "island" surrounded by the Allt Coire a'Mhail on both sides. This was where I could see the waterfall split and segment on its 120m tumble to the base. Even though getting past the three-wire bridge wasn't necessary to get a good experience of Steall Falls, I was glad that I got to have this unusual perspective. Plus, I was able to look back towards the wide open valley and see both ends of it surrounded by tall mountains including the direction of Ben Nevis when I would look to the left side of the valley.

After having my fill of the bottom of Steall Falls (where the midge swarms weren't actually that bad), I then followed the trail right back to the rocky ledge on one side of the three-wire bridge traverse of the Water of Nevis. The bridge was high enough so that a fall here would most certainly result in a bad injury (especially given how rocky the stream bed of the river was below), and I'm sure that would play on anyone's psyche when doing this crossing. Anyways, a sign here said two people at most could go on at a time, but I waited patiently to let the lady before me finish her traverse before I'd make by attempt as I didn't want to make the crossing any bouncier than it needed to be. There was definitely no way one two people going in opposite directions could pass each other on this bridge.

When it became my turn to do the crossing, I had my two arms holding onto the two upper wires on opposite sides of my body, then I planted my foot (one foot at a time) onto the bottom wire like the way a tight-rope artist would do it. I was genuinely surprised at how stable I was on this bridge crossing, and before I knew it, five minutes later I was on the other side without issue. So based on my experience, I'd have to say that the three-wire bridge crossing looked worse than it really was, and it kind of reinforced in my mind the physics behind how stable having three anchor points at a time is, even on a scary traverse like this one.

At this point, I hastily made the downhill return hike to rejoin Tahia and Julie who were waiting at the car. In about 30 minutes, I returned to the car park (underscoring how much faster you can go when you're generally going downhill). Overall, I had spent about 2.5 hours away from the car including all the resting, picture taking, and hiking, and the trail itself was about 2.5 miles round trip.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

Roughly 30-45 minutes drive south of Fort William was Glencoe Valley also the site of a massacre in an ultimate double-cross of the MacDonald Clan under orders from the new monarchs William and MaryRoughly 30-45 minutes drive south of Fort William was Glencoe Valley also the site of a massacre in an ultimate double-cross of the MacDonald Clan under orders from the new monarchs William and Mary
Roughly 15 minutes drive from the trailhead for Steall Falls was the scenic town of Fort William right on the shores of Loch LinnheRoughly 15 minutes drive from the trailhead for Steall Falls was the scenic town of Fort William right on the shores of Loch Linnhe
As I was near the base of Steall Falls, I took a look back and wasn't sure if that tall mountain on the topright was Ben Nevis - Britain's tallestAs I was near the base of Steall Falls, I took a look back and wasn't sure if that tall mountain on the topright was Ben Nevis - Britain's tallest
A sign warning drivers of the single track road leading to the trailheadA sign warning drivers of the single track road leading to the trailhead

The car park at the end of the road at the very head of Glen Nevis near the Nevis GorgeThe car park at the end of the road at the very head of Glen Nevis near the Nevis Gorge

This was the cascade or water slide seen from the car park that I believe tumbled on the slopes of Ben NevisThis was the cascade or water slide seen from the car park that I believe tumbled on the slopes of Ben Nevis

Julie and Tahia on the trail surrounded by the tall mountains flanking Glen Nevis and the Nevis GorgeJulie and Tahia on the trail surrounded by the tall mountains flanking Glen Nevis and the Nevis Gorge

Julie further ahead on the trail with the mountain slope leading down to itJulie further ahead on the trail with the mountain slope leading down to it

Julie and Tahia negotiating steps as it was pretty much all uphill on the way to the fallsJulie and Tahia negotiating steps as it was pretty much all uphill on the way to the falls

This was our first glimpse of Steall Falls as we were still headed up the Nevis GorgeThis was our first glimpse of Steall Falls as we were still headed up the Nevis Gorge

As you can see, this was quite a popular trail as there were numerous people ahead us, behind us, or going the other wayAs you can see, this was quite a popular trail as there were numerous people ahead us, behind us, or going the other way

Julie helping Tahia get by one of the rougher rockier sections of the trailJulie helping Tahia get by one of the rougher rockier sections of the trail

This picture shows how rough the surface of the trail can beThis picture shows how rough the surface of the trail can be

Around the half-way point of the climb, we were able to look back into Glen NevisAround the half-way point of the climb, we were able to look back into Glen Nevis

Julie helping Tahia past another tricky rocky section of the trailJulie helping Tahia past another tricky rocky section of the trail

This was one of the easier parts of the trailThis was one of the easier parts of the trail

The last bit of rocky sections of the trail before entering the meadowed valleyThe last bit of rocky sections of the trail before entering the meadowed valley

