Following a Geological Trail in Scotland’s Glen Nevis

Looking up Glen Nevis

I’ve chosen the wrong companion for my geological time travel adventure: Like most girls of her age, the only type of rocks my daughter is interested in are the ones you find sparkling on the fingers of the Real Housewives of Orange County.

“Get out into the river,” I instruct, “and stand on those rocks.” She looks at me, aghast. “Why?” “Because,” I say, exasperated, “they’re old.”

And they are. In fact (let me consult my leaflet) at about 700 million years, they’re the oldest rocks in Glen Nevis. “That means,” I inform my mutinous teen, “that they were here before Ben Nevis. What do you think of that?” “It’s very pretty,” she concedes, fidgeting. “Can I come back on land now?”

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You don’t just want to look at the scenery, you want to know why it’s so spectacular
  • You fancy a bit of a walk, but don’t want to go too far
  • You’ve never seen the inside of a collapsed volcano before (that you know of)
  • Good for families because there’s lot of variety and features to spark interest.

We get in the car and drive on up Glen Nevis. To give a twist to a sightseeing tour, and to satisfy my craving for all things rocky, we’re following a self-guided tour in the Lochaber Geopark, which has plenty of parking stops and short walking trails leading to different geological features.   Geoparks, as their name suggests, are areas of particular geological interest and here, under the shadow of the UK’s highest mountain, we’re trying out our first.

This mini-trip into the Ben Nevis massif is something I badly wanted to do. To a lot of people (my family included) rocks sound dull: presented with the choice between a car trip along Glen Nevis or a ten mile walk, I was lucky to get just one taker. The rest of my nearest and dearest preferred the walk. But actually it isn’t as bad as my daughter had feared. She’s in danger of showing an interest. “Where next?” she asks. I give her the leaflet and tell her to direct me.

Old rocks – these were here before the mountains which overlook them

Not that you can get lost driving in Glen Nevis: it’s one road up a dead end valley. But the stopping places are marked on the map and she becomes involved in pointing them out. “Stop here.” We walk for a bit. So that’s a waterfall ticked off. “Up on the left to the silver rocks.” “Just by the road. Stop here”’

Following the Glen Nevis Geotrail

There are nine trails and each has six points of interest.  The leaflets are bright and clear, with one side explaining the general geology and the other directing visitors to the individual points of interest. So, for example, you don’t just get to see a waterfall – you get to understand why it’s there. And you learn, too, how a collapsing volcano many millions of years ago left behind it a magma chamber, solidifying into the solid granite mass which is the Ben Nevis massif. You can’t see the peak itself (Britain’s highest at just under 1344 meters) from the bottom of the glen but its southern flanks tower mightily above you.

Leaving the car at Point 5 (where a broad sheet of water rushes over granite slabs) she’s persuaded to accompany me up the hill in search of a line in the rocks which marks the very edge of the ancient magma chamber. The map says it’s 60 meters but we miss the path and end up scrambling over wet and slippery slabs in unsuitable footwear. She doesn’t give tuppence for the rocks themselves, but she loves a treasure hunt. “Is this it? Is this?” Yes – that’s it.

the local wildlife is unimpressed by both geology and scenery

We scramble down, strangely satisfied. The sixth and last stop is at the end of the road and there’s another walk of about a mile through a gorge to the spectacular (when it’s wet) waterfall of An Steall. I’m up for it but her feet are wet. So, with reluctance on my part, we abandon the trail and take a minute to absorb the view along the broad, deep valley.

“Did you enjoy that?” I ask as we wend our way back towards Fort William and, when she nods, press home my advantage. “Shall we try another one?” “Oh, definitely,” comes the swift “reply, “but maybe not for a while.” And, knowing when I’m beaten, I accept defeat with grace and we head off to find some lunch.

Practicalities

  • Be better prepared than we were – if you’re planning to scramble up to the waterslide or walk up to look at An Steall waterfall, wear sensible shoes
  • Remember that Scotland’s weather is notoriously unpredictable. Take an extra jumper.
  • There are nine self-guided geotrails in the Lochaber area – you can pick up the leaflets at the local tourist information centre
  • There aren’t many places to eat further along the Glen, though you’ll find something closer to Fort William. A picnic’s a good idea, if the weather’s fine.

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