We all enjoyed a much needed night of good rest and woke up ready to explore the next morning. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t excited about visiting Loch Ness. Kitchy and touristy? Yes, obviously. But there are somethings where the kitchy-touristy aspects are precisely what make them great. And Loch Ness is a perfect example of that. We were all eager to get on the road and start our search for the lochs most famous inhabitant: Nessie!
Loch Ness is is the largest, by volume, loch in Great Britain. We all enjoyed that we had seen its competitor for title of largest loch, Loch Lomond, the previous day. It is also the largest body of water in the Great Glen, a series of lochs and rivers, that run from Inverness to Fort William. The Great Glen is a natural fault line and is composed of five lochs and three rivers, including Loch Ness. This natural pathway has long been used by Scots, and was modified in the 20th century to create the Caledonian Canal by Thomas Telford to greater improve the flow from east to west Scotland. But the loch gains its main claim to fame from being the home of the fabled Loch Ness Monster, affectionately referred to as Nessie. The first record of which dates all the way back to St. Columba in 565! However the myth didn’t take hold until 1933 after a couple reported having seen a “large animal, with a long, slender wavy neck” cross the road in front of them leaving a trail of broken vegetation in its wake. A similar report later the same year fed fuel to the flames of the growing myth. But the real pièce de résistance came the following year with the “surgeon’s photograph” depicting the alleged monster, and it has been a popular legend ever since. Skeptics claim that what is believed to be Nessie is often misidentified benign objects, and that even the St. Columba sighting is likely to have been a myth based on popular water spirits mythology (kelpies) of the time. But with a possible sighting at the beginning of May this year we may never truly have an answer…..
But this didn’t stop us from wanting to find out more for ourselves. As you drive into the small town of Drumnadroicht you have to be paying attention or you may miss the entrance to the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition. This is the more reputable of the two monster related centers in town, and was awarded 5-stars by the Scottish tourism board. Inside you can discover a more scientific approach to the natural history and search for Nessie, including a recent expedition by Google to film the depths of the loch. It will cost you 8pounds to enter, but if you find yourself with unanswered Nessie questions this would be the place to go to try to find some answers. And if that isn’t enough, they also offer boat tours on the loch to allow you to do your own Nessie hunting.
We didn’t personally go in, or on a boat tour,
as we all had our own opinions on the topic (obviously she exists), but did stop to look around the outside and the humongous gift shop attached to the center. The other center in town, Nessieland, has its own exhibit but is more geared towards children and myths than anything else. We swung by here but, and I hate to say it, pretty lame in comparison to the Loch Ness Center. I probably wouldn’t bother going there if you’re on a tight time frame. However, it is a good spot to stop for some fun Nessie photos.
With our gifts purchased we continued through the town and onwards to the ruins of Urquhart Castle. We had a bit of a mix-up trying to get into the parking lot as they had two large wind turbine parts on the back of a set of 8-wheelers parked directly in front of the entrance. A mile down the road we found a turn around spot and returned to battle the newly acquired crowd for parking. We snagged the last available spot in the lot and went to buy our tickets. To me the history of this castle was far more entertaining than the legend of Nessie, and this should be the real attraction to the loch. The earliest settlers to this area date back to the days of the Picts between the 5th and 11th centuries. But the history didn’t end here, it weaves a tale as old as Scotland ranging from highland tribes, clan battles with the King of the Isles to the west, English invaders, and finally its demolition in 1692. If you’re interested in learning more, which I can’t recommend enough that you do, the Scottish Historic Environment has a nice recap.
The castle offers free guided tours, unfortunately I don’t remember the times, that provide an additional layer of understanding. We jumped in late to one, but it was still highly informative. We learned about the final battle that resulted in the demolition of the tower, of the Great Raid by the MacDonald clan, and how the Lady Grant was robbed and tossed out of the place on Christmas by the locals. There is also a short film you can watch in the visitor center covering the history of the castle if you can’t make a tour.
Basically anywhere you stand in the ruins provides views out over Loch Ness that are unbeatable, and it’s easy to imagine yourself standing in the same spot 300 years ago and enjoying a very similar view. I know some people say skip the castle, and honestly before I visited I thought about bypassing it myself, but it really is worth a visit. Particularly if you are going on an Explorer Pass.
With our fill of history we began the drive down to Oban where we stayed that evening. The route takes you along the Caledonian Canal, and the views are beautiful. We even ended up stopped at a rotating bridge over one of the lochs to let a couple boats pass through! Additionally we lucked out with clear views of the top of Ben Nevis as we passed through Fort William. The drive took us roughly 2.5 hours, and while the scenery certainly kept us preoccupied, we were all thankful when we arrived in Oban. That evening we stayed at a true B&B with the sweetest older woman named Jess. We all felt like we had shown up at grandma’s house for the weekend. Her kindness, hospitality, and fiery Scottish spirit have sealed a place in my heart. As we hadn’t eaten yet we walked back into town and had dinner at The Waterfront Fishhouse Restaurant. I’m mildly embarrassed to admit it, but Jared and I didn’t order fish. After days of eating fish neither of us could stomach another meal of it, and instead ordered the lamb burgers. Which were unexpectedly tasty! If you find yourself in Oban and want a good, reasonably priced dinner I would recommend it.
A quick stroll around the waterfront after dinner resulted in an investigation of the Oban Distillery, but sadly they were closed for the evening.
Like most distilleries they aren’t open after 5pm and we never had a chance to visit during our stay. Guess this gives us a reason to go back? At this point we were all tired and ready for bed. We had an early morning ahead of us as our next stop was a boat tour to Lunga and Staffa Islands; which was the day I had the potential to see my first puffin!