About Falls of Foyers
The Falls of Foyers (Eas na Smuide in Scottish Gaelic meaning the Smoking Falls; pronounced “es-nuh-SMOOD-yuh”) was a very attractive waterfall at the small hamlet of Foyers on the quieter eastern side of the famous Loch Ness. I’ve seen in the literature that it has a 165ft drop, and given how hard it was to compose photos from either of the two main lookouts without the falls filling almost the entire frame, I guess that lends some credence to the height figure. It even inspired the cultural icon Robert Burns to write a poem about the falls as well as “Scotland’s worst poet” William McGonagall who also attributed some words about the falls in a poem.
Given how powerfully the waterfall was flowing during our visit on a beautiful late August afternoon in 2014, it wasn’t hard to imagine why someone thought of the falls as tending to “smoke.” Even Robert Burns saw a “horrid cauldron” when he first visited in 1787. However, it was hard to believe that the falls was said to have lost most of its volume from a hydropowered aluminum plant that essentially shaped the town of Foyers in 1894. The plant eventually was deprecated in 1967, and the power of the Falls of Foyers was re-purposed into a pumped storage facility that now is said to supply local towns and cities with electricity.
While we’re on the topic of heritage, a sign here made us aware that apparently accessing the views of the falls was not easy back before the 1830s as it involved a fair bit of cliff scrambling to descend to a point where it could be seen. Apparently, one rich visitor was willing to give 5 pounds as seed money to fund the building of a safer access path. fortunately, Joseph Mitchell who was a companion of that visitor happened to be a civil engineer who managed to raise an additional 45 pounds to finally build “the first safe access.” Upon our visit, we basically followed a well-defined downhill trail that began right across the B852 road from the Waterfall Cafe (see directions below). That trail followed some steps and got a bit rocky in places (which might be slippery when wet) until we’d eventually reach the upper viewing area roughly 20 minutes from the start.
Since we were looking right against the sun, I guess the early afternoon wasn’t the best time of day to see the falls. However, when I did a little more exploring by continuing further down the trail, I’d eventually reach a much better lower viewpoint of the main drop of the Falls of Foyers about 10 minutes later. From this vantage point, the sun was blocked by the tall vertical cliffs flanking the waterfall, and I was even able to look up towards that upper viewpoint we had been at earlier (providing some perspective as to how far down I went). Technically speaking, the Falls of Foyers experience could have ended here, and the rest of the hike would be all uphill going back to the Waterfall Cafe at the top. The difficulty rating reflects experiencing the falls this way.
However, I was a little confused about signage saying there was a Lower Falls Viewpoint further down the trail, and so I pursued it for another 30 minutes going all the way to a part of the trail where I overlooked a pair of bridges spanning a watercourse (possibly from Foyers) that eventually joined up with Loch Ness. Had I continued on the trail, I would’ve ultimately hiked a 2.75-mile loop that also would’ve brought me against the shores of Loch Ness as well as some other historical relics. But since I was looking for the elusive Lower Falls of Foyers, I’d eventually only have some footage of audible but not visible cascades as well as a dinky side cascade seeping from some thick foliage deep in the gorge well downstream of the main Falls of Foyers. In hindsight, the main drop of the falls could very well have been the Lower Falls of Foyers as I had seen historical photos of an Upper Falls of Foyers backed by an arched bridge.
If we’re fortunate to make it back to Foyers, I’d probably make it a point to do a little more exploring of Foyers and that “upper” waterfall. But overall, I had spent a total of 90 minutes on the trail though it very easily could’ve just taken less than 60 minutes if I turned back at the lower viewpoint of the main drop of the Falls of Foyers.
We visited the Falls of Foyers as part of a loop drive around Loch Ness that began and ended in Inverness, where we had based ourselves. So after passing through the town of Fort Augustus (where the headwaters of Loch Ness became the Caledonian Canal leading all the way to Fort William), we then drove mostly single-lane B862 road for about 10.6 miles to the B852 road turnoff on the left. We then followed the narrow B852 road for 2.5 miles to the Waterfall Cafe, where we managed to find parking within the limited space of the car park here.
It took us about 45-60 minutes to drive from Fort Augustus to Foyers, and it would have taken us about an hour to drive from Inverness to Fort Augustus via the A82 road on the western shores of Loch Ness.
Conversely, we could have also gone along the eastern shores of Loch Ness via the single-track B852 road from Inverness to Foyers. We spent about 40 minutes driving in the opposite direction from Foyers to Inverness along this route so I’d imagine it should take about as long to do it in reverse.
Finally, for some geographic context, our base of Inverness was 65 miles (about 90-120 minutes drive) northeast of Fort William, 155 miles (3.5 hours drive) north of Edinburgh and 169 miles (3.5 hours drive) north of Glasgow.
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