the muddy steps, [and i use the word steps so very lightly] that will sharply & quickly lead you downward into the unarguably magical gorge that presides below, are not for the faint of heart. the pathway down into the gorge at finnich glen was undoubtedly one of the two most dangerous hikes we partook in whilst visiting scotland. equally tied with the all-too-well-known dangers/death risks of the steall falls hike, a hike which contains steep drop-offs just next to narrow ledge rock scrambles, through cascading waterfalls as you slowly & carefully make your way back to the rope bridge & falls. our cram-packed schedule did not afford us the time we would have liked to wait out any questionable weather situations — so with each and every adventure, it was a ‘must trudge on unless we will certainly die‘ sort of mentality that we had already prepared our minds with. the day we explored finnich glen happened to be just after and during a lot of rainfall [yes, i know — practically every location in all of scotland happens to exist just before, just after & during rainfall]. there is always rainfall. it’s scotland. however, the steps at finnich glen were particularly dangerous as they were utterly drenched in sopping mud and water. and as i had mentioned above — not all of the ‘steps’ were as you would imagine a step to be. some of them were mere rocks with a flat face that angled downward – completely impossible to step onto. . .forcing us to grip the ropes tighter (though, those too were absolutely covered in mud) and step off to the side in a steep slope of slippery mud as we descended the 200 year old stair case to the bottom floor, not quite 100 feet below. i can remember the burning feeling on my palms from the rope sliding along as we carefully made our way down. i think i was gripping on for dear life, even giving the rope a once-over wrap-around just to be sure that if i lost my footing, yes my hands may be fractured or bruised but my arms would hopefully catch my fall so as not to knock down the brave souls in front of me — sending them tumbling 100 feet into the gorge below. as i contemplated each step as if it were my last, i looked around and realized that the muddy ropes, which seemed to be fairly sturdy, were wrapped only once around a few of the tree branches and as i pulled tighter, the trees swayed with each passing move. i wondered how many more people could take their toll on the ropes before the trees would give-way & there would be an accident. we reached a point where it became a little frightening and nick had asked me if i wanted to turn back. ‘hell no, we aren’t turning back!’ remember the ‘must trudge on unless we will certainly die‘ mentality? we had gone all that way [4,000+ miles from home] and without any phone service, mind you, meaning that every single location in which we had our eyes and hearts on setting foot — was a journey even to get to before embarking on the actual journeys themselves. does that make sense? we had all of these maps which we had saved and the directions aren’t always so clear in scotland. like for instance, we have street names here in the states. and all of the roads are so well laid out. our infrastructure. their roads are laid out well also — however, their directions are more something like. . .“take three wee turns over the wee bridge and you’ll see six wee, ivory sheep & one brindle, hairy coo off to the left-hand side in a meadow. this is you. take this turn and you’ll see the signs. (‘what signs?!’ sometimes there weren’t any signs) — if you pass a cobblestone street, you’ve gone too far. (‘but there are cobblestone streets everywhere!’).“ does it make more sense now? obviously i am over-embellishing — but it was rough to get around with such little navigation on the GPS we had in the car. our phones had zero service all over the island & without proper directions to some of the locations we wanted to visit, at times, it felt impossible to get anywhere. anyway, we had gone all that way. and there was already a small list of adventures in which we had come so close to the end that we could taste it and feel it but then had to turn back because of time constraints. this was not about to make the cut on that list! we were half way down the staircase and i was not about to turn back. i told nick, of course, that if he was uncomfortable he could slowly ascend and i would only be a few minutes taking in all of the magical sights below. he kept on keeping on. we did. until, eventually, we hit a wet, dark slab of large rock at the bottom that had a guardrail in front of it (as it was still a steep lean over that one could easily topple off of). i suppose that guardrail should have provided some sort of assurance & comfort. . . .knowing that had we fallen from the top of the staircase, we may have eventually been stopped by a metal bar before further toppling down a large hill and into the stream with large rocks below. we couldn’t even speak once we reached the floor. there aren’t words to explain to you what we saw and how we felt. i have never seen anything like it in my entire life. so magical. i keep using the word magical. because it’s all that comes to mind when i remember the way it looked. the moss covered everything, the red sandstone underneath the stream full of pebbles. ferns. the light coming down into the glen. the people enjoying the experiences with us. exploring the stream and trying to all capture the best images to show their friends and family. i can look at photographs that i took of finnich glen and the gorge below all day long and none of them will ever make me feel the way i felt when we were exploring down there. it looked as though it were something out of a fairy-tale story. only. . . .it was real life. and i couldn’t believe that we had made it there and it was real and we were experiencing it. . . .together. it made me want to cry, like i did at the jacobite train. that place brought out a wild, curious side of nick that i had never seen before. he wanted to rip his boots and socks off and climb over things to follow a river that would lead him. . . .well, we don’t know. because we didn’t have the time. we left the devil’s pulpit knowing that there would be a next time. in fact, we left all of scotland knowing that there would be a next time. and a next time after that. and after that. because we aren’t finished with it just yet. i’m not sure that i’ll ever feel finished with scotland. all of the quiet, remote wilderness and difficult hikes stirred up something in me that i didn’t even know existed. and isn’t that what travels are for? to find yourself? through all of that wanderlust? i like to think so.
the gorge itself isn’t the easiest place to find if you don’t have specific instruction — so below i have written directions the best i can remember. and suggestions/recommendations based off of our own personal experiences. just to try and make things easier on you.
