Waterfalls have amazed, terrified and beguiled mankind since the dawn of time. They’ve attracted lovers, explorers and treasure hunters for centuries…some of whom never made it home. Take a tour of our Top Ten Waterfall Tales from around the world. Decide for yourself if these ‘legends’ are fact or fiction.
Angel Falls, Venezuela
If you’re a ‘go big or go home’ kind of person, you need to visit the world’s highest cascade, Venezuela’s Angel Falls. At almost 1km high, the uninterrupted drop has a plunge of 807m. Find it in the middle of dense rainforest in Canaima National Park. You’d think that a local legend gave the falls their evocative name but it’s not so romantic. It comes from American pilot, Jimmy Angel, who once landed atop the mountain in search of gold. The jungle was so boggy on the table-topped mountain that he couldn’t take off again so he had to trek a gruelling 17km out. Jimmy lost his plane but his legend lives on as he was the man to bring the record-breaking falls to the world’s attention.
Pearl Shoal Waterfall, China
These stunning falls get their name from the pearly colours reflected as the sun hits the water and the rocks beneath. Legend has it that a beautiful Tibetan girl once lived nearby. Using gold bells, she’d summon the sacred mountain waters to irrigate her lands, turning them into lush forests filled with life. One day she fell in love with a Tibetan boy by the waterside. A devil appeared and tried to make them marry but they resisted and the girl hid in a cave by the falls. The boy rustled up a crew from the village and together they defeated the devil and rescued the girl. To celebrate their wedding, the mountain gods turned Pearl Shoal into the colourful and verdant paradise you see today.
Bigar Cascade Falls, Romania
Bigar has an unusual limestone dome over which the waters cascade. Inspiration for bathroom tap designers everywhere! The sad legend of Bigar tells of a peasant family who asked a witch to help them conceive children. She told them to drink from Bigar’s spring for a healthy baby. The catch? If they had a girl, she’d die if she ever fell in love. They had a girl who, of course, soon fell in love with young Bigar. Her parents locked her in a cave to ward off the terrible prophecy. Hearing the girl’s grief, the witch turned her hair into a waterfall and the wind brought Bigar to her, reuniting them forever.
Torc Waterfall, Ireland
As one of the most notoriously rainy places on earth, Ireland has many waterfalls. It’s said that Farmer Larry Hayes (every Irish story needs a farmer…) struggled to keep his livestock alive as mysterious forces would tear them apart at night. One night he kept watch to solve the mystery and met a man who then turned into a wolf. It turned out this creature was an enchanted man who lived behind a rock on Torc Mountain. Wolf-man promised to make Larry rich if he kept his secret for seven years and was true to his word. When Larry’s wife eventually discovered the truth, Wolf-man was not happy. He burst into flames and water broke through his rock and started to flow, creating the Torc Falls you see today.
Aira Force, UK
This waterfall’s name is from Old Norse. Eyrr for gravel bank, á for river and fors which means waterfall. Language lesson over! It provoked gushing prose in romantic poet Coleridge, who talks of the ‘plunging forward of that infinity of pearls and glass bulbs’. But back to the legend of this fall. Emma, daughter of the local Lord, was engaged to Sir Eglamore, who was sadly sent to the continent to fight. Emma would sleepwalk in his absence, heading to the falls where she met him in her sleep. He finally returned home, only to find her gone. He retraced her steps and woke her at the falls but, in surprise, she slipped in. Eglemont dived in but failed to save her, living out his life as a hermit in a local cave.
In deepest Iceland, some men were heading home from an island visit and had to leave one friend behind. They wanted to collect him later but couldn’t return until spring and thought he’d be dead. He mysteriously survived. Months later in his home town, a baby was left on the steps of the local church, wrapped in a material no-one recognised. No-one claimed it, not even the man. Finally, a beautiful woman took the baby back, cursing the cowardly man and transforming him into a whale. People saw how he’d survived that cold winter! The whale started to terrorise local fishermen until it was lured up the fjord where it died of exhaustion. Its final awful sounds are what give Glymur its name: ‘Noise’.
Niagara Falls, USA/ Canada
Let’s explode some myths surrounding perhaps the world’s best-known waterfall: Niagara Falls. Firstly, not all those who go over the falls (accidentally or on purpose) die. Many survive such as the first person ever, Annie Edson Taylor. Secondly, the origin of nickname Bridal Veil Falls is from the falls’ appearance, not because many people choose to marry there. Thirdly, let’s bust the myth that it’s never stopped flowing. Tons of ice upstream caused a temporary stop back in 1848. Sticking with the cold theme for number four, contrary to popular belief, Niagara Falls never freezes. Ice floes and giant icicles appear but the water flows so fast that total freezing can’t happen. Let’s finish on a mystical Native American note. They believe that the spirit of Lelawala and her lover still live in the caves beneath the falls. Whether that’s true or not, we’ll never know.
Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
This waterfall is nestled in the heart of dense rainforests in Guyana. It’s known as Old Man’s Falls and this is how its name came about. Once, an ancient man named Kai was rowing his boat down the river and got drawn towards the edge of the falls. As his fate seemed set, the great spirit Makonaima appeared to make him immortal before the boat went over the top. His boat was transformed into a pointed rock which can still be seen today. The local legend claims that the old man’s spirit will forever live in a cave behind the vast veil of water. When it’s misty? He’s cooking his dinner. Bon appetit!
Seven Sisters, Norway
The beauty and majesty of Norway’s fjordlands are known throughout the world. A spectacular sight in Geiranger Fjord is the Seven Sisters Falls, named because they look like the cascading hair of seven women side by side. The average fall of the seven strands is around 250m and the higher the water levels (due to snow melt in spring and early summer) the more impressive they get. Legend has it that a man was pursuing the women hoping to marry one of them, but he didn’t meet with any success. He is immortalised in The Suitor, a bottle-shaped waterfall on the opposite side of the fjord. The seven sisters remained unmarried, while he turned to alcohol (‘the bottle’). Shame for him but great news for waterfall fans everywhere.
Maletsunyane means Place of Smoke. It’s a legendary waterfall in the mystical Kingdom of Lesotho. This high island of a country is peculiar as it’s surrounded by its neighbour, South Africa. This fall’s legend in the contemporary world is as the site of the planet’s ‘Longest commercially operated single-drop abseil’. At 204m, it’s so extreme that just four people per day attempt it. This isn’t a waterfall to take lightly and cliff-diving from the top will definitely not end well! As the cascading water crashes into the pool below, it creates an eerie echo that pings around the canyon. Locals believe that the noise is actually the ghostly screams of those who met their fate at these falls.