Loch Ness
Rainbow over Loch Ness, near Fort Augustus
Loch Ness stretches 23 miles southwest from Inverness to Fort Augustus and the Caledonian Canal that connects it to Loch Oich. The loch is famous as the alleged home of the Loch Ness Monster, usually dubbed 'Nessie', a serpentine creature of dubious origin and even more dubious reality!

The Loch is forested along both shores sides and there are a large number of signposted walking trails. On the northwest bank is historic Urquhart Castle, the biggest tourist attraction in the area.

'Nessie' the Loch Ness Monster

It is hard to hear the words 'Loch Ness' and not think of the mythical Monster, but tales of a strange creature in the depths of the loch are a fairly recent bit of folklore. Tales of lake monsters are told all across Scotland, though the exact form of those monsters varies from place to place.

The first written record of a monster sighting is in a 7th-century record of the life of St Columba, though in this case the monster was discovered in the River Ness, not the loch. It was not until 1933 that the first reported sighting of a monster came to public attention.

This was followed by a famous photograph published in 1934 showing a long-necked creature swimming in the loch, looking very much like a prehistoric plesiosaur. This so called "Surgeon's Photograph" has since been proven to be a hoax, but once the public imagination was captured by the photo, more sightings were reported, and attempts were made to rigorously examine the treports and find proof of the Monster's existence.

The iconic 'Surgeon's Photo of the Loch Ness Monster
The iconic 'Surgeon's Photo'
of the Loch Ness Monster,

Loch Ness Centre

Not far from Urquhart Castle is the Loch Ness Centre, housing an exhibition on the Monster and attempts to discover what, if anything, lurks in the dark waters of the loch. See underwater craft and sonar equipment used to search for the Monster, and examine old photographs and accounts of encounters so you can decide for yourself if the Monster is real or not.

Author's Note:
Our family visited Loch Ness for a week, staying near the Falls of Foyers. Our daughter, then 6, swears she saw Nessie in the loch, though her imagination may have been fired by a cuddly Monster toy we purchased for her at a gift shop in Fort Augustus, complete with a tartan cap.

Urquhart Castle

Roughly halfway along the loch at Drumnadrochit, hugging a promontory on the western shore, is this picturesque castle, begun in the 13th century. The first written record comes from 1296 when Edward I of England captured it and installed a garrison. The English were driven out, recaptured the castle, and were driven out again. Robert Bruce captured Urquhart in 1307, and from this point the castle was held by the crown.

The castle was attacked multiple times by the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, then in 1509 James IV granted it to Clan Grant, on condition they repair and maintain it. Maintaining it proved the hard part, for the MacDonalds and Grants fought over the castle on numerous occasions. It was left to decay in the mid-17th century, then destroyed in 1692 to prevent it being used by the Jacobites. The most striking remain is Grant Tower, standing 5 stories high.

Fort Augustus

The gateway to Loch Ness from the west, Fort Augustus grew up around a military fort established by General Wade in the aftermath of the First Jacobite Rebellion in 1715. Fort Augustus is the eastern terminus of the Caledonian Canal, reached by a series of locks connecting Loch Oich to Loch Ness.

It is a fairly common pastime to sit by the canal and watch boats go through the locks. The major focus is tourism, with a plethora of gift shops and tourism facilities, much of it geared around the legend of the Loch Ness Monster.

Falls of Foyers

On the rarely explored southeast shore of the loch is a stand of parkland surrounding the Falls of Foyers. The Gaelic name for the falls is 'Eas na Smuide', which translates as smoking falls, a reference to the clouds of mist thrown up by the thundering water as it tumbles 165 feet into a pool. Trails lead through attractive woodland to a viewing area looking towards the falls.