Waterfalls – is a curated artist response to our natural environment.
Artists have always sought inspiration from the natural environment, and perhaps never more so than during the Romantic era. Against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution when ‘unspoiled’ nature was deemed under threat, and when humanity seemed small and insignificant against the raging rivers, waterfalls and violent storms, the pastoral, sublime, and picturesque came to the fore.
‘The space the magnitude of mountains and waterfalls. I live in the eye, and my imagination, surpassed, is at rest. I shall learn poetry here’.
So writes Keats on his walking tour of Scotland. Taking a grand tour of Scotland and visiting the spectacular waterfalls, became a national obsession with Turner, Walter Scott, Byron and Burns all leading the vanguard.
So writes Robert Burns in 1787; –
‘After breakfast we made a party to go and see Cauldron Linn, a remarkable cascade in the Devon basin, and after spending one of the most pleasant days I have ever had in my life, I returned to Stirling in the evening’
Burns went on to write numerous poems inspired by waterfalls, as did Byron and Millais and numerous others including; Wordsworth; Louis Stevenson and Mendelssohn, who all wrote about them. Consequently the great British public, visited them in droves.
Since those heady Victorian days the paths leading to well over 1000 waterfalls, have become overgrown, and many falls have all but disappeared from our maps.
Now against the backdrop of climate change and a global pandemic, there has never been a more urgent need to reconnect with nature.
Waterfalls now invites contemporary, post-pastoral and ecologically aware and authors, artist, poets and film-makers to connect with nature in much the same way as their romantic counterparts did. Be it in the form of a simple diary entry, a social comment, poem, haiku, story or journal.
Artists, will be curated together with the Scottish Poetry Library where the work will be exhibited, accompanied by images and films by Oscar van Heek to form a unique exhibition and publication.
We aim to encourage audiences to visit the various chosen waterfalls as well as the exhibition. Mapping and location details will be provided for users to visit and discover hidden waterfalls, as well as read corresponding artists responses, and even be encouraged to engage with their own responses on line, and so experience a unique and immersive journey of discovery and inspiration.
Oscar van Heek has been nominated for the SONY WORLD PHOTOGRAPHY AWARDS 2019, and has work selected for the 2021 and 2022 RSA, and recently exhibited at SONICA GLASGOW 2022
In a letter written in 1787, Robert Burns described a visit to the Cauldron Linn:
After breakfast we made a party to go and see Cauldron Linn, a remarkable cascade in the Devon about fives miles from Harviestoun; and after spending one of the most pleasant days I ever had in my life, I returned to Stirling in the evening.
The falls that once used to be on everyone’s itinerary, are no longer marked on any maps, and they are awkward to reach because the paths are overgrown. The best approach is from Muckhart Mill, but they can also be tackled from the footpaths along the spectacular Devon Valley Railway.
At the Linn of Dee the river narrows to a little over a meter in width. The channel is cut in schistose rocks and below the present falls there is a series of round pools. Downstream is a small dyke that probably marks the site of the original fall. It is possible when the water is low to step across the stream safely however it was here that young Byron caught his lame foot and was saved from a fatal fall by a companion.
In the course of one of his summer excursions up Dee-side, he had an opportunity of seeing still more of the wild beauties of the Highlands having been taken by his mother through the romantic passes that lead to Invercauld, and as far up as the small waterfall, called the Linn of Dee. Here his love of adventure had nearly cost him his life. As he was scrambling along a declivity that overhung the fall some heather caught his lame foot, and he fell. Already he was rolling downward, when the attendant luckily got hold of him, and was but just in time to save him from being killed.
Lord Byron his letters and journals by Thomas Moore
The ornamental granite bridge at the Linn of Dee was opened by Queen Victoria in I857
In the late summer of 1787, Robert Burns set out on a tour of the Scottish Highlands. He had been invited to stay at Blair Castle, by the fourth Duke of Atholl; his lordship advised the poet to be sure to make the detour to view a local beauty spot, the necklace of falls known as Bruar Water.
