Scotland’s home to some of the best-known scenes in the UK; from Arthur’s Seat to Loch Ness, Ben Nevis to the Isle of Mull – you can’t go far without seeing a postcard-worthy view (even if the weather ensures the photos you take aren’t always postcard-worthy). It’s also, however, proud to host some of the least known too. Around 15 miles from Glasgow, the Devil’s Pulpit (aka. Finnich Glen) is one of these special places; tucked behind barbed wire fences, fallen-down trees and mud as deep as your knees, it’s about as close you can be to a city, while feeling completely removed from it.
Where is it? Hard to explain, but just off the A809 along the Carnock Burn (scroll down for directions).
Nearest City: Glasgow (15 miles), Stirling (22 miles).
“Down in the channel is the Devil’s Pulpit…a long flight of stairs leads to the channel, and when you are there you feel remote from the world. Only the moon is required to produce the most weird and awesome effect.”
Iain C Lees, 1933
A fair few hundred years ago, you’d hardly blame locals for thinking Finnich Glen a place of devils; deep underground (technically, at least) with walls nearly 100ft either side, the water runs a blood red shade of crimson and the ground feels ready to swallow you up in its deep boggy state. Today, despite padlocked gates and barbed wire as your only entrance, not much has changed physically. The difference is what the isolation and remoteness means to us today; selfie sticks are a physical impossibility, tourist signs are non-existent and (though I never actually checked) I can’t imagine phone signal is your ally. The weird and awesome effect Iain C Leeds describes in his 1933 writing is still as true and pertinent even without the moon but, barely a stone’s throw from two cities, it’s a different kind of splendour for a modern muse.
While the name ‘Devil’s Pulpit’ itself refers to a distinctive stone that lies in the middle of the gorge, it’s come in time to refer to the entity of the glen and (in my opinion at least) the distinction between the two isn’t what’s important about a visit. On many days the ‘Devil’s Pulpit’ rock itself is barely visible, frequently under the blood-red stream that flows through the glen however, on the day I visited, the water was incredibly low meaning that, while I was too inadequately dressed to make it to the bottom of the 200 year old stairs (you’ll see what I mean when you visit), I could slide down a nearby bank and wade through ankle-deep water to view it in its entirety.
How do you get to the Devil’s Pulpit/Finnich Glen?
Ah, now here’s the difficult bit. You’ll need a bit of imagination and an adventurer’s heart (at least a wee bit anyway) to find it; there’s no sign-posts and no public paths – the fairly obvious safety risks involved with wide open, 100ft cliffs surrounded by muddy woodland mean they don’t exactly want the world and his wife turning up. However, what it lacks in accessibility it more than makes up for in sheer beauty and awe-inspiring splendour so, as long as you’re willing to feel like something out of a Famous Five novel, you’re off to a good start.
Coming from Glasgow, it’s around a 30-40 minute drive along the A809 until you reach a junction where it meets the B834. A small slip road next to the main road (that creates a triangle shape) provides ample parking for at least half a dozen cars (providing everyone uses the space considerately) and offers a great base to start, less than five minutes down the road from the ‘entrance’ to the woods the glen lies within. There’s also space for one or two cars directly opposite the entrance (it’s the last suitable place for parking before the B834 and A809 junction so, if you miss it and saw free spots, you can always drive back) though they’ll likely be taken if it’s good enough weather.
If you’re walking from the junction, I believe there’s a few different entrances. The one I took (and think is the favourite route of many) heads back down the A809 for 3-4 minutes. Once you walk past a rather innocuous metal gate (locked, of course), there’s a barbed wire fence with several obviously jumped over areas (some complete with jumpers and blankets to ease the injury). Find your spot of choice to enter over, and continue along the path where you’ll find a few more blanketed and gaping patches of barbed wire and a fallen down tree that provides a perfect seat to pass over. If words themselves confuse you, an Ordnance Survey map helped us – albeit one we found in our solid ignorance online.
From there, it’s a simple case of following the path; you’ll likely encounter one or two equally as dazed tourists along the way but, eventually, you’ll make it to the imposing (and very unsafe) 200-year-old staircase I’m surprised I haven’t heard more horror stories about. This will take you directly to the famous namesake stone of the glen however, if like me poor footwear and damp floors prove an unhandy combination, carry on along the path in the same direction for a few minutes and you’ll find a route that takes you down closer to the water. From there, you’ll probably have to scale down sheer (small) drops to reach it but, if the water level is low enough, it’s a simple wade through the stream until you reach the cavern in all its glory.
Is the Devil’s Pulpit safe for children and pets?
It depends on how adventurous you’re feeling; plenty of families were down in the woods and glen, but I’d advise complete caution if you do want to head down the stairs or to the water. Lively dogs should be fine coping with the river bed and paths down to it but, considering I only made it halfway down the stairs as a fairly agile, adventurous twenty-something, I wouldn’t feel comfortable allowing small children to scale it.
As an extra word of warning, the glen is not suitable for those who are less agile; think clambering over barbed wire fences, wading through mud, balancing on 200-year-old steps, and sliding down natural banks and you’re pretty much getting started. I wore fabric trainers and jeans (not the best combination) and left with a very muddy behind and frustration I didn’t get to explore as much as I wanted to due to inappropriate footwear (not to mention VERY damp feet and several blisters). I’d advise wearing the best walking shoes you can get your hands on with old (and very comfortable) clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, along with a change of clothes and shoes for the car back.
It’s not the easiest of places to visit, but that’s part of its charm. Once inside, you’ll be hard-pressed to ignore the vigour and vivacity of nature. From the towering red sandstone walls, to the mountain views afforded from the woods; if the devil’s got a home in Finnich Glen, it’s a really rather heavenly one. And, at the very least, one you’ll thank the gods of washing powder you visited.