if you are driving up from the heart of glasgow such as we so bravely did. . . .you are going to want to get on the A809 and take this all the way up. the A809, however, starts out in glasgow as drymen road, which then turns into stockiemuir road, eventually transitioning into the A809. seems simple, right? it isn’t really when you are in glasgow traffic and trying to route yourself there. if you are that lucky person who has a GPS working, it will somehow eventually route you to the A809. this one main road will take you all the way from glasgow up to the ‘car-park’ for the devil’s pulpit (if a car-park is even what you want to call it). you are going to pass through several small villages/suburbs of glasgow before eventually reaching craighat. when you hit an intersection where the A809 meets B834 (you can only turn right on a turn-off and there will be a brown cottage on your left), you will see that in the middle of that turn-off there sits a triangle space which people use as a car-park for finnich glen. there is a Give Way sign right next to the section where the cars park. just be sure that you aren’t sticking out in the main road because cars do use this when connecting to both the A809 and B834. unfortunately, i did not take any pictures of the ‘car-park’ (or walk back to the glen) but this is what you’ll be looking for (just in case there aren’t any cars already parked there, you will have an idea of what the general location looks like!). see that grassy triangle on my google maps? that’s where you’ll want to be.
see the give way sign behind (tired, old) me below? now imagine where we were parked in coordination with where you see that sign. and park there. **i feel the need to mention this because we saw several places where this was/could have been a problem at different car-parks all over skye, the highlands and down south. don’t be that asshole that blocks in cars if it’s crazy busy and the only spot for you to make it to your destination will be to block a car in the direct center of this lot. find another way. those spots eventually clear up and there will be a spot for you. i promise. several people left right around the same time as us, leaving the lot nearly empty!
okay. . . .now, the fun part! as you were driving up (if you were coming from glasgow), you likely saw a couple of places off to the right where you thought ‘hey! that looks like the spot where i saw people jumping the fence when i was researching!’ because that’s what we thought. and you are exactly right. so you will walk back toward the way you drove in from (on A809, heading south). hug the trees! hug the trees! have you ever wanted to be a tree-hugger?? now is your chance. . . .no joke. there is barely any shoulder in some parts and if you aren’t familiar with which way the cars will be coming from because you are a confused, tired, slightly delirious traveler who is used to driving on the right side of the road. . . .you may want to watch for cars and. . . .hug the trees. you will cross a section right up top where you will see a bridge of sorts to the left. keep walking alongside the road until you come to an entrance where the wire fencing has been torn down. you will need to hop over some large stones. from here, i believe you will need to get over another fence (this one is barbed wire so please be careful!) — the easiest spot for me to get over it was near the massive tree trunk. you’ll see where it’s fallen and you can just hop one leg over the giant tree and make your way over the fence. uh. . . .now i’m doing it. see what i mean with the directions. i just told you that the easiest spot to find your way through the forest is near a massive tree trunk. there are literally hundreds of trees in that very forest. you’ll know. you’ll know. you can then head over to the left and peak over the edge! and be amazed at what you see down below. and wonder ‘how in the hell do i get from all the way up here to all the way down there?!’ keep walking alongside the gorge all the way to the back. you will know. i know that sounds vague but again, you will know. the forest will curve you around to the left and you will meet the top of a somewhat hidden staircase. you may hear people down below as you get closer to the back. i realize this all sounds like something out of zelda: a link to the past. . . .like you are in the lost woods trying to find the master sword. but that’s basically what this place looks and feels like. you will want to be very careful not only at the top of the staircase and all the way down it but also traveling alongside the ledge as you are walking back. it’s quite the long fall down into the glen should you accidentally slip — and i don’t imagine the beautiful, red sandstone floor below would be too inviting. watch. your. children. if you are crazy enough to take children down the staircase. sorry for calling you crazy. it’s just. . . .i know how clumsy children can be. because mine are clumsy. and i cannot even imagine them on this staircase. i know i sound motherly. . . .but seriously. there are ropes to aid you in your descent down the staircase. also, please don’t let my photograph (to follow) deceive you. yes, these stairs at the bottom look like literal, easy stairs to climb. it gets tricky in the middle section. hence why there are no photographs of the middle section. only gopro footage. . . .which looks like something out of the blair witch. and you can find over on my FB page later. if the entire staircase looked like the photograph below, we would have been up & down in no time. and you wouldn’t read about people on the BBC — people who have to call a rescue team to come and help them up & out.
if it is as muddy & rainy as it was when we went, you are going to want to use these ropes. especially if you have younger/older people in your party. i found that having boots with incredible traction really helped when we reached those spots where the rock faces were straight slants and we had no steps to step onto. invest. in. gear. if. you. are. going. to. visit. scotland. (or iceland. or the faroe islands. or any other place with similar weather conditions and rough terrain) c’mon, don’t be an idiot abroad [no offense Karl Pilkington – we love you. and you had great gear]. trust yourself as you travel down and move slowly. . . .before you know it, you will be at the bottom! from there it will be pretty self-explanatory. you’ll stand in awe and wonder. . . .sheer amazement. on your way back up, be sure to watch for travelers/hikers descending down as the hundred-foot staircase is narrow and there isn’t much room for large crowds of people. i can only imagine what this place looks like in the summer time, peak-season, with heaps of tourists! we luckily (and very purposely) planned our trip during a cooler time in the off-season which allowed for us to fully enjoy many of our adventures alone in the quiet. however, finnich glen seems to attract a lot of locals on the weekends so try to visit on a weekday if you are avoiding crowds. it’s a beautiful place to hike, even if for any reason, you are unable to make the descent. the forest will be lovely enough. but don’t miss out if you are able. the sights below will absolutely take your breath away. pictures of the devil’s pulpit (even though, there, seeing in person is believing)? i’ll post a few below. if you’d like to see the entire album, head over to my FB page. enjoy! xx.