Loch Ness

On Nessie’s trail: Exploring Loch Ness in Scotland

Many first-time visitors to the Highlands on a tight schedule view Inverness merely as a stepping stone.

Their quest is for that elusive glimpse of the monster said to inhabit the deep, still waters of Loch Ness, which stretches its long finger of water along a fault line southwest from Inverness.

The largest volume of water in Scotland, the loch is more enormous than it looks. It’s only a mile wide and 24 miles long, but at its murkiest depths, it plunges 700 to 800 feet to the bottom.

Around Loch Ness

The town of Invermoriston sits at the start of Glenmoriston, one of the prettiest valleys in the region, ideal for a short hike. At the head (southwest end) of Loch Ness stands the impressive Fort Augustus, an 18th-century fortress converted into a present-day Benedictine Abbey. From this “gateway to the Western Highlands” you can cruise Loch Ness or the 60 miles of the Caledonian Canal running from here to Fort William and the sea (22 miles are man-made locks, the rest are natural lochs).

Legend of the Loch Ness Monster
It all started in the 6th century when St. Colomba sent a monk swimming across the loch and a giant creature attacked. A few stern words from the saint, and the monster withdrew. The legend, however, has stuck.

Is Nessie the Loch Ness Monster that emerged from the waters in the 16th century, knocking down trees and crushing three men with her tail?

Or is she Nessitera rhombopteryx, a vestigial survivor from the age of the dinosaurs (her basic description sounds somewhat like that of a plesiosaur—then again, it also kind of matches some species of sea snake).

One thing’s for sure, monster legends and sightings have increased dramatically since the A82 road was blasted out of the lakeshore rock in 1933.

Soon after, innkeeps Mr. and Mrs. Spicer thought they saw something break the surface of the waters one night, it was reported on a slow news day in the local paper, and the rumor spread like wildfire.

In the end, the monster may be no more than the collective effect of faked photographs, water surface mirages brought on by too much whisky, a few unexplained lake phenomenon, a deep-rooted human deisre to believe in magic, and a string of Lochside villages whose economies are based on spinning tall tales to visitors.

Sonar soundings and a host of keen-eyed watchers have not yet managed to prove, or disprove, Nessie’s existence, and that is more than enough reason for 200,000 visitors annually to come, cameras and binoculars in hand, to search for the monster of Loch Ness.
For tooling around the lake, you have to make a choice: the main A82 along the north shore, passing such monster haunts as Drumnadrochit and Urquhart castle, or the more scenic southern shore route of natural attractions—pretty woodlands and the Foyers waterfalls. On a quick trip, the A82 gives you more to remember.

About halfway (14 miles) down the A82 from Inverness is the hamlet of Dumnadrochit, unofficial headquarters of Nessie lore. There are two museums devoted to Nessie.

The spanking new Official Loch Ness 2000 Exhibition Centre, in the massive stone building (tel. 01456/450-573' www.lochness.co.uk), is a surprisingly sophisticated and un-touristy look at the history of the Loch (geological as well as mythological) and its famously elusive resident that takes a strict scientific view of the whole business of Nessie-hunting, doing more to dispel and discredit the legends and sightings than to fan the flames of speculation.

The older, considerably more homespun Original Loch Ness Monster Exhibition (tel. 01456/450-573), is more of a believers' haunt, running down the legend of the monster with a hackneyed old film, lots of photographs, accounts of Nessie sightings (along with other mythological creatures throughout the world, like unicorns and Bigfoot), and a big ol' gift shop.

Almost two miles farther down the road (a half-hour walk), Urquhart Castle (tel. 01456/450-551) crumbles on a spit of land jutting into the lake. Its grandly romantic ruins hold the record for the most Nessie sightings. The 1509 ramparts encompass what was once one of the largest fortresses in Scotland, blown up in 1692 to prevent it from falling into Jacobite hands. When not crawling with summer tourists, the grassy ruins can be quite romantic, and the tower keep offers fine loch views.

How to get to Loch Ness from Inverness

From Inverness, buses run hourly down the Loch to Drumnadrochit (a 30 minute trip; exiting the train station, turn right then right again on Strothers Lane to find the bus station). 

If you just want a quick spin to Nessie’s lair, Lothian Regional Transport (tel. 0131/554-4494), 27 Hanover St. in Edinburgh, offers an April to November bus tour of “Loch Ness and the Grampian Mountains” for £25 ($41.25) adults, £17 ($28.05) for children. (You’ll have to provide your own suspension of disbelief.)

In Inverness, Inverness Traction, 6 Burnett Rd (tel. 01463/239-292), and Jacobite Coaches and Cruises, Tomnahurich Bridge on Glenurquhart Rd (take a taxi or bus 3, 3A, 4, or 4A from Church Rd., one block straight ahead from the train station; tel. 01463/233-999; www.cali.co.uk/jacobite), both run half- and full-day tours of the Loch. You can tour by coach (£9.50/$15.70 each way to Castle Urquhart), cruise (£9/$14.85 round-trip, which means you don't get to get off but must admire the castle from the boat), or coach-and-boat (£12.50/$20.65; bus to Drumnadrochit, cruise the loch a bit, and bus back). Traction runs year-round, Jacobite April to October only.

Loch Ness cruises

In Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness Cruises, behind The Original Loch Ness Visitor Centre (tel. 01456/450-395; www.lochness-centre.com), runs roughly hours Nessie-hunting cruises on the loch for £8 ($13.20) Easter to October, weather permitting.

Where to stay and dine on Loch Ness

If you want to stay steeped in monster lore, shack up in Drumnadrochit at the Polmaily House Hotel (tel. 01456/450-343; fax: 01456/450-813) for £46 to £105 ($75.90 to $173.25) per double, depending on the season.

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in December 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.