A leaden sky, swirling with mist. A boy on a broomstick whooshes through the air. A sudden glint of light and he swoops upon a golden egg perched on a ledge, while a furious dragon gives chase. Geographers watching this scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire may notice another roaring beast. Cascading in the background are Steall Falls. Dropping through the Glen Nevis mountains for 120 metres, they are Scotland’s second-highest waterfall.
Long before this cameo role, reaching the falls could feel like a wizard’s quest. The journey begins by following the winding C1162 Belford Road from Fort William. The tarmac stops with a small car park. From here a rough tree-lined path leads through the Glen Nevis gorge for two miles. A sign at the start warns of fatal landslips. There are boulders to squeeze past, tinkling springs to cross, and sheer drops to the right.
Then suddenly the gorge opens and the path forks. Mountains frame the scene on all sides, including Ben Nevis, Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor. The braided Water of Nevis meanders through the grass. Steall Falls are straight ahead, resembling spilt milk or a white vein in a huge slab of marble. ‘This is my favourite place in the UK,’ says Chris Speight FRGS, the professional geographer who created this Discovering Britain viewpoint.
‘It’s wonderful,’ Speight continues, ‘the valley looks dramatic yet feels calm.’ In summer, visitors picnic and paddle among a carpet of greenery. Meanwhile the summit of Ben Nevis remains capped with snow. Come winter, snow blankets the entire glen. The landscape becomes a monochrome mirage, a huge pencil drawing made life. ‘Whatever time of year it’s a feast for the eyes,’ says Speight.
Steall Falls are the centrepiece. Besides their visual appeal, their sound fills the valley. People can get close to them via a nerve-wracking steel wire bridge across the river near the base of the falls. Here the torrent is deafening, while the spray alone can soak your clothes. ‘It’s energising, like having an army at your back’. Speight suggests: ‘Even their name excites the senses. It makes you think of steel, strength, power.’
Glen Nevis is part of the Ring of Steall, a challenging ten-mile walk route that traverses four Munros. This viewpoint offers a more accessible way to experience the mountains. ‘This place encourages you to engage with it but you don’t have to be a climber or explorer,’ says Speight. ‘A little bit of perseverance along a winding road and you’re rewarded with one of the prettiest sites in Britain.’