Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle
There are few more Scottish sights than that of Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness on a misty day. Involuntary bagpipes fill your ears and your mind’s eye is consumed with thoughts of kilts, shortbread and a bloody big monster that lurks beneath the waves waiting for his moment. Well, no, that last bit’s nonsense but it’s still a powerful image.
Loch Ness has long been a major pull for the tourist masses desperate to see the largest of Scotland’s lochs and get caught up in the fanfare and occasional hysteria re the ‘probably-fictional-but-let’s-not-discount-completely’ story of the underwater beastie. The Nessie paraphernalia and museums around Drumnadrochit on the west coast of the Loch are for some the ultimate tourist trap, for others a fun way to let your imagination wander. It helps if you have kids. Just smile wryly, roll your eyes a little and pretend your interest is solely for their benefit.
A full circuit of the Loch is a 70 mile drive. If the weather is on your side (clear and sunny or moody and misty depending on your preference) it is best done in an anti-clockwise direction for the best views. Highlights include the impressive waterfalls at Invermoriston and Foyers and of course the Loch Ness Castle, Urquhart. Busy year-round, the castle has one of the best locations of all of Scotland’s castles. It juts unapologetically over the water and allows for terrific views up and down The Great Glen.
Urquhart Castle dates back to the 13th Century. It moved between sides during the Wars of Independence as both the Scots and English struggled to hold it for sustained periods. Tragically it was blown up in 1692 to prevent its use by the Jacobites rebelling against the government. Today the ruin defies the blowy elements and is rightly regarded as amongst the most romantic and easy on the eye castles you will find. Tours are available at the castle as is an introductory film about its violent history.
From a lot of the chatter I’ve been hearing, it sounds like Loch Ness is getting a bit of a reputation as overrated and worth by-passing. I feel this is a bit of shame and stems from being a victim of its own success. It may not have the drama of Lomond or Maree but it’s still a beautiful part of the country. If it’s the tourists that put you off, don’t just stick to the west coast and do head back up the east for a full circuit if you can. The single track roads scare many away from this section. My latest journey there just after passing Fort Augustus saw me viciously attacked by a low lying cloud that instantaneously consumed my car and resulted in me having to pull over and wait patiently for it to pass. The sheep kept me company by the roadside. Just don’t attempt it at night!
A great conclusion to the long drive is a stop at Dores Inn for dinner and/or a welcome dram. Drink in hand, the views over the Loch from outside are lovely. Now, what’s that coming out of the water….