Loch Ness is Scotland's (if not the world's) most famous lake (or 'loch' in Scotland). It runs for 23 miles (37 km) along the natural geological cleft that stretches from Fort William in the west of the Scottish Highlands, to Inverness in the north.
About a mile wide at most places it is the purported home of the Loch Ness monster, a possibly mythical creature, which dwells in the Loch and is occasionally spotted by locals and passers-by. The sightings claimed lend credence to the remote possibility of a group of survivors of the long-extinct plesiosaurs (which lived up to around 65 million years ago).
The Scottish Highlands consist of a plateau dissected by glacier scoured glens (valleys), many of them containing lochs (lakes). Loch Ness, the largest body of water in UK, lies in the geological fault known as Glen Mor or Great Glen. The latter stretches for about 60 miles (97 km). The Caledonian Canal joins four lochs in the Great Glen – Dochfour, Ness, Oich and Lochy – and at each end connects to the sea. It connects to the North Sea at Inverness via the Moray Firth and the Atlantic Ocean at Corpach near Fort William. A series of lock gates in the canal helps to raise or lower ships.
Loch Ness extends from Fort Augustus at one end to Lochend near Inverness at the other. It is 740 feet (226 metres) deep at its deepest point and is the second largest Scottish loch by surface area at 21.8 sq mi (56.4 km2). Loch Lomond is larger with an area of 71 km2. In fact Loch Ness is not the deepest loch either. Loch Morar plunges to over 1,000 ft. And it is not the longest Loch, that record goes to 34 mile Loch Awe. Loch Ness, however, owing to its steep-sided, flat-bottomed side-slip fault line origins is the largest volume of freshwater in the British Isles, containing more water than all the lakes, rivers and reservoirs of England and Wales combined ... room enough for a few mysteries. The A82 road which runs along the western bank of Loch Ness offers stunning views of the loch all along the route. Rugged hills climb steeply from the loch’s dark waters. There are many parking places along the road where vehicles can be parked and the beauty of the surroundings savoured. There are some less used roads on the eastern side of the loch. A complete circuit of the loch covers about 70 miles (110 km). Driving on these roads can be challenging if you are not used to driving on the left. It may be better to take a tour along the loch or see it by boat. See the section on tours below.
Apart from A82 several other roads coverge on the city – A9 comes from beyond Aviemore in the south-east and then moves further north-west to Alness and beyond, A 96 comes from the north-east. Smaller roads come from other directions.
- Drumnadrochit – It is a popular stop for tourists with two Loch Ness Monster exhibitions – one "official" and the other "original" The ruins of Urquhart Castle are two miles away at Strone point. A 831 road leaves from here for some beautiful areas, ultimately reaching Inverness.
- Invermoriston - The valley of the River Moriston that empties itself into the loch here, over a series of rapids, is one of the most beautiful of all the highland glens. The road is lined with mature deciduous trees on both sides creating an avenue of natural beauty. A887 road takes off in the direction of the Isle of Skye. The Loch Ness Youth Hostel (part of Scottish Youth Hostels Association) is located at Alltsigh, nearby (Telephone: 01320 351274.) About two miles on the road to Fort Augustus is Invermoriston Camping and Caravan site where tourists can pitch their tents or park a caravan on the banks of the loch.
- Fort Augustus – It is the largest of the loch side villages. There is a tourist office near the car park. The Hannoverians built a series of forts to secure the Great Glen: Fort George near Inverness, Fort Augustus in the heart of the Great Glen, and Fort William at the southern end.
- Glenmoriston - The A887 takes off from Invermoriston and heads west for Glenmoristion along the River Moriston. The road links to A87 further ahead. The sheer beauty of the place is recommended by all for a detour from the main track. One can travel even 20–25 miles inside but say around 10 miles or so could show a visitor what a place it is. About 5 miles inside is Dundreggan Loch (Dundreggan means 'the hill of the dragon'). It is an artificial lake created for hydro-electricity generation. Another 2 miles in is the Redburn Café, a great place to eat, with such ice cream concoctions as the Loch Ness Monster.