Burns loved the falls, and declared later that these two or three days were the happiest of his life. He found Atholl picturesque and beautiful but was however critical of the lack of trees and shrubs. In true Burns style he wrote a poem to the Duke of Atholl, begging him to re-vegetate the treeless hillsides.
His poem with its jaunty characterisation of a highland stream provides a splendid memorial of his visit.
Would then, my noble master please
To grant my highest wishes,
He’ll shade my banks wi’ tow’ring trees
And bonie spreading bushes.
Delighted doubly then, my lord
You’ll wander on my banks,
And listen monie a grateful bird
Return you tuneful thanks.
Excerpt of Burn’s poem ‘The humble Petition of Briar Water’
The duke took note and the larch woods for which his estates became famous were created by Duke of Atholl, who became as known as the ‘planting duke’.
Plodda falls, over forty meters high, is the highest and most spectacular waterfall in the area. The ‘Tweedmouth Walk’ to Plodda Falls, leads through policies that contain magnificent specimen of Douglas Fir planted between 1895 and 1905. Many of these trees are considered to be some of the most spectacular in Britain, and the Douglas Firs at around 200m tall, are amongst the tallest.
The burn supplying the fall seems unpromising at first, but soon a cascade of around eight meters can be seen. Shortly after this it becomes apparent that the main river is far below in a deep gorge, and that the burn will have to make a sensational decent if it is to join it. This it does quite vertically, under a cast iron ornamental bridge from which there is a view of the river thirty meters below.
At the principal fall, the water plunges over a rock lip into a basin, the main stream falling ten meters sheer. This is Rob Roy country and the basin is dubbed Rob Roy’s Bathtub. A smaller hollow, etched by a lesser arm of the stream in the wall of the basin is called Rob Roy’s Soap Dish although it is unlikely that the famous raider and cattle thief used that commodity when in these parts.
Many writers of whom Dorothy Wordsworth is perhaps the most famous, have celebrated the falls at Glen Falloch. She gives a memorable account of her walk to the falls with her brother, William, and Coleridge:
We sat down and heard, as if from the heart of the earth, the sound of torrents ascending out of the long hollow glen. To the eye all was motionless, a perfect stillness. The noise of waters did not appear to come from any particular quarter; it was everywhere, almost, one might say, as if ‘exhaled’ through the whole surface of the green earth. Glen Falloch, Coleridge has since told me, signifies the hidden vale; but William says that if we were to name it from our recollections of that time we should call it the Vale of Awful Sound.
Nowadays the falls are a notable wild swimming spot though not without danger particularly when the falls are in spate.
This is perhaps the most frequently visited and best known of all Deeside falls, apart of course, from the Linn of Dee itself.
The Linn is an open fall where a substantial body of white water is hurled with considerable force by means of two leaps into a deep pool. A steep ‘salmon ladder’ pass has been hewn into the rocks on the west bank to enable salmon to climb what must be one of the most abrupt obstacles to be surmounted by this means. The Linn of Muick is ten meters high. Common folklore had it that the pool beneath the falls was supposed to be bottomless.
The road climbs beyond the falls out of Linn Wood towards the Loch. On the opposite bank, the Princess Drive runs close to the river.
A trail leads from a car park beside the Althouse Burn which is a modest stream almost hidden in the woods. There is a great variety of bird life and at least one pair of herons nest there. The fall is on a tributary where the valley narrows and it is hidden in the trees until the last moment. A large vertical fall of the apron type, is impressive in winter, and can be spectacular after heavy rain when it is a twenty foot high curtain of roaring foam water. In the summer though it can be a quiet place with ferns and mosses, damp grasses and sunlight dappled through overhanging branches into slow pools below.
A ancient stone in the grounds of Urrard House marks, if local tradition is to be believed, the spot where Dundee received his mortal wound at the Battle of Killiecrankie. Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82), the Victorian poet who almost completely lost his reason in middle life, was taken to Urrard House for a period of rest and recuperation.
