Sunday 18 May 2014

Via Ferrata - Kinlochleven, Scotland

‘Via Ferrata’ means Iron roads. There is a light drizzle of rain and I am sheltered beneath a cluster of trees as I gaze up Grey Mare’s Tail, the fifth highest waterfall in Scotland. Adjacent to the torrent flow of water are rusted iron rungs embedded deep into the rock face.  A steel cable weaves upwards and acts as the agent of safety for our vertical climb. “2 clips on the safety cable and shout ‘below’ if you dislodge any loose rocks!” yells the instructor.

Grey Mare’s Tail
My hands shake with anticipation as I cross a wire bridge towards the vertical climb. Fear mingled with thrill, I steadily begin the climb upwards, clipping in the karabiner alongside me whilst ascending up a steel ladder to access the rock-face. There are a few people climbing in front of me, as I opted to start behind the group. I am here alone and the other climbers consists of a young UK Army group on adventure training, myself, and 2 male walkers.

I worry about my beaten legs as I get higher. Having trekked to the summit of Ben Nevis the day before, my legs emit a tight and dull pain whilst I climb. “Wow” I whisper quietly. I soak in the views as I clamber upwards. The sky is a dark, ominous slate of grey. I am towering above the trees, overlooking the heavy flow of water from Grey Mare’s Tail to my right and the rocky outcrops to my left. The climb isn’t physically strenuous, and I feel a spike of vitality and exuberance. It’s a mixture of the adrenaline and the sheer appreciation for the natural beauty around me. I never envisioned I could do such a unique activity in the UK.

I soon approach a horizontal crossing consisting of a plank of wood held by hanging metal cables. I step straight onto the plank excitedly and my heart jolts in fear as the plank lurches unsteadily. My hands reflectively shoot out to grab the rocky wall in an attempt to steady myself. I remind myself of the instructor’s safety briefing, and how he stated that we would still drop 3 – 4M if we fell whilst harnessed in the safety system.  I brush the thought away but proceed a little more cautiously.

As I edge closer to the waterfall, I feel the spray of water lightly dusted in the air and on my face. I climb higher over the mouth of the waterfall and onto a wooden rope ladder at the end of the Via Ferrata. With a breath of relief, I clamber over the last rung and emerge on a clearing of land next to Grey Mare’s Tail. The instructor gives me a thumbs up and I grin in return with adrenaline and sheer delight coursing through me.

Trip Tips

  • There are only 2 Via Ferrata's in the UK: one in Lake District (Honister Slate Mine) and one in Kinlochleven, Scotland. 
  • I took the 44 bus from Fort William to Kinlochleven. The journey took approximately 1 hour and a single bus ticket was £4.70.
  • The activity takes 3 hours to complete including the safety briefing. The activity cost £39.00 with Vertical Descents. (
  • The activity itself isn't very physically strenuous or technical.There is a 'rest clip' on the harness system if you get tired climbing up. I think the main issue for people completing the Via Ferrata is the fear of heights/exposure. 
  • The climb is next to a 90m waterfall, the iron rungs aren't slippery at all. Wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty. 
  • If you have any other questions/queries, feel free to comment here or email me. 

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