Welcome to the Falls of Bruar, one of Scotland's finest wild landscapes. For more than 200 years the Falls of Bruar have been a place of pilgrimage. As you walk along the banks of the Bruar Water today, you are treading in the footsteps of these people – poet William Wordsworth, by the artist William Turner, by Queen Victoria and many others less well known – all of whom have sought or found inspiration in this place. When the first visitors came to view the falls in the eighteenth century the Bruar Water flowed not among the woods which you see today, but across a bare, open hillside. The first trees were planted by John Murray, Four th Duke of Atholl, not long after the celebrated Scots poet Robert Burns had visited the falls, and had been inspired to write a poem about them.
In the poem, written in 1787, Burns imagined that he was the Bruar Water, and pleaded with the Duke of Atholl to plant its banks with trees. The poet was already dead by the time the plantations were made, but the verses and the vision which they contain ensure that Burns' name, more than any other, is associated with this place. Burns' poem, and its descriptions, can help us to appreciate the history of the plantations at Bruar, and the special place that these waterfalls hold among Scotland's wild places.
No-one can visit the Bruar Water without being impressed by the striking combination of rock and water seen in the river, as it tumbles over a series of waterfalls into Glen Garry. The character of the falls changes constantly with the weather, the light or with the seasons. Sometimes wild and impressive, at other times more tranquil, the falls are never dull. As Robert Burns wrote: Here foaming down the skelvy rocksIn twisting strength I rin;There high my boiling torrent smokesWild roaring o'er a linn.
It is the 'skelvy' or layered nature of the rock which does much to determine the character of the falls. These ancient rocks – thought to have originally been marine sediments – were uplifted and tilted by the great forces which created his part of the Scottish Highlands some 500 million years ago. The gorge and the waterfalls have probably been formed in the last 10,000 years since the glaciers disappeared from Glen Garry at the end of the last Ice Age. Erosion has sought out the softer layers and weaknesses in the rock, leaving the harder layers to form the outcrops and waterfalls in the river bed. In places the rocks have been worn smooth by the action of the water. One of the best-known features of the falls is seen below the Lower Bridge, where the river has broken through the rock to form a natural arch. The falls are at their most spectacular after heavy rain, or during the melting of the snows in spring. Then the Bruar can become a raging torrent, plunging from pool to pool. Much of the time the Bruar is in more tranquil mood, though, as the circuit judge Lord Cockburn remarked after a visit to the falls in 1844: The ravines through which the water tumbles are so narrow in proportion to the size of the streamthat there can never be any apparent deficiency of water.
Now that water is extracted from the Bruar upstream of the falls, for the generation of hydro-electric power, we are no longer able to see the falls in their full glory. At times of lower flow the water is often stained brown by the peat through which it must flow to reach the river. The artist Joseph Farington, who visited the falls in 1801, remarked on the contrast which this produced with the surrounding rocks:A bridge of light coloured stone crosses the top ofthe fall, and the rocks under it are of a very lightcolour. The deep toned colour of the wateropposed to tints approaching to white gave toneand substance to the effect which white water
The earliest travellers to visit the Scottish Highlands would have viewed the Bruar with real horror. Only as travel was made safer by the building of roads and bridges did travellers begin to view the mountains in a new light. Places like the Falls of Bruar soon became regular stopping places on tours of the Highlands. Today's visitor to the falls is able to follow a path leading from the road, and may cross the Bruar by either of two bridges. Earlier visitors did not have such conveniences, and were obliged to scramble over rocks and streams. The path which you follow was laid out at the time of the first plantations in 1797, and the bridges built to conduct people safely across the Bruar. They serve no purpose other than that of enabling visitors to appreciate the spectacle of the falls. You may notice that the path runs close to the gorge only where the best views may be obtained. In other places the visitor is led away from less spectacular stretches of river bank. At one time a number of shelters were constructed at the key view-points along the path. These were variously described as view-houses, grottoes, shieldings or pastoral huts. Only part of one of these, built of stone, survives, close to the Lower Bridge. Here a skilfully contrived stone arch hides the Middle Falls from view until the last moment. Originally seats and a thatched wooden shelter provided a resting place overlooking the fall. A flight of stone steps led down to the pool below. The other main view-house stood on a ledge on the east side of the gorge, to give views of the Upper Falls. Few traces of this structure now survive, while elsewhere on the walk evidence of other view-houses is difficult to find. While some visitors no doubt appreciated the paths and shelters constructed by the Duke, others felt that they detracted from the wild character of the falls. The clutter of view-houses has now disappeared, and time and nature have mellowed the once formal paths. The work of the masons and labourers was well done, however, as we are still able, nearly two centuries later, to enjoy the spectacle of the falls in relative comfort and safety. It is easy for the works of man to detract from those of nature. At Bruar they try to ensure that you can enjoy the falls in their natural state, and without risk.
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