Near Urrard House is the beautiful Fall of Urrard. The fall was frequently visited by the Victorians, but has since received very little notice in guide books since Black’s Guide of 1861. It is not marked on any map, and it is a very good example of the way in which scenes which delighted the Victorians, are neglected. Today the fall is marred somewhat by a hydroelectric scheme at the side of the falls.
The Spectacle E’e (eye) waterfalls – so named as a result of an incident involving a local man who fell in love with the miller’s daughter. The miller disapproved of the union and ended their relationship. As revenge the lad placed an eyeglass in the mill’s thatch, causing it to catch fire and the mill to be burned to the ground.
The Spectacle E’e is the most imposing fall in the basin of the Avon, it is approached from the village of Sandford, past Tweedie Mill. The Kype Water falls into the Avon at the edge of the carboniferous lavas that make up the hill country beyond Strathaven and forms a series of picturesque falls culminating in a fall of fifteen meters.
This formidable waterfall was noticed in Anderson and other Victorian guide books, but it seems to have been neglected thereafter, either in the belief that the aluminium works established in 1908 has attenuated the fall to such an extent that it was no longer worth visiting, or in the belief that the works were such a blot on the landscape that it rendered the district unsuitable for tourists. Neither is the case.
At snow melt, the fall is exceptionally fine and on a cold frosty night with a full moon it is indescribably beautiful because of its big scale and the confined nature of the gorge.
Paths lead up both banks of the burn—well away from its steep sides—to Mamore Lodge, the most precipitously situated retreat in Scotland. The Lodge was visited by Edward VIII and he would have undoubtedly visited these falls.
The principal feature of interest beside the falls on the river Braan below Rumbling Bridge, is the Summer House called Ossian’s Hall.
Opposite the entrance is a picture of Ossian playing upon his harp and singing songs of other times. The sides and ceiling of this inner apartment are lined with mirrors that reflect the waterfall under a variety of aspects. Many famous visitors have commented on this feature, most with praise but Wordsworth was more critical;
The mirrors afford various reflections of the whitened volume of water, as it pours down the cataract; like smoke, like flame, like boiling oil. This is a conceit of which the contriver was probably very proud, but, I must confess, that I could not help considering it with sentiments other than those of admiration.
There are wonderful woodland walks along the banks, with sycamore, oak and beech but the chief glory of this wood is a Douglas Fir which is reputed to be the tallest tree in Britain.
The walk to Glen Burn Falls, takes you into Glen Vale, one the finest glens in the Lomonds. To get there you first descend to the Devil’s Burdens. This is a straight line of massive, weathered boulders. The Devil is supposed to have dropped these from his back as he flew over the Lomond Hills.
At the top end of the secluded valley, is John Knox’s Pulpit – a secret congregation spot at the time of the reformation. The site formed a natural amphitheatre from which a few carefully positioned guards would have been able to warn of any approaching lawmen. An angel with a drawn sword is said to have appeared on top of the pulpit, protecting the minister who spoke within. Whilst part of the cave is still there to be seen, the rocks that formed the pulpit were removed in 2004 because they were deemed unsafe.
A short distance from John Knox’s pulpit is the site of a beautiful secluded waterfall. It is not the most breathtaking nor the most imposing, but it is one of the most picturesque of falls. It is unusual in that you can walk right up to the fall, and bathe your feet in the shallow pool at its base.
Alva Glen is the finest of the four main Ochil Glens. Every year the waterfalls in the glen are illuminated by coloured lights. These Alva Glen illuminations have been attracting people from all over Scotland for many years.
The highlights of the glen include the 23m Craighorn Fall and the Big Fall, a hidden waterfall that cascades magically into the Smuggler’s Cave.
Beyond the impressive Craighorn Fall, a well-marked miners’ track leads down Silver Glen with its famous old mines. These mines were once assayed by Sir Isaac Newton, when he was Master of the Mint, as he wanted to determine the quality of the silver for himself.
There are four noteworthy falls in Silver Glen. Other falls in the neighbourhood of Alva include those in Balquharn Glen, which are the most difficult and awkward to access in the Ochil Glens.