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Awe-struck by power of the glens on Foyers circuit beside Loch Ness

By John Davidson

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A view to Meall Fuar-mhonaidh on the far side of Loch Ness.
A view to Meall Fuar-mhonaidh on the far side of Loch Ness.

Thundering down the gorge from Foyers, it’s easy to see why Robert Burns and others were awe-struck by the power of the waterfalls behind the small Highland village.

Today the noise was fierce, after a day or more of consistent, heavy rain and a spot of overnight snow melt to add to the mix.

It’s hard to believe that even this was a relatively slow flow compared to what Burns, as well as those infamous journeymen Boswell and Johnson, would have experienced in the latter part of the 18th century when they visited.

The Falls of Foyers ripped their way through the rock, carving the magnificent gorge we are able to access and enjoy somewhat more easily than at that time – which was not many years after the military road along the south side of Loch Ness was built, in the grand scheme of things.

I like to imagine this other-worldly scene, when visiting the Highlands was in itself an adventurous undertaking. Visitors to the falls had to scramble down a perilously steep slope, sometimes clinging onto trees and rocks with the precipitous gorge an ever-present danger.

Plenty of water was thundering down the Falls of Foyers.
Plenty of water was thundering down the Falls of Foyers.

On this day, I paused at the top of the paths that lead down steeply – but a lot more easily – to the viewpoints over the upper and lower falls. The view over to the snow-capped hills across Loch Ness was spectacular, and now I was about to take advantage of the paths through Foyers wood to reach the water’s edge.

My run – the longest I’d done for a while due to injury – began at the Farigaig forest car park in Inverfarigaig. The route starts with a steep climb up a path signed from the parking area, which gets the heart racing from the off, however gently you try to get going.

It eases slightly higher up, and I ignored coloured markers leading off to the right then, later on, to the left. While the gradient isn’t as extreme, there’s no doubt it keeps on climbing, meandering between trees laden with snow like a scene from a winter wonderland.

A wide clearing where you pass below overhead wires offers a great view over Loch Ness to where Meall Fuar-mhonaidh was covered in smooth, white snow. At last, a downhill stretch follows as you go back under the cover of the evergreens, keeping ahead after a boulder at a junction near Boleskine.

After a short climb, the path soon enters a clearing, following a rocky and boggy trail that sometimes merges with a nearby burn to guarantee soggy feet. A South Loch Ness Trail marker post – well hidden among the snow and undergrowth – keeps you on track at a path junction, where you keep right to cross a small burn and clamber steeply up into the woods again.

A winter wonderland high above the shores of Loch Ness south of Inverfarigaig.
A winter wonderland high above the shores of Loch Ness south of Inverfarigaig.

After my eyes adjusted to the relative darkness, I made my way up to a little rock, looping round a hillock and passing a rock with a chain attached to aid progress. The path now leads up over Toman Tarsuinn, a high promontory with a flat-ish rock which should make for a great viewpoint – except the trees here have grown so tall it’s difficult to see much through the branches.

I made my way down the soft path, which soon crosses a burn – a careful step is enough to make it across safely – before reaching a track after a short rise. The route goes right here to follow the track, which immediately bends left and drops all the way to the road at Foyers.

Keep left to follow the road up to the little shop (open) and café (closed). Opposite here there is a sign for the Falls of Foyers, where I stood and admired that fabulous view.

Taking the trail through the right-hand gate, signed for Lower Foyers, I jogged carefully down the steps then kept left, following the line of a fence ahead that marks the very edge of the gorge.

The water billowing down through the rock caught my attention and I watched, mesmerised, as it snaked its way between this seemingly solid barrier. The falls drop around 140ft and I’d never seen so much water here before.

Apparently the falls were even more spectacular before 1895, when the North British Aluminium Company diverted water from the River Foyers to produce power for its smelter on the shore of Loch Ness below.

The former aluminium works at Lower Foyers.
The former aluminium works at Lower Foyers.

The impressive building that once housed the smelter is now used as part of the hydro-electricity station at Foyers, which was upgraded in the early 1970s – a project which my grandfather was involved in. I have a folder of some of his technical drawings of the tunnelling designs and various other aspects of this 300MW scheme.

Following the path all the way down, you eventually emerge at the end of a road, where you go left to a junction. Take a left turn and follow the road round a right-hand bend then follow the route towards the power station past the old smelter building.

I always imagine the return route along the shore of Loch Ness will be a gentle one, but I am soon reminded that there’s plenty of uphill on the way back too. A sign points right to Inverfarigaig and Boleskine, climbing a few steps before going left onto a well-made path that rises to meet the old military road.

Go left here, past a house, then left back onto the trails. This path follows another excellent little route through woodland and comes out on a track that leads to the power station. Turn right here then, immediately after a substation and large pylon, go left to meet a track that descends further through the woods.

This becomes a nice track that follows close to the shore of Loch Ness – a real treat given how inaccessible the water’s edge is around the loch. At one point, the track forks right to pass a few houses then drops to an old pier.

Take the road up to the right from here to meet the military road again. Cross carefully ahead where the road goes up to the parking area at Farigaig woods.

I’d made it back, injury-free, and just a little soaked after a great couple of hours on this route that never disappoints.

A bench for your bahookie!
A bench for your bahookie!

Route details

Inverfarigaig and Foyers

Distance 7 miles / 11km

Terrain Forest tracks and paths, wet in places, steep slopes and steps, pavement and road crossings

Start/finish Farigaig Forest car park, Inverfarigaig

Maps OS Landranger 26 / OS Explorer 416 / Forests of the Great Glen leaflet (forestryandland.gov.scot/visit/farigaig)

A classic circuit with views over Loch Ness and to the Falls of Foyers

John on his way back to Inverfarigaig.
John on his way back to Inverfarigaig.

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