Looking ahead at our first satisfying look at Steall FallsLooking ahead at our first satisfying look at Steall Falls

Continuing on in the wide open valley towards Steall FallsContinuing on in the wide open valley towards Steall Falls

I briefly paused to look at this bright rock to show just how many of those annoying midges there were in the areaI briefly paused to look at this bright rock to show just how many of those annoying midges there were in the area

Tahia and Julie getting closer to Steall Falls while simultaneously swatting (futilely) at midges with their hatsTahia and Julie getting closer to Steall Falls while simultaneously swatting (futilely) at midges with their hats

Focused on Steall Falls with some people dwarfed in the front for scaleFocused on Steall Falls with some people dwarfed in the front for scale

Looking back at a lot of other hikers approaching the waterfallLooking back at a lot of other hikers approaching the waterfall

Looking across the Water of Nevis towards Steall FallsLooking across the Water of Nevis towards Steall Falls

Looking further into the wide open valley from near Steall FallsLooking further into the wide open valley from near Steall Falls

Looking towards the three-wire bridge crossing with someone making the traverse with someone filming himLooking towards the three-wire bridge crossing with someone making the traverse with someone filming him

A closer look at the Water of Nevis showing that you don't necessarily need to cross the three-wire bridge to get to the other sideA closer look at the Water of Nevis showing that you don't necessarily need to cross the three-wire bridge to get to the other side

As I was getting closer to Steall Falls from the other side of the Water of Nevis, I could really start to see how sloped the falls wasAs I was getting closer to Steall Falls from the other side of the Water of Nevis, I could really start to see how sloped the falls was

Looking back towards a house on the other side of the Water of Nevis as well as what I think could very well be Ben Nevis in the background on the topright of the photoLooking back towards a house on the other side of the Water of Nevis as well as what I think could very well be Ben Nevis in the background on the topright of the photo

The trail to the base of Steall Falls degenerated into a muddy slog for most of that final distanceThe trail to the base of Steall Falls degenerated into a muddy slog for most of that final distance

Getting closer to the base of Steall FallsGetting closer to the base of Steall Falls

Looking up from the base of Steall FallsLooking up from the base of Steall Falls

View towards the far eastern side of the valley from near the base of Steall FallsView towards the far eastern side of the valley from near the base of Steall Falls

I waited for this lady to finish her traverse of the three-wire bridge before it was my turnI waited for this lady to finish her traverse of the three-wire bridge before it was my turn

This is what the three-wire bridge looks like when you're on itThis is what the three-wire bridge looks like when you're on it

Now that I was safely back on the main trail, I could go back the way I came to rejoin Julie and Tahia at the car parkNow that I was safely back on the main trail, I could go back the way I came to rejoin Julie and Tahia at the car park

A closer look at that waterslide on the slopes of Ben Nevis that I had seen earlier from the car parkA closer look at that waterslide on the slopes of Ben Nevis that I had seen earlier from the car park

On the trail back to the car park.  Notice the thin waterslide to the topleft of the photo, which I think is the same one tumbling on the slopes of Ben NevisNotice the thin waterslide to the topleft of the photo, which I think is the same one tumbling on the slopes of Ben Nevis


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Sweep of the falls as we first laid eyes on it after a fairly strenuous climb. Note the persistent white balls which were actually the midge swarms keeping us from enjoying this place


Sweep starting with the three-wire bridge crossing then showing the valley we're in


Top down sweep from the very base of the waterfall (well on the other side of the three-wire bridge)


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

From Fort William, we headed east on the A82 towards a roundabout shortly past the town center for Bedford Road on our right. We then left the A82 and took the Bedford Road for about 6.5 miles through the scenic valley of Glen Nevis (along the way passing by the Ben Nevis and Visitor Centre as well as a handful of campsites and trailheads). While most of this road was already narrow yet still supporting two lanes, the last two miles to the very last car park at the head of the Glen was on even narrower single-track road. We used the very last car park, in which this drive was about 15-20 minutes from the town center of Fort William.

However, we did see there were other car parks preceding the final two miles of single-track road such as that at the Lower Falls Car Park or even further down into Glen Nevis at the so-called Braveheart car park. And while it may not be necessary to walk the entire Glen just to start the hike for Steall Falls, given how scenic Glen Nevis was as we were passing through, I could totally understand why some might even want to park at the Ionad Nibheis Centre at the very start of the Glen.

Just for a sense of reference, the town of Fort William was about 64 miles (90 minutes to 2 hours drive) southwest of Inverness, about 108 miles (roughly 2.5-3 hours drive) drive north of Glasgow, or 133 miles (over 3 hours drive) northwest of Edinburgh.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES





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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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