What You Need To Know Before You Go To Steall Waterfall

24 August 2021Rebecca Bradley

Before visiting Steall Waterfall, keep up to date on the path/if repair works are in place on the John Muir Trust website.

Ever since I visited Steall Waterfall on one of my Scottish Highlands road trips, I’ve felt the need to write this blog.

No matter how many blog posts I read or videos I watched about getting there prepared me for what I was in for. So I need to share my experience of my visit!

Let’s get it out there, Steall Waterfall is stunning. It’s known as An Steall Bàn, Steall Waterfall or Steall Falls. It’s found in Glen Nevis near Fort William in Scotland.

My interest in visiting? It features in Harry Potter as the scene where Harry is being chased by the Hungarian Horntail in the Goblet of Fire, and also as the scenery for some Quidditch games.

With it being a Harry Potter filming location, you can imagine this place gets a lot of visitors!

I first came to walk to the falls in 2019, but only made it the first 10 minutes of the walk. After seeing the huge rocks and what I had to climb over while wearing Converse, I immediately turned back. I was disappointed and made it a goal to complete the whole walk in 2021 and be more prepared.

But nothing could’ve prepared me for what I was in for.

I know, I sound dramatic. But this is a scary walk where there have been accidents and people have lost their lives.

You have to climb through a gorge to reach the waterfall. Sure, many people visit this every year, I had many people fly past me with no care for where they put their feet and had no trouble scrambling over rocks. But if you’re like me and don’t exercise and have zero experience of rock-climbing or navigating difficult terrain, it is quite a shock to the system!

I can write this so I did manage to get to and from the falls with no trouble, but I still feel want to share some advice because there were moments of fear, moments of ‘I can’t do this!’ and moments of ‘hm, maybe we should just turn back.’

Wear the right footwear

Ultimately, you need to make sure you have the right pair of shoes strapped to your feet. A good pair of walking boots/shoes is necessary.

Do not try any other kind of footwear.

Yes, I have also seen people go by wearing Converse and trainers, but to be completely safe, have a pair of walking boots on.

Choose your weather and time wisely

The heavens have opened and it’s chucking it down of rain? Don’t bother trying to walk to Steall Falls.

Wait for a dry day.

I had a warm dry day, but even then, some of the rocks I had to climb over were covered in water. Water makes things very slippery for your feet. Even wearing amazing walking boots won’t make you fully protected from a slip on a rock. Bring yourself a bottle of water too – and some much-needed snacks.

In the summer months, the car park for the falls can get very busy. There are two different car parks – Lower Falls and Upper Falls. If you want an extra 20-minute walk, you can choose the Lower Falls car park. It always has space.

I chose the Upper Falls car park which is closer to where the walk begins. In the summer months, beware of the infamous Scottish midge. You may think they sound harmless, but trust me, these evil little insects can make or change anyone’s visit. Buying midge repellent is a must. Have a little read here about how to go to battle with the Scottish midge!

Make sure you do not park in any of the passing places on the road between the car parks. The road is narrow and can only fit one car on it, the passing places are there to make sure people can pass each other without a problem. And if you’ve parked your car there and went for a walk, you’re putting other people in danger – keep everyone happy and don’t park in passing places!

Know more about what you’re in for

This is what threw me because nothing I read on the internet helped me prepare.

The walk itself has many climbing points, scrambles over rocks, narrow footpaths, clutching onto stone and moss, navigating a climb over a small waterfall, and even for me – dodging cow dung! Whilst doing all of this, on your right-hand side is a huge drop from the Nevis Gorge.

I didn’t expect as much climbing to do – and even at one point ended up sitting down and pushing my backside over rocks because it felt the right thing to do! When in doubt, use that butt to get you past scary rocks.

At the start of the walk, you leave the car park past the information block and there’s a sign for the John Muir Trust who maintain the path. You walk through some woodland for a good 10 minutes.