- Glen Affric and Glen Cannich – The A831 takes off from Drumnadrochit for the remote village of Cannich, 12 miles to the west. Glen Affric and Glen Cannich are located further west. Loch Mulladroch was created as part of a hydro-electric scheme
Scotland is a sparsely populated country and only a small proportion of that population lives in the Scottish Highlands. Therefore, it is mostly barren territory. Villages in the highlands are small neat places with a lot of fighting and history behind them. It has been a battle against nature and also amongst human beings for survival and supremacy. Some interesting facts: Number of tourists visiting Scotland annually surpass the population of Scotland and the number of Scots living outside Scotland is many times more than the population of Scotland.
English is the official language of Scotland and is spoken by more or less everyone. Gaelic is spoken by about 60,000, and many Gaelic words are commonly used. The Scots, like most Britons, generally flourish when they live abroad but at home have rather poor foreign language skills, although those in tourism-related industries generally have better language skills. French, German and Spanish are the most commonly known foreign languages.
Here are some useful Gaelic words:
- Aber = river mouth (Aberdeen)
- Ben = mountain (Ben Nevis)
- Burn = stream (Bannockburn)
- Cèilidh = informal celebration, party
- Dale = Nordic word for valley, not actually Gaelic, but used alongside it.
- Firth = estuary (Firth of Forth) Firth comes from the Nordic languages too and means fjord
- Glen = valley (Glencoe) - usually refers to a steep-sided glaciated valley
- Inver = mouth of or confluence of (Inverness)
- Strath = vale (Strathspey) - tends to be a more shallow, wider, often flat-bottomed valley
- Kyle = narrow strait of water, sound (Kyle of Sutherland)
- Loch = lake (Loch Lomond) however not all lochs are enclosed. Loch Marie is a fjord and is open to the sea. So a lake can always be a loch, but a loch is not always a lake!
- Lochan = small lake, pond
You can get into the area from either Inverness in the north or from Fort William and then via Fort Augustus in the south. Both the entry points are well connected by road to all major cities in the area and beyond.
Inverness Airport (Information Desk Tel: +44 1667 464000) is situated at Dalcross, 9 miles (15 km) east of the city, just off the main A96 trunk road. It connects to Edinburgh, London and a number of other places.
Inverness railway station is located in the centre. There are direct services from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and London.
A large number of tourists visit the area in coaches from Edinburgh, Fort William or Glasgow. Catch tourist and regional buses at the main bus terminal across Strothers Lane from the Inverness train station.
- MegaBus can take you from Edinburgh or Glasgow to Inverness very inexpensively (can be as low as £1 per person depending on when you book). This is a very scenic journey through the Cairngorms especially if you are on one of their vehicles with an upper deck.
- Scottish Citylink 919 bus and Stagecoach 19 bus also run from Inverness towards Port Agustus. From Oban you can take the Citylink 918 bus to Fort Williams. This bus runs twice a day, Monday through Saturday in the afternoon. You can then take the 919 bus or Stagecoach 19 bus further north. Scottish Citylink tickets are valid on both West Coast Motors and Stagecoach Highland buses. Be aware that fares are different. Here is a schedule of 19, 918 and 919 buses
- If you want to go to the east bank, take Stagecoach Bus 16 to go to Dores, Inverfarigaig Cottages and Foyers. Buses run five times a day, Monday through Friday. On Saturday, buses only run twice in each direction. There is no bus service on Sunday.
Public transport is not the best way to see what this area has to offer. The problem is the infrequency of the buses, which are limited to the main roads like the A82. Instead, it is recommended that you hire a car, or join a tour group. Cruises on the loch leave from Dochfour, or Drumnadrochit. The best way to get to these is to use the cruise companies buses (sometimes complimentary)
By bus Stagecoach 19, 19B, 19C and Citylink bus 919 run between Inverness towards Fort Williams with stops at Fort Augustus, Urquhart Castle, Drumnadrochit and some bed and breakfast inns. Be aware that Citylink 919 buses only run twice in each direction on Sunday. Stagecoach does not run on Sunday. Scottish Citylink tickets are valid on both West Coast Motors and Stagecoach Highland buses. Be aware that fares are different.
- Nessie. or the Loch Ness Monster – Be alert! Keep your eyes wide open, look closely, and best of luck!
- Urquhart Castle. – The most famous site in the area. The castle is in ruins but an impressive ruin with walls, four turrets and the keep. The beauty of the place coupled with its history makes it so attractive. The position of the castle at Strone Point is dramatic and commands a wide view of Loch Ness. There had been a fortress at that point from ancient times and the castle was associated with big names of Scottish history such as Saint Columba (6th century) and Robert the Bruce (12-13th century). The end came with a bang in the final years of the 17th century when it was packed with explosives and blown up to render it useless to the Jacobites. Those visiting the castle must not miss the dramatic audiovisual presentation at the centre there, certainly one of the best anywhere in the world. It is in English but depending on the composition of the tourists sub-titles are added in some other languages.
