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There’s certainly something intriguing about the sterling depths of Lake Loch Ness. Reflected in its dark, frigid waters are the mysteries of the Scottish Highlands and the ghost stories of Scottish castles.
I admit that although binoculars were the top item on my packing list for my holiday to Scotland to to visit the Great Glen, in the end I only spent about, well, 10 minutes or so scanning the waters for ‘Nessie.’ But there’s more to Loch Ness than cryptozoologists would have you believe.
Loch Ness is, first and foremost, a grand lake, which I list among my European favorites with Austria’s Lake Zell and Italy’s Lake Garda.
[pullquote]Ideally, a route across Loch Ness should be at a leisurely pace, accompanied by some good wine and tasty Scottish cuisine.[/pullquote]There are day tours from Inverness, the ‘capital of the Highlands’, as well as tours and jet-boat rides from the little town of Fort Augustus, which sits on Ness’ western head.
Ideally, a route across Loch Ness should be at a leisurely pace, accompanied by some good wine and tasty Scottish cuisine.
Last summer, my husband and I marveled at the lake’s beauty as we stretched our heels out on the bow of the Scottish Highlander, a barge run by European Waterways, which provides weekly tours from Inverness all the way through the Caledonian Canal to Fort William.
The canal connects the seas on either side and was once used primarily by industry and military. It’s now most popular with boating enthusiasts touring the Great Glen – the series of valleys and lochs stretching over a large geological fault that is the spine of the Caledonian Canal.
During our Lake Loch Ness crossing, we dined on the ‘Highlander’, whose chef, Dale, went out of his way to the country’s cuisine to our novice palates, from Scottish brie to haggis (with vegetarian haggis for those squeamish about the real deal). [pullquote]No, they had never seen Nessie the Loch Ness monster, said the barge’s staff, but they never lost hope.[/pullquote]
As the waves crested outside and verdant shores passed in the distance, we sat back, dined, and relaxed in style. No, they had never seen Nessie the Loch Ness monster, said the barge’s staff, but they never lost hope.
Lovers of cryptozoology – the study of (and search for) animals whose existence is disputed, such as Bigfoot – will love the tributes to Nessie along the banks of the Loch, not to mention the museums dedicated to her.
But the greatest locations around the lake aren’t based on fantasy.
First of all there’s Urquhart Castle (pronounced “irk-heart”), whose ruins stand in silhouette on a bluff overlooking the lake, quite grand to behold.
A visit to Urquhart is a must, and after watching a quick history program at a theater adjacent to the gift-shop, visitors can take a march down the hill, marvel at a massive re-construction of a trebuchet, and continue down to explore the ruins.
There’s often a piper standing in full regalia, blowing his heart out for coins (he walks over to greet the bigger boats when the tourists come by water).
From the top of the castle ruins there are spectacular views of Lake Loch Ness in its entirety.
In the distance, you can see boats headed towards the entrance to the Caledonian Canal’s next segment, guarded by the historic town of Fort Augustus.
Fort Augustus boasts the busiest set of locks on the Caledonian Canal, and if you’re not tying up and going through the locks yourselves, as we did on the Highlander, then having a pint and watching others do it is just as interesting.
Fort Augustus has some stunning walks, offering views of the lake and surrounding countryside. I found the ruins of a medieval bridge just outside of the town to be a perfect opportunity for photographs.
There are less than a dozen restaurants and pubs in the town, but I recommend stopping at ‘The Bothy’ beside the locks to sample their ample whiskeys, cask ales and no-nonsense attitude, then walking up the hill to ‘The Lovat Brasserie’ for classic Scottish cuisine in modern, stylish surroundings.
After a bit of souvenir shopping, our last stop was Fort Augustus’ Tourist Information Centre, where we bought maps for our next adventure in Scotland, a hike through the Great Glen this summer.
When I come back to Lake Loch Ness for our big hike I’ll still bring binoculars. There’s always more Nessie-hunting to do. But I’m quite pleased with the discovery I’ve already made – that searching for fun around Loch Ness isn’t required, and its beauty is far beyond doubt.
*Today’s post is brought to you by Owner’s Direct by Home Away.