When you think of Scotland’s (and UK’s) most well known water body, the first name that will pop up in your head is Loch Ness. The lake is also the home to one of the world’s most famous mythical creatures, the Loch Ness Monster, also known as Nessie. Around a million people visit this part of Scotland, with many hoping to get a glimpse of the legendary monster. Some search for a lifetime and never see it, while others claim to have spotted ‘something from the road’. A woman driving back from Inverness claimed to have seen a dark lump in the water of Loch Ness. The lump was slate-grey in colour and shiny. According to her, it looked like a boat that had turned upside down. A lady who lives by the corner of Loch Ness has claimed to have seen the monster 13 times. Even though Nessie’s existence has never been proven scientifically, nor have any claims of her sighting been made for decades, the mysterious charm attached to Loch Ness has still not dissipated. The work of the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition is very instrumental in that. Its displays relating to the famous ‘beastie’ and the surrounding area really add to the tourist-y charm of Loch Ness.
Loch Ness has been associated with occultism and mystery forever. In the seventeenth century, a devious black wizard had raised the dead in the Boleskine Graveyard near Loch Ness. The Minister of the parish was tasked with putting the re-animated bodies back in their grave. Famous occultist and black magician Aleister Crowley lived in the Boleskine House on the south-western side of the Loch Ness. At one point of time, Crowley was infamously known as the ‘wickedest man in the world’. He had claimed to do a lot of black magic rituals which had left the house filled with demons and creatures from beyond. Crowley himself said that his black magic had gone ‘out of control’ in the Boleskine house. In his book, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, he said that “in order to perform the operations the first essential is a house in a more or less secluded situation. There should be a door opening to the north from the room of which you make your oratory. Outside this door, you construct a terrace covered with fine river sand. This ends in a ‘lodge’ where the spirits may congregate.” The ritual’s purpose was to summon a person’s ‘guardian angel’. Crowley’s lodge-keeper Hugh Gillies suffered an incredible amount of personal tragedies during his stay at the Boleskine house, including the death of two of his children. Crowley described the Boleskine house as follows: “It was long low building. I set apart the south-western half for my work. The largest room has a bow window and here I made my door and constructed the terrace and lodge. Inside the room I set up my oratory proper. This was a wooden structure, lined in part with the big mirrors which I brought from London”. Crowley left the house in 1913 and moved to a much more modest cottage near Falkirk.
After a string of lesser known owners, the Boleskine house received its next famous owner in the year 1970. Jimmy Page, guitarist of the legendary band Led Zeppelin, who was also extremely interested in Aleister Crowley’s life and work, bought the Boleskine house at the shores of Loch Ness. Page felt that the house’s alleged ‘possessed and haunted’ atmosphere would be a great place to write songs. However, after restoring the house, Page didn’t spend much time in it and it was left under the care of his friend Malcolm Dent. He claimed to have experienced a lot of paranormal activities inside the house throughout his stay, including the ‘worst night of his life’.
Loch Ness and its mythical legends have forever tantalised a lot of hard rock and heavy metal artists over the years. Legendary British heavy metal band Judas Priest released a 13 minute long epic song titled Lochness in their 2004 album Angel of Retribution.
Engaging tales of monsters and madmen aside, Loch Ness is extremely beautiful, especially around the beautiful ruins of Urquhart Castle on its shoreline. Loch Ness stretches along the Great Glen, a fault line where the collision of tectonic plates created the surrounding mountains. With a depth of 755 feet, Loch Ness is Scotland’s second deepest loch. Loch Ness and its surrounding attractions are not very far from Scotland’s major cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh and can be reached on day tours from either city.
Here are the eight best things to see and do around Loch Ness.
1. Nessie: The world famous legend of the Loch Ness monster
St. Columba, an Irish missionary, is said to have been the first person to encounter the oldest inhabitant of Loch Ness, when the monster dragged the (soon-to-be) saint into the impenetrable depths. Afterwards, during the 16th century, Hector Boece wrote in The History of Scotland that a “terrible being” had suddenly emerged from the waters of Loch Ness and swallowed three men alive.
It took very long for the next recorded sighting to take place. Over 300 years actually. The next Nessie sighting happened in 1933 when a couple sitting on the north bank saw a strange, writhing creature cross the road right in front of them. A number of snapshots and eyewitness reports followed, not to mention a growing stream of visitors. Most descriptions say it resembles a large sea reptile with a long neck, a small head, fins, and several humps. Alex Campbell, a water bailiff for the Loch Ness and a part-time journalist, published an article about the Loch Ness monster in 1933. The article was titled Strange Spectacles in Loch Ness. In the year 2017, The Courier published an excerpt from that article: “The creature disported itself, rolling and plunging for fully a minute, its body resembling that of a whale, and the water cascading and churning like a simmering cauldron. Soon, however, it disappeared in a boiling mass of foam. Both onlookers confessed that there was something uncanny about the whole thing, for they realised that here was no ordinary denizen of the depths, because, apart from its enormous size, the beast, in taking the final plunge, sent out waves that were big enough to have been caused by a passing steamer.”
The most well known and circulated picture of Nessiteras Rhombopteryx (yes, the mythical Nessie also has a zoological name) came from the lens of London based gynaecologist Robert Wilson. It was on April 19th, 1934, when Dr. Wilson reported seeing ‘something in the water’ and took a snap. In the picture, the long neck of a monstrous creature had just emerged from the ice-cold water. It was later revealed that that Wilson belonged to a team who had set out to play a trick on the media.