Then you start going up the gorge.

You’ll come to a place full of rocks that go up the way. The first time I visited here was in 2019, this is where I panicked and didn’t feel prepared to do this so I turned back. You will climb up and navigate over rocks and some streams of water, after this you will start again on a path. The path is not that far away, but when you’re looking up at all those rocks with no knowledge of where anything is, it can be daunting. Just know the path isn’t far and take your time.

The walking boots definitely made me feel safer doing this.

Then it is more path, more rocks to climb over, a larger section of rocks where a small waterfall is pouring over with a big drop on the right-hand side (pictured below). This took a bit of brainpower to navigate for me, but I got there in the end. Again, take your time. There is no rush.

There’s also some climbing parts of the path where there are wooden bannisters to hold onto. There are big drops and big steps up rocks – if you’re little in height like me, the thighs get a workout and you have to pull yourself over.

I spent some time mentally preparing myself to pull myself over rocks and streams, all the while trying to look like I knew what I was doing when other people were going by me.

It was relatively busy when I went, and most people seemed to be taking their time and working their way through it.

I did manage without any problem – both going to the falls and going back to the car park.

But a little bit of realistic pre-prepared information would’ve been grand!

Be careful of children, dogs and anyone with mobility issues

I know children have walked this route before and it is completely your choice to make, but I would not bring children here.

With the weather being unpredictable in Scotland, and a dangerous amount of slippery rocks and climbing, it seems hard to concentrate on your walking and concentrating on your children’s too.

If you are all prepared, all appropriately dressed and know how to navigate this walk and feel safe, then of course it is your choice.

For dogs, there is a lot of places for them to get hurt and to get lost. You would need to keep them on a lead at all times and concentrate as you navigate your way. I’d also say do not take dogs with you.

For anyone with mobility issues such as poor knees, trouble walking, or anything related, I recommend not taking this walk at all.

Tell people where you are and where you’re going

Telling people where you are is a normal thing to do when going on adventures. If you’re on your own, make sure someone knows where you’re going and knows how to get in touch with you. If you’re in a duo or group, let someone know where you are too.

My phone signal seemed to be a bit dodgy through the Glen. One minute I had full signal the next I didn’t. I then lost all signal driving back out to Fort William so keep your phone off silent for when the signal comes back and make sure you’ve let people know where you are BEFORE heading into Glen Nevis.

Enjoy what you see

Even though I seem to be saying avoid Steall Falls (I’m not, I’m just saying be prepared!) – it is absolutely beautiful.

After the final pull over the gorge, with the sweat in my eyes and my fiancé behind me pretending he’s not out of breath, coming round the corner and seeing the falls was beautiful. Now, I don’t know if it was more relief than awe, but I was happy!

I walked up near the falls and down onto the rocky path where the water falls into. It was 8 pm when I got there. Seeing the sun half hidden by the mountains (and Ben Nevis too) was otherworldly. Honestly, it’s stunning.

There is also a rope bridge that you can cross over which will take you up and closer to the falls themselves. After the trauma I’d been through on the walk up, there was no way I was going to take on a rope bridge. I saw a couple doing it, and they were there for nearly an hour trying to make their way over.

You don’t need to cross this bridge to ‘see a better view of the falls’ – they’re there in front of you looking beautiful no matter how close or how far you are from them!

So, this is all the advice I can give.

I am happy that I completed the walk and was able to see the falls.

They are wonderful and I get why so many people talk about them. But oh, the fear and trauma I went through is what’s compelled me to write this. I also ended up with heat exhaustion and was dizzy and sick an hour after I got back in the car and on my way home. But that’s most likely because I’m not a sun worshipper and any time spent in warm temperatures for me is a no-no!

If you are considering the walk to Steall Falls, I hope this blog gives you some more detailed information about what the route is like and how you’ll need to prepare.

If you are going for the walk – be very careful and most importantly, enjoy it.

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