Since the day I learned there was a waterfall called Den Finella I have been determined to visit. Growing up as a “Finella” was quite a unique experience. I was always the only Finella in my class, my school and usually my town. I was never able to walk into a shop and find a fun wee piece of tat with my name on it. Regular confusion prompted me to learn the phonetic alphabet early, so that I could quickly spell my name in an awkward situation. It was a pain. However, the name felt uniquely mine and eventually I grew to love that. So imagine my surprise at the discovery of this waterfall in Aberdeenshire. Complete with the exact same spelling. This stirred a feeling of curiosity too strong to ignore. We just HAD to see what it was all about.
Lady Finella- The King Killer
Den Finella was named after a noblewoman who allegedly jumped to her death from its dizzying heights in the 10th century. Lady Finella reportedly lured King Kenneth II to her country home to avenge the death of her only son. After his murder she fled from his guards only to find herself at the top of the imposing falls. She leapt forward to join her son in the afterlife. Leaving the guards looking down over the vast drop of the falls in disbelief. What a woman!
What’s in a name?
I might not have been named after this noble lady, however my name was inspired by a woman who shared her brave and fierce nature. My great aunt Finella was the older sister of my nana and a women whose bold reputation proceeded her. My great aunt was in turn named after her aunt. A Woman affectionately known by my mother and the rest of the family as “Old Aunt Finella”.
Both woman left a legacy steeped in strength and power. Despite living during a time where women were perhaps preferred to blend into the background.
Old Aunt Finella died before I was born but her character was written into our family’s history. She was born in 1890 and cared for my nana and her siblings when they returned from India. Their father had been stationed there until 1929. She moved to Inverness in the 1950s and became like a grandmother to my mum during her time living in the capital of the Highlands.
Long Forgotten Memories
Memories of my great aunt Finella come mostly from early childhood. When she visited Inverness she would bring us plastic golf clubs and smart advice. The clubs a symbol of her prowess on the golf course -she was in fact the Borders Golf Champion several years running. Finella was born in 1915 and lived in India until 1929 as her dad was stationed in the army. Like my nana she learned Hindu and walked to school as a young girl amongst the wild animals. Hindu would come to serve my nana in her later years as a WW2 nurse. She would use her command of the langauge to communicate with the injured Gurkha soldiers. But, that’s one of many stories for another day.
My nana fondly remembered her sister as a woman who could command the attention of an entire room just by entering. A woman who didn’t suffer fools gladly, and who often got the sisters out of a pickle with her bold as brass constitution and sparkling wit. She also wrote with great conviction. I am told that beautiful poetry often flowed from her pen. This was a gift that filtered down to her daughter Patsy. A talent that I myself work at trying to emulate.
As I stood looking over the top of the falls from the safety of a stone bridge, I reminisced over my family tree, bursting at the branches with Finellas. I mused over their similarities to this brave noble woman who had been born over 1000 years ago. The woman who inspired the name of the falls. My first name had suddenly taken on a new significance I certainly have a lot to live up to!
A Test of Bravery
The braveness now associated with my given name was tested as soon as we reached the top of Den Finella. I have always been a little scared – ok, a lot scared of heights – and the path down to the base of the waterfall is notoriously steep.
The rain had fallen for a couple of days before our visit and the fallen leaves of autumn provided a dangerously slippery path. It’s okay- said Michelle – there’s a rope to help us down. Michelle possesses a head for heights akin to a mountain goat so her confidence did little to unravel the growing knot in my stomach.
The first section of the path while steep, was manageable, and I was able to keep my nerves under control until we reached a sharp turn to the left. I sat frozen at this point as the path narrowed and curved with sheer drops on every side. The thin rope that had been secured for balance did little to squash my fears and I sat pondering whether going up or down would be the less deadly option.
At this point Michelle decided to pass me (god knows how) and guide me the rest of the way. I gripped the rope with a white knuckled determination and slow as a snail bumped down the remainder of the path on my bum.
The path down to the waterfall is genuinely dangerous and steep. I wouldn’t recommend attempting it unless you have to correct footwear and feel confident. It is also recommended to only attempt when dry.
You can read more about the path down here
When we eventually reached the bottom we were treated to an unbelievable view of Den Finella. The falls cascade water over 20 metres into a large pool below. The tumbling flora around the waterfall adds to its beautiful appearance.
We had planned to go for a swim in the pool at the bottom but my nerves were shot and I didn’t want to risk having cold or numb hands or feet for the climb back up. We plan to return in the summer so we can swim and leap from the jumps at the side.
Some Views from the Top
We scaled the path with more ease than the descent as is usually the way. I was extremely happy to be back on high ground with a firm level path under my feet. Covered in mud and pumped up with adrenaline we headed over to the adjacent viaduct to get a view of the falls from there. The viaduct is overgrown and the small wall at the side provided little protection so please take care if walking across it.
After exploring the viaduct we went to the other side of the road bridge and walked down a small path to the top of the falls. No visit would be complete to a waterfall without Michelle getting disgustingly close to the top to take a picture. I hung back (pacing nervously) while she did her thing before we returned to the warmth and comfort of the car.
Our trip to Den Finella, while a little more terrifying than I had imagined, was quite a special experience. Perhaps because it provided me with cause and time to think of those no longer here. I felt an affinity to a place that up until a year ago I had no idea existed.
Named connections aside, Den Finella is a truly beautiful and magical place. Please go with care if visiting. The reports of a steep path online are not exaggerated. If you feel at all worried or unsure the view from the bridge at the top is quite beautiful in its own right.
Remember, no matter where you go to take only pictures and leave only footprints so that Scotland can stay beautiful for all who visit!
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