Shortly before his death in 1993, Christian Spurling, one of the “conspirators,” admitted his part in the great deception. According to the Sunday Times, Spurling, an amateur woodworker, had rigged up a dinosaur dummy on a toy submarine. The ruse worked perfectly.
Very recently, scientists have speculated that the Loch Ness monster is probably a giant eel which resides in the waters.
2. The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition
Exhibits at the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition use audio-visual techniques and static displays to recount the evolutionary history of the region and its famed Loch Ness Monster. You can read up on the latest developments in the search for the monster and see depictions, newspaper headlines, and underwater photos. The most interesting display focuses on Operation Deepscan in 1987 and includes sonar readings from the murky waters of Loch Ness. The images seem to confirm the existence of something down there, and the study certainly didn’t rule out the existence of the beloved monster.
The center also features a café and gift shop, as well as a small hotel, and offers regular boat trips on the Deepscan research vessel itself for those interested in learning more about the monster and the loch while enjoying the spectacular scenery. Another monster-related exhibit is at the nearby theme park, Nessieland.
3. The Urquhart Castle
The impressive and romantic ruins of Urquhart Castle are located just a few minutes from the village of Drumnadrochit. The ruins of the old castle stand on a tongue of land jutting out into the waters of the Loch Ness. The castle has a beautiful backdrop of the Loch Ness lake and mountain. It was once one of Scotland’s largest and strongest fortifications. Today, it is the centre of many ancient myths. Dating from the 12th century, it was a typical example of a motte and bailey fortification, but in the 14th century, stone walls replaced the original wooden structure.
In the year 1509, James IV bequeathed the formidable castle to John Grant of Freuchie, who commissioned an extension to the castle’s keep. Unfortunately, at the end of the 17th century, the fortified and formidable castle fell victim to a fire and suffered heavy damages.
The Urquhart Castle often makes appearances on TV shows and movies. It was recently featured in an episode of the hit Outlander series. Visitors to the Urquhart Castle also have the option to enjoy on-site facilities such as a café, gift shop, and stunning views of the loch.
4. Fort Augustus
Fort Augustus, at the south end of Loch Ness, is a favourite spot for tourists for its picturesque setting on the Caledonian Canal. One of the top free things to do here is simply sitting alongside the water and watching the boats head out into the loch. Don’t forget to pop into the interesting Caledonian Canal Heritage Centre. It provides plenty of detail regarding the construction and subsequent history of this major feat of engineering.
The fortress gave the place its name and was built in 1715 to become the headquarters of the English General Wade in 1729. After changing hands a number of times, the greater part of it was demolished in 1876. Benedictine monks have since built an abbey and a highly regarded school on the site. Another nearby attraction is the magnificent waterfall at Foyers.
5. Spean Bridge
A little to the south of Loch Ness is the road to the village of Spean Bridge, offering splendid panoramas of the Caledonian fault and the northern side of Ben Nevis. Spean Bridge makes an excellent base for walks through the Glen Roy National Nature Reserve, with its “Parallel Roads,” as the terraces that run along the slope are called. These indicate the various water levels of a Pleistocene lake that was dammed by Ice Age glaciers. It’s also where you’ll find the Commando Memorial, a monument dedicated to the men of the British Commando Forces who trained at nearby Achnacarry Castle.
6. Loch Oich and Invergarry
The small and cute islands in Loch Oich to the south of Loch Lomond (yes the famous Scottish Whiskey which Captain Haddock loved in The Adventures of Tintin is named after this loch) are set against a backdrop of steep hillsides and make a wonderfully picturesque sight. On the west bank of the loch near a spring known as Tobar nan Ceann stands a remarkable memorial to a bloody incident that took place in the 17th century. Here, seven brothers were executed by beheading for the deaths of two members of the Keppoch family. Their severed heads were washed in the spring before being presented to the clan chief.
Invergarry is another good base for hill walkers and hikers. It is also a popular centre for anglers as well as horseback treks through remote Highland glens and mountain passes.
7. The Caledonian Canal
The Caledonian fault has been used for transport since Thomas Telford completed the Caledonian Canal in 1849 (after commissioning work in 1803). Stretching from Fort William and ending in the east at the town of Inverness, the canal spared ships from the hazardous northern route through the Pentland Firth between the Scottish mainland and the islands of the Orkneys.
Only a third of the Caledonian canal’s length is man-made, the major part of it consists of narrow lochs including Loch Linnhe; Loch Lochy; the small Loch Oich; and then the longest (and best-known), the 24-mile-long Loch Ness. When everything is taken into account, the canal (including lochs) extends to a distance 60 miles and passes through 29 locks, the most impressive group of which are the eight locks of Neptune’s Staircase. Today, it’s the leisure industry that makes the most use of the canal. Tourists in rental boats and canoes can be seen enjoying the magnificent scenery all along the waterway.
8. The Village of Drumnadrochit
At the head of Urquhart Bay on Loch Ness’s northern shore, the village of Drumnadrochit is a great place to start your exploration of Scotland’s most famous and mysterious lake. Aside from the many myths and legends of the Loch Ness, tourists can also explore the romantic ruins of the Urquhart Castle. You’ll find plenty of things to do here. In addition to guesthouses, bed-and-breakfasts, cafés, and gift shops, it’s home to the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, which tells the fascinating story of the loch’s most famous resident, Nessie.
It’s also a great place to take a boat cruiseto do some ‘monster spotting’ for yourself, go fishing, or simply enjoy the loch’s stunning scenery. The hard-to-pronounce village also serves as an extremely popular spot for horse riding and pony trekking excursions across the glorious Scottish Highlands.