Address: Assynt, Highland, Scotland

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Eas a’ Chual Aluinn Visit

This is a wonderful place to visit and is Scottish countryside at its best. It could be a stop off point on a trip around Scotland or just a destination by itself. And the beauty of a trip here is that you’ll have travelled through some stunning scenery just to get to the place. If you make the trip, the chances are, unless you live on the north coast of Scotland or travel from there, you’ll be arriving from the south. You’ll probably travel through Ullapool, a fairly commercial town compared to the one shop villages that you travel through before and after, and you then make your way along the A835, A837 and A834.

From the south, you need to head towards Unapool or Kylesku and before you get there, you’ll come across a couple of alpine-type road zig-zags with a lay-by on one. This is next to Loch na Gainmhich and it’s from here that you start your walk. If you’re not certain you’re in the right place, travel on to Unapool or Kylesku and make your way back. The attached pictures should leave you in no doubt.

From the lay-by you have a trek of a couple of hours, maybe an hour and a half if fit and don’t stop, or nearer three if you take time eg in a group. Take care over the land that you cross as it’s often very wet underfoot. Certainly at the start it’s very boggy, and then you make your way through a mountain pass which is mainly a rocky path before it opens into another fairly boggy area.

There are a number of route descriptions on the internet and some can get a touch confusing as they can get a bit too detailed. From experience, my basic advice would be to just follow the path and it’ll lead you straight there. You need to pick it up though and the first thing to do is to locate the big lake by the road. There are two lay-bys, one on the sloping road and the other on top of the hill about two hundred yards further. Assuming you park in the lay-by on the sloping hill, simply walk directly up the lay-by (up the hill) and 50 yards after the end of it you’ll look over a hill and see the big lake.

You walk from the road about 150 yards to the lake, which includes crossing a small stream. This lake in front of you is in the shape of an oblong. It’s about 80 yards long (going directly ahead away from you) and about 300 yards wide (extending to your right). You need to walk in a clockwise direction around it. You walk the 80 yards forward from where you then turn right, around the lake. Now instead of walking along the edge of the lake, walk half along the lake and half up the hill so that you’re walking at an angle away from the lake and towards a gorge between two hills. If you look hard enough, you’ll spot the path. People will have been visiting this waterfall for hundreds of years so the path is well worn, although of limited use if snow around. This is probably one of many reasons why it’s good to go in summer, although some may disagree. Bear in mind that what looks like a quick five minute walk around the lake and up the hill in fact takes something like half an hour.

One thing’s for certain, you’re going to get your shoes seriously wet, so if you go in winter make sure you have completely waterproof shoes as freezing feet can be uncomfortable and dangerous. One word of warning, this is a seriously wet and slippery route which consists of grass, rock, peat and water. Maybe I was a little too gung-ho, but I must have fallen over at least fifty times and on one occasion I ended up waist deep when stepping into what I thought was shallow surface water! So take your time, stick to the paths and mind your footing, certainly if elderly. It’s a very remote place and any accident becomes far more serious because of it. This is why it’s not a good idea to go on your own and why mobile phones are a necessity.

After you walk past the big lake and through the gorge, you’ll come across a second lake. The path takes you past the left edge of this lake and if you carry on forward for an hour or so, bearing very slightly right, you’ll come to the falls. After the second lake, you should fairly soon spot a small river and if you follow this, it’ll lead you straight there, as this is the one that goes over the cliff! As mentioned, the ground is very boggy at the start of the walk, becoming a rocky path past the two lakes, but will then become boggy again in places. To get the best view of the falls you need to cross the river, with a good opportunity being at a point where a number of large boulders lay and which is next to a lone tree, but some guides suggest the best place to cross is before the river bend. Caution is obviously paramount and only cross the river if safe to do so – you still have a view of the top of the falls from the left side of the river, but not as good as from the right. Bear in mind also that in winter the river may be in full flow – great for pictures, but extra care would be needed.

If you do cross the river, walk towards the edge and bear slightly right as the cliff top protrudes out slightly. This allows you to look back and see the waterfall in all its glory. To get there, you’ll have to have climbed down slightly so you now look up at the top of the falls. The valley floor is below and is an amazing spectacle, with Loch Beag in the distance which is an extension of Loch Glencoul. It’s to Loch Beag that boats from Kylesku take tourists to view the falls. One note of caution – don’t get too close to the edge, it’s icy in winter and can be wet and slippery at other times. It’s a long way down – do be careful!

If you have an adventurous streak, you may choose to view the falls from the valley floor. I’d certainly think twice about this as it’s very dodgy underfoot. If you choose to, the easiest route seems to be (having crossed the small river and being on the right of it walking to the cliff edge) to walk away from the falls down the gradual slope to the right and after about 400 yards, another fairly gradual slope will take you to the bottom. Even when there, it’s not easy to walk as there are water courses that have probably evolved over thousands of years and of which some are about five foot deep. There’s almost continual climbing up and down five or six foot undulations to move along the valley floor and it’s a place that would be easy to have an accident.

From the top to the bottom, if you choose to climb down, you can hear underground streams rushing beneath you, but you can’t see them. Three times my foot went through the ground as it gave way under my weight, causing a nasty crack on my shin each time. If you have brittle bones, don’t risk it. If you do risk it, it’s obviously best to steer clear of the sound of underground water.

Another point is that it may take you half an hour to get back up the hill to the top of the falls and then another couple of hours to get back to the car park, so ensure that you have enough time left before darkness. A further point is that whilst it’s easy to spot the river and follow it to the top of the falls, it’s not as easy to spot the way back to the car park. So when walking to the falls, bear this in mind and occasionally glance back and make notes of where you need to head when going back. It’s essentially back up the river, before making your way to the smaller lake and along the path to the big lake, but this may be easier said than done. One thing to remember is that you may quite likely be wet and dirty so some kind of washing facilities eg water, soap, towel etc in the car would be good if you have a long drive ahead. The usual map and seasonal survival gear is needed and remember also that mists can come down quickly in these parts which can make things dangerous, certainly regarding the cliff edge and navigating back. This is a very important point in this remote area.

But let’s look at the positives. It’s a wildlife paradise and must be teeming with all manner of animals. I rounded a corner and startled a stag that shot off into the distance, from where it seemed to make the bellowing sound that I’d heard on a number of occasions around the valley in the few hours before. Frogs are certainly plentiful on the valley floor and I’m sure there’s all manner of species if you know what to look for and where to look. The tranquility is something else and this would be paradise to many people.

One helpful tip is, if travelling along the north coast or in the region, always fill up your petrol tank when you can. If you’re a local, you’ll know the place and times of when petrol stations open, but for a visitor it’s easy to travel well over a hundred miles without an open petrol station in view.

If you do decide to visit, you’ll be one of the relative few to have seen this great place.