Tucked away in the Scottish Borders sits one of Scotland’s most closely-kept secrets
You hear the waterfall before you see it, the roar rising as you approach through the trees and then there it is, tumbling and crashing over the rocks ahead.
The water falls 40ft or more in a torrent of white foam as wide as it is tall, clouds of spray drifting across the pool below.
There are higher waterfalls in Scotland, there are wider waterfalls, but there can be few more unexpected* waterfalls.
Just an hour south of Edinburgh, Stichill Linn is one of Scotland’s most majestic waterfalls and one of its most closely-kept secrets.
In a country as small and familiar as Britain it seems impossible that something as unmissable as a waterfall could be virtually invisible.
And yet here it is, a natural wonder, tucked away out of sight, unheralded, unsignposted, its astonishing beauty unsung.
From a casual glance across the landscape to the north of Kelso there is little to betray the existence of Stichill Linn.
This is a gentle, rolling landscape of fields and trees and distant hills, typical of the Scottish border country towards the coast.
A heron soars above the trees, its rasping call carrying far across the woodland. Nearby, the mewling cries of a pair of buzzards draw the eye upwards to observe these beautiful birds as they swirl overhead.
Through this landscape runs the little Eden Water, flowing sedately eastwards towards its confluence with the Tweed and on to meet the North Sea at Berwick.
About three miles miles north west of the market town of Kelso it enters the estate of Newton Don and with almost no warning drops a good 40 feet (12m) into a steep sided ravine before almost as abruptly continuing its steady progress seawards.
That ravine must have taken many centuries to carve, though the Newton Don estate is a more recent arrival. The heavily landscaped estate of parks and woodland took shape in the late 18th century on the site of the former village of Little Newton, cleared away by the estate’s owners, the Don family.
The privacy and seclusion the Dons sought echoes on down through the generations. Today the only signs marking the main approach to Stichill Linn are neat white wooden boards bearing the words Private and Please Keep Off The Grass.
But thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act of 2003, this cannot be, and is not, a private waterfall. As the Scottish Outdoor Access Code makes clear, members of the public have every right to use the paths that lead to it, regardless of the odd wire fence they may find strung across their way.
There’s always a difficult balance to be struck between preserving the unspoiled beauty of a natural feature such as Stichill Linn and encouraging greater public access and it is true that the existence of the waterfall has never been a complete secret. There is mention of it in 19th century Ordnance Survey records:
“This is a very fine waterfall on the River Eden immediately opposite Newton Don House. the water falls over a nearly perpendicular rock of about 40 feet in height, and in a flood, or in a hard frost, is a most beautiful object.”
But this striking waterfall is one of Scotland’s natural national treasures and in 2020 - designated as the Year of Coast and Waters by national tourist body Visit Scotland - it seems a shame that it should remain so effectively hidden away from the public gaze.
[*Update: Since the original post, the waterfall now appears on Google Maps.]
There is space to park on the road by Harrietfield Farm Cottages and at Stichill village. Please be considerate and think of the people who live locally: access rights should always be exercised responsibly. Stick as closely as possible to paths already made and watch out for spring bulbs.
From Stichill the easiest way to the falls is to follow the B6364 south until about 200 metres past the start of the trees, where there is a formed gap in the stone wall on the right. (It is also possible to enter the first field on the way out of the village and follow the eastern field boundary, through a gate and on to enter the wood from the north). Descend straight ahead to a footbridge: there is a small fence to step over just before the bridge. Once across the bridge, turn right and follow the path alongside the river.
From Harrietfield, head northwest along the road, turning off to the left and over a fence to follow the paths marked on the OS map through the woodland. There are fences and quite a few cut trees to negotiate before reaching and crossing the drive and following the path on through the woods to the falls.
The waterfall can also be reached from the minor road running south west out of Stichill through a farm gate on the left. A track leads along the hedge line to the woodland; turn left through the gate and follow the wood edge, go through a second gate a short distance further on and enter the woodland over a wooden fence immediately on the right. There is no clearly defined path down to the waterfall and care should be taken descending and ascending because the ground can be muddy and slippery. Try to follow the line of the stream down to where it meets the waterfall pool. Please follow the access code and avoid walking across crops in the fields.