The Victorians first put Reekie Linn on the tourist map and it has remained a firm favourite with visitors to Angus ever since. One of Scotland’s most spectacular waterfalls, it cascades through a deep tree-lined canyon, throwing up a smoky mist of spray. A well-walked path follows the north bank of the River Isla to an exposed cliff-top viewpoint. However, for those with a sense of adventure and a head for heights, there is another, virtually unknown trail on the south side of the water.
I discovered this hidden path quite by chance as I made tracks for Bridge of Craigisla, the traditional starting point for visits to the falls. A little up the road from the bridge, close to Craigisla House, some recent hedge trimming revealed an old green metal sign. Rather tatty and worn, its message remained clear enough. It read: ‘Footpath to Reekie Linn’.
Intrigued, I left my car by the pleasant riverside picnic area at Bridge of Craigisla and set off on foot back up the country lane. Following the sign, I headed east on a grassy track skirting alongside a high wall bounding the grounds of Craigisla House. My first foray proved unsuccessful, leading me to a gate and field beyond so I backtracked and tried again. This time, part way along the track, I branched left, following a vague path into woodland. Uncertain at first, I became more confident in my route finding abilities as an obvious trail developed. It led through a corridor of trees and rhododendron, running parallel with the road for a way before curving right to reach a sign warning of the dangers of steep cliffs ahead, confirmation I was on the right track.
Undeterred by the cautionary notice, I pushed forward and a little further on, the path split. Opting for the left branch, I ventured through the trees to find a viewpoint above the falls. Below me the thundering power of Reekie Linn was revealed in all its glory.
In normal conditions, the River Isla drops first over a six metre high upper fall before cascading down an 18-metre high lower section into a deep, black, frothy pool in the base of the gorge. When the river is in spate, these two falls combine with dramatic effect.
The falls thrown up great clouds of spray and it is from this that they got their name. The word ‘reekie’ means smoke or mist while ‘linn’ is Gaelic for deep or dark pool. The pool beneath the falls is said to be over 30 metres deep.
Slightly obscured by trees and shrubbery, the view of the falls is not quite as good from here as it is from across the river on the tourist path but, free of the crowds that regularly descend upon this beauty spot, I was able to soak up the rumbling atmosphere without interruption.
Unable to move much further forward on this path, I returned to the fork and set off along the other arm. I hoped there might be a way to descend to the base of the falls and my prayers were soon answered.After crossing a tiny trickle of a stream, I spotted a narrow path on my left and decided to try my luck. It turned out to be something of an obstacle course, but after ducking under fallen trees and slithering through mud, I picked a careful course down through the gully to the river and found myself standing above another dramatic fall emptying itself into a gently simmering ribbon of black water.
With Reekie Linn lying upstream, I scrambled along the riverbank, negotiating a chaotic jumble of rocks, fallen tree trunks and vegetation. My persistence paid off and, after picking up a few scratches, I rounded a corner to find myself perched upon black slabs of damp rock directly opposite the base of the falls.
Overshadowed by the towering canyon walls, sunlight filtering through the trees above, I marvelled at the might of the white water as it descending headlong into the pool below me, the refreshingly fine spray enveloping me like drizzle on a driech day. Only there was none of the depression of a driech day, just the joy of witnessing one of nature’s great marvels.
At the base of the waterfall, there is a dark cave called Black Dub where, according to local folklore, an outlaw hid out until one night the devil appeared before him in the form of a huge black dog. So frightened was he that he turned himself in the following day.
To my surprise I also spotted a small stone shed built into the cliff to the left of the main fall. It is one of two derelict huts by the river here and can be reached from a promontory at the top of the waterfall. A rickety old metal ladder descends into a narrow rock trench, the lower of the two sheds sitting at the bottom of this.
Drenched but delirious, I scrambled back along the riverbank and climbed through the gully to rejoin the path at the top of the gorge. Keen to find out how far it would take me, I trekked east, making occasional detours along the way to some stunning standpoints perched high above the river.
The path runs through a narrow wooded corridor, fields to the right and perilously steep drops to the left. Add to this fallen tree trunks that lie across the way, and there are plenty of challenges for the walker. However, it is a peaceful and sheltered hike, a rich mix of conifers, broadleaves and rhododendron flanking the way. While the majority of Victorian visitors to the falls undoubtedly frequented the cliff-top path on the south side of the river, there is evidence to suggest the more adventurous ones trod this route too. Beyond a moss-encrusted cairn, I chanced upon a brittle stone arch and small enclosure, the type of follies these early tourists would doubtless have delighted in discovering. There can be no other reason for their existence here.
Beyond this point, the path tunnels through a procession of rhododendron bushes to reach an overhead power line. Here the way appeared to end; the ground beyond badly eroded. However, I scrambled across the washed out gully and found it did indeed go on to meet up with a track emerging from a field on my right.
Despite scouring the heavily wooded slopes for a further continuation of the path I found nothing in the undergrowth, save for fleeting glimpses of a hare and a pair of roe deer. Instead, I joined the track and followed it down to the river where it ended abruptly. Downstream, a stone culvert spans the Isla, carrying water from Loch of Lintrathen reservoir to Dundee.
This was as far as my riverside ramble would take me. At some point in time the path may very well have continued further east, perhaps passing the waterfalls at Slug of Auchrannie and running on to Airlie Castle, two miles downstream. Now, heavy vegetation blocked my way but I was content to sit awhile by the river, and savour a spot well off the tourist trail.