Spring Break Part 3: Glen Nevis

Sydney Smith University of Aberdeen, Scotland


April 24, 2018

By the fifth day of my Spring Trip I was equal parts fired up and physically exhausted. I was on the last leg of my trip with only a few days left before I returned to good ole Aberdeen. These last few days were less organized than the first half and I had loose ideas of what I wanted to do, but no strict plans.

Now, before I continue with my narrative detailing my wondrous sightseeing adventure through Glen Nevis, let me reiterate the three points I made in my first post about my spring break trip.  

  1. Whenever I plan a day trip it involves a lot of walking.
  2. If there are two paths, no matter if the path is clearly marked as to which is easiest, I will always end up taking the more difficult one.
  3. I willingly chose to do this to myself.

My hike through Glen Nevis is by far, the ultimate example of these three points. Now, please prepare yourself for a tale of dedication, exhaustion, bliss, near dehydration, and fantastical experiences.

After arriving in Fort William late on a Friday night via bus after spending the day touring Skye, and easily navigating my way to my hostel. I slept restfully after planning out my following day’s journey. I loosely planned my walk out to Steall Falls which was situated past Ben Nevis and close in proximity to Ben Muir about 8 miles outside of Fort William.

It was definitely the longest continuous walk that I had ever thought about doing, and I understood that if I walked all the way out there I would have to walk back making the journey over 16 miles.

My hiking journey began at roughly eight in the morning. I grabbed a quick breakfast, and made sure that I had snacks and the appropriate gear in case it got cold or rainy and I filled my 32oz water bottle to the brim. I was ready to embark on a full day’s worth of walking, or so I thought.

It was a cloudy morning, like many that I have encountered whilst being in Scotland, but the clouds enhanced the beauty of the Grampian Mountains. It made the mountains appear more mystifying as if they held potential for folk legends to carry truth.

Walking through Glen Nevis was the preponderance of relaxation I had ever aspired to obtain. The chirping of birds, the muffled yet still roaring river, the wind soughing, and the mooing of the Highland coos and the baaing of sheep. I felt like one with nature, even though I walked along the side of the road with the occasional zooming car that was obviously going over the speed limit.

It was a nice walk, for the first two hours. I saw the locations where they shot scenes from Braveheart and the Harry Potter films, so that was an extra bonus of cool.

I came across two separate hiking paths that seemed like they would be shortcuts rather than just following the road, so I took them. The first led me through a field of sheep and next to a river were I encountered some Highland cows in their natural habitat munching on grass. It also required me to climb some fences and get my boots stuck in the mud. When I finally decided to abandon that path because it seemed to be taking me further away from my destination, I realized that it was actually just a sheep trail. The second path or long cut instead of short cut, was a sightseeing trail near the lower falls of Glen Nevis and was a steep, uphill, rocky path. It was great to experience once, but perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t already exhausted.

I nearly gave up three hours in on the way to Steall Falls.  I wanted to turn back towards Fort William. I was emotionally exhausted from having traveled all the way out here and not having yet encountered the one thing I was aiming to see. Plus, I was down to 12oz of water left. One thought I clearly remember having, was to take a picture of any of the waterfalls and claim it was Steall Falls thinking I could con myself and the people who follow my social media accounts into believing that I had actually seen the natural wonder. I had to remind myself that I am an honest person and doing that would be cheating myself out of remaining true to my own values.

Finally, my go-getter internal voice reminded me that I do not give up easily and I should continue on to succeed at seeing the one destination that I wanted desperately to get to. I took a couple deep breaths and powered on.

In order to get to Steall Falls, you have to walk along a path that clearly states at its entrance, “Danger, Death.” I remember just shrugging my shoulders when I came across that sign because I was already tired and feeling the effects of improper hydration. When I began hiking down this path however, I got an unexpected boost of energy. I was whole heartedly determined to reach Steall Falls.

I had to carefully maneuver over slippery rocks with water actively streaming down them (aka waterfalls), and hop across streams. I would like to say that I felt like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft, being adventurous and doing all these daring stunts. But, I think my stature during my adventures can be related more to Gimli from Lord of the Rings due to my absolute lack of gracefulness in my movements.

When I finally saw Steall Falls, I was in awe and had to sit down to admire it and catch my breath. Steall Falls is the largest waterfall that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. With a 390-foot drop, the water streamed down it in a bewitching manner. This valley that I had trekked to seemed like a sacred spot. It was secluded from the modern world, minus the nearby pedestrian rope bridge, and was part of the unpolished, raw beauty of Scotland.

After resting a bit and admiring the spot that I found myself in, I picked myself up and began the long journey back to Fort William.

It was a fun journey there and back. It felt like I had taken a pilgrimage to the heart of Scotland, one that could have been easier if I had access to a car or a bike, but because I walked, I think I experienced it in a different way. My only regret that day was not packing more water.

My journey through Glen Nevis was a transformative one that made me look at and understand the respect that Scottish people seem to have for nature and the natural world around them.  Even though I felt like the internal embodiment of a desert, I think my 16+ mile walk that day revitalized my soul and gave me something new to fight for. I think it is important to preserve the earth and natural world that we have been allowed to occupy, and I foresee taking part in green and clean initiatives in the United States to help preserve the earth in my not so distant future.


Scotland Semester Travel