Gayle explores (and swims at) the ‘hidden’ Den Finella waterfall – a scenic spot near St Cyrus steeped in myth and legend.
White water roars 70ft down a sheer ravine, through a green canopy and into a series of plunge pools.
Den Finella’s waterfall – known as the “lost waterfall of Scotland” – is an awe-inspiring, breathtaking sight.
Shrouded in folklore and mystery, the den is named after noblewoman-turned assassin Finella, who supposedly leapt to her death here in 995.
I’ve long wanted to explore the spot, but having heard tales of how treacherous the path leading down to it is, I’ve been a wee bit wary.
Basically, if you aren’t a fan of vertiginous drops, and don’t think you can trust a rather rustic rope system, then don’t attempt it.
And my advice to anyone reading this would be to NEVER think about attempting this in bad weather or after heavy rain.
As luck would have it, there’d been a few clear, dry autumnal days and as I needed to head from Angus to Aberdeenshire, I decided to do a wee detour to the den.
It’s a couple of miles north of St Cyrus, although most folk driving along the A92 wouldn’t have a clue this hidden gem existed.
Parking is tricky. It’s a dangerous road and the only place to leave your car is on the bridge.
There’s just enough space to squeeze in a couple of cars (please don’t park in the nearby driveway as access is required 24/7) but you need to be really careful as vehicles whizz along here at speed.
Continue at your peril!
A gap in a wall leads into thick woodlands, and the footpath you need to follow. An old signpost warns intrepid explorers to continue at their peril, so on your head be it.
As I walk along, I get cheeky glimpses of the thundering falls, and feel a tad dizzy as I look across the valley and down into the abyss. I won’t sugar-coat this – this is not an expedition for the faint-hearted.
I soon reach a crossroads of pathways, and this is where the adventure truly begins. Is it steep? Is it slippery? Heck, yes!
Luckily some very thoughtful person has created a makeshift rope system, which runs more or less all the way from the top to the bottom, although some sections are worn and broken.
I’m sure it’s not a pretty sight as I alternate grabbing on to ropes and branches, slipping on loose rocks and mud and sitting on my rear, and pausing to drink in the heart-stopping views.
After scrambling over a wall, I make it to the bottom in one piece – just – and breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Was it worth it? Absolutely! The spectacle of the “hidden” waterfall is one worth fighting the fear for.
It has to be one of the most stunning spots in Aberdeenshire, if not Scotland. Just wow.
Rare orchids flower here in summer, and it’s cloaked in ferns year-round – they thrive in the damp atmosphere.
Vines and ivy drape their tendrils enchantingly down the rocky gully.
I won’t sugar-coat this – this is not an expedition for the faint-hearted.”
Determined to reach the big plunge pool at the foot of the falls, I need to wade through a smaller pool to get there.
I dip my toes in, wade in a little further, and realise that it’s really deep.
Time for a swim
As luck would have it, I’ve brought my summer “shortie” wetsuit and a pair of water shoes, so without further ado I get changed and swim through.
My faux pas? I don’t have a waterproof case for my phone, so I hold it aloft as I swim/wade, and come very close to losing it.
So again, my advice if you’re determined to get to the big pool at this time of year (it might be easier or more accessible in drier, summer weather but I can’t be sure) is to take swim gear and make sure your phone is protected.
Swimming here is chilly, even with the wetsuit. But it’s invigorating, and amazing to swim right under the cascading falls – a truly memorable experience.
Once I’ve taken some photos, I swim/wade back to the first pool where I dry off and grin from ear to ear.
It’s crazy to imagine this is the spot where Finella supposedly met her end.
The story goes that her son had been killed by Kenneth II and she feigned forgiveness to lure him to her cottage in Fettercairn where she had set up a crossbow deathtrap.
She was then chased to the waterfall by the king’s soldiers where, to evade capture, she jumped to her doom.
Another, less dramatic tale, sees Finella escape and flee to Ireland where she lives out the rest of her days. I prefer the story where she jumps, sinister as that may be!
You’ll get another good view of the falls from the nearby viaduct, reached from the crossroads where the rope system began.
If you fancy checking out the top of the waterfall, back to the road and scale a wall at the opposite side. This takes you under the bridge where the views down the falls are utterly sensational.
Be very careful – the rocks are extremely slippery and it’s a long way to drop.