- Open all year, except on 25th and 26th December. Opens: 9.30 am. Last tickets sold: 3.45 pm (1st October to 31st March), 5.45 pm (1st April to 30th September). Price: Adult £6.50 Child £2.50 Concessions £5.00. Child (ages 5 - 15); Concession (60 years and over and the unemployed).
- The Caledonian Canal – The staircase of locks can be seen fom the road itself as it crosses the canal at Fort Augustus and also crosses the canal near Inverness. Each lock can raise or lower a ship 8 feet. Started in 1803 and completed in 1822 this enormous enterprise was entirely funded by the government of the day. (Caledonia was the northern part of Britain beyond Roman control, roughly corresponding to present-day Scotland.)
- Cruise the Lake
- Go hiking - Loch Ness is a very popular area for walkers and the Great Glen Way traverses the length of the lake.
- It is a place to see, eat and drink but those who desire to buy souvenirs can do so at small outlets. The new Visitor Centre at Urquhart Castle has good stocks of items for tourists. However, a place such as Fort William offers a wider choice of Scottish dresses, wollenware, mementoes and of course Scotch Whisky. Most of the tour operators bringing in tourists from Edinburgh provide a lunch break at Fort William, long enough for more than just a look at the variety.
The area being one of major tourist attraction, there is no dearth of restaurants. Breakfast is a great attraction and there is so much variety ranging from Big Scottish Breakfast to Whole Day Breakfast. A breakfast is good enough to keep one going for several hours. Food is basically meat-based. Fish is also available. Those who want to avoid both have to look for vegetable sandwiches, croissants and salads.
It is Scotland and so one need not worry about availability of drinks. Selection may pose a problem, so wide is the range available. One place boasts that it has 100 brands of single malt Scotch whisky.
For those who wish to spend a few days in the area, there are places to stay.
- Pottery House B&B, Dores, South Loch Ness, IV2 6TR, ☎ +44 1463 751267, e-mail: email@example.com. Visit Scotland Rated Four Star, Trip Advisor Rate Excellent. Price from £36 per person per night.
- Invermoriston Holidays, Glenmoriston, By Loch Ness, IV63 7YF, ☎ +44 1320 351254, fax: +44 1320 351343, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. from £215 per week.
- Lann Dearg Studios, Invermoriston, by Loch Ness, IV63 7YG, ☎ +44 1320 351353, e-mail: email@example.com. B&B and SC from £26pp per night.
- Fern Cottage, Dalcataig, Invermoriston, Loch Ness, IV63 7YG. B&B from: £21 - £25 per person/night.
- Ardgarry Farm Bed and Breakfast, Faichem, Inverness, Invergarry, Loch Ness, PH35 4HG. Scottish Tourist Board Approved Accommodation. Up to 4 rooms B&B. Rates variable as per season.
- Loch Ness Youth Hostel, Glenmoriston, Inverness-shire, IV63 7YD, ☎ +44 870 004 1138. SYHA Hostel with beds from £12.50 per night.
- Craik Na Dav B&B, Invermoriston, Highlands, IV63 7YA, ☎ +44 1320 351277. Craik Na Dav B&B is the perfect home from home when exploring the historic and spectacular Scottish Highlands.
In most places the rates vary as per season and winter discounts are available. In summer most places are heavily booked and so try early for a booking.
Be prepared for the unexpected cold and the rains.
Many hotels and B&B in large European cities allow outgoing guests to keep luggage in the lobby or some room after they check out, in order that they may collect the same later in the day. Tourists should not take it for granted in Scotland. They should check the system beforehand to avoid complications later.
Most of the coach tours take tourists around the Scottish Highlands along with a visit to Loch Ness. Tourists should check what else they want to see before deciding upon a particular tour. Much of the information is available on the Internet sites (some listed above). Those who want to travel a little farther can plan to visit one or more of the many islands.
Great Glen Way is a 73 mile long footpath from Fort William to Inverness passing along the Loch Ness. It was officially opened in 2002. It is a great venture for those who enjoy walking.