The charming town of Fort William up in the Scottish Highlands also doubles as the country’s adventure playground, boasting the UK’s tallest mountain in Nevis, where thousands of people flock to each year to test their resolve and climb.
That was exactly the reason we ventured up to Fort William in Atlantis, one of GOAT Roadtrip’s stylish Luxe Campervans. We were ready to take on Nevis and thought we’d done all the preparations we needed to do; booked in at a campground at the foot of the mountain, got sensible clothing, packed lunches made – but visiting Scotland in autumn doesn’t tend to be that simple and especially in that region, the weather can be pretty unforgiving.
Sadly, the forecast read “5% visibility, wind chill temperature -13°C, heavy rain until 15:00 and snowfall from there on” – not the most enticing forecast I’ve ever read admittedly. Reluctantly we made the decision that it didn’t make sense for us to climb Nevis that day, and with the forecast not showing any signs of improving over the coming days, to carry on with our trip to the Isle of Skye, and thus skipping the main attraction completely.
But we still had the whole day to spend here – just what is there to do in Fort William if you’re not climbing Ben Nevis? The cable car up Glen Nevis didn’t make too much sense as an alternative, and so after grabbing some fish and chips from the town centre, we came to the conclusion that the recent heavy rainfall must at least be good for waterfalls. Were there any around here? Surely at the foot of a mountain there’s bound to be waterfalls, right? But why have we never heard any mentioned before?
After a quick Google, we stumbled across Steall Falls – and why had we never heard of that before!? The page we initially found, marketed it as a short 3.5km, relatively easy walk to a pleasant waterfall; so we set off down the narrow, single track road, past Lower Falls and not really too sure what to expect.
Finally we got to a small carpark, and set off, thinking we’d be there in no time at all. After about five minutes of following the trail, we got a small waterfall obstructing the path – not quite Steall Falls, but enough to put us off from thinking that was the way forward. After about 10 minutes of back and forths and trying to find alternative pathways, we decided that the sheer amount of rain Fort William had had that week probably just meant this little fall was a bit bigger than usual. Resigned to getting inevitably wet anyway we quickly hopped through and discovered the other side of the path.
The rest of the trail is relatively straight forward, with no confusion of where to go – and absolutely where not to go, with some very steep drops into the roaring rapids below. Eventually as you descend out of the wood into an open meadow in the valley, you get your first glimpse of Steall Falls – giving you a first, albeit distant, glimpse of its imposing stature.
Keep walking towards the falls and you’ll come across a 3-wire bridge, enticing you to the other side of the stream.
I say ‘enticing’, and ‘stream’ – but all that was keeping this scene from starring in a bad action movie was a few crocodiles snapping at your heels from below! Such was the recent rainfall, the stream that we were expecting was now a deep and fast-flowing river, and along with the high-standing ‘bridge’, this isn’t one for the faint hearted.
The other side of the bridge simply presented a flooded and boggy marsh, not possible to pass at the time, so the good news for the faint hearted among you, like myself, is that actually the best view of Steall Falls is arguably from the side of the river you approach the bridge from. Dramatic and powerful, these magnificent falls surely rank among the best in Scotland and an absolute must-do upon visiting Fort William.
by Alex Mulvey