Robert Burns and the Falls of Foyers

Robert Burns is well known for his trips around his native Lowlands in the south of Scotland. Visitors will also follow in the footsteps of Scotland’s greatest poet around his haunts across the Old Town of Edinburgh. Few may know about his tour through the Scottish Highlands and how the rugged mountain landscapes inspired him.

If you come to the south side of Loch Ness, you will head the same way Robert Burns came in 1787. As a bonus, you will also find yourself on the quiet side of the loch. You are away from the crowds that buzz around Urquhart Castle or hop on tour boats desperate to spot the elusive Loch Ness Monster.

Here Robert Burns found his poetic muse. So impressed with the Falls of Foyers, the bard whipped out his pencil and penned some lines on the spot. Hear those words alongside photographs of the waterfall in this short video.

Lines on the Fall of Foyers by Robert Burns

Yet, from a visit today or looking at photographs you might wonder why Robert Burns described the falls in such tumultuous terms. Are the Falls of Foyers really a “deep recoiling surge”? As you look down from the upper fall viewpoint do you really see a “horrid cauldron” boiling? Park by the small village shop and make the short descent as the path zig-zags down the hillside. Through the pleasant birch forest, you are unlikely to hear a raging torrent in the near distance.

Industry arrives in the Scottish Highlands

In 1895 heavy industry came to the banks of Loch Ness. The British Aluminium Company decided this was the perfect spot to construct an aluminium smelter. Had they discovered huge deposits of bauxite, the mineral ore, used in the smelting process? No! They shipped bauxite along the Caledonian Canal from Ireland. But they had another key ingredient in abundance. At least they could produce that ingredient cheaply and efficiently. Electricity! The Highlands high rainfall and the harnessing of water for hydroelectricity meant they could power the energy-zapping production.

The waterfall that inspired Robert Burns
Would you be inspired to write poetry like Robert Burns?

The river above the waterfall was dammed and diverted, via sluices, to a pipeline that ran down the hillside to a turbine hall below. In no time, the raging falls that so inspired Rober Burns became a mere dribble compared to the cascade before. Objections, even from the great and the good of Victorian society, was not going to get in the way of industrial progress. Unlike elsewhere the legacy of Robert Burns was not enough to halt development. Much of the village of Foyers is a result of the economic boom that came with industrialisation and an influx of workers from across the British Isles.

Foyers Power Station alogside Loch Ness
The Foyers Hydroelectric Power Station on the banks of Loch Ness

The smelter eventually closed in 1967 unable to compete with larger factories or survive global economic factors. The village is now a pleasant home for commuters to the city of Inverness at the end of Loch Ness. However, the waterfall remains impressive even though the river water remains diverted. A reverse pump station still generates hydroelectric power. It operates a bit like a battery. At times of high electrical demand water from the pipes powers the turbines to generate power. Then the water from Loch Ness is pumped up the hillside, when electricity demand is low, to replenish reservoirs above.

Follow in Robert Burns’ footsteps

If you wish to follow in the footsteps of Robert Burns you can take a stroll through the woodland to the viewpoint, descend all the way to Loch Ness, before looping back to the top. Follow the walking directions provided at Walk Highlands. You can also explore more of hidden Loch Ness, including the Falls of Foyers on my virtual tour. Or if you are heading to the Highlands and want to discover more with a professional guide find out about the ‘Classic Highlands and Hidden Loch Ness’ Tour.