Binoculars. Camera. Notebook. We’re off to hunt for the Loch Ness monster. Cup of coffee. Large (very large) slice of home-made cake. Comfy chair with excellent view. We’re ready to go.
You’ll have gathered by now that I’m not serious in my search. Let’s face it – the real monster-hunting was done and dusted over a decade ago and (whisper it) there aren’t many real believers left. But I’m still looking, and if I don’t expect to see Nessie then I know I’ll see plenty of other things.
In Your Bucket Because…
- Obviously the monster doesn’t really exist. But then again, maybe you might just be the one to get that definitive picture…
- With or without the monster, Loch Ness is tremendously easy on the eye
- Nessie hunting gives a fun focus to a family day out
Loch Ness fills a 22-mile stretch of the Great Glen, a huge trench gouged across the width of northern Scotland by glaciers exploiting the weakness of a geological fault. It’s big. Not big in the global sense, perhaps, but it’s big for Scotland, and it’s deep. Someone somewhere will tell you that you can put the population of the world in it umpteen times over. Someone else will tell you it’s got more fresh water that the rest of the UK’s rivers and lakes put together. And pretty much everyone you meet will tell you it’s home to a monster.
Nessie-Spotting at Urquhart Castle
I know just where to look. I’m sitting with my coffee, my cake and my camera and I’m gazing down the loch across the ruins of Urquhart Castle and the bay beyond. This is reputed to be one of the best places for Nessie-spotting, or so they say, although over the past few hundred years she’s been recorded and photographed from the southern end of the loch at Fort Augustus to the River Ness at Inverness.
I should lay my big-game cards on the table and admit that I don’t really know exactly what I’m looking for. I’ve read about it, of course, and on a wet day I’ve trailed with all the other soggy visitors to the (highly-informative) exhibition centre in the village of Drumnadrochit. I’ve solemnly read and listened to half a dozen explanations, none of them explanatory in itself. I might be looking for a log or a stick, a swimming deer, a misplaced seal or a sturgeon.
Coffee finished, we decide it’s probably time to bestir ourselves and go a-hunting. The path winds down to the ruins of the castle: we climb to the top and stand on the tower, scanning the loch surface. There are waves aplenty, ripples aplenty. There are seabirds and sailing boats and long white lines of spindrift.
But no Nessie. We make our way down to the pier and stand skimming stones, taking a closer look. The surface of the water is broken by….
“It’s just a floating log.”
Our shoulders droop a little, until something identifiable appears, the sleek white outline of a pleasure cruiser laden with other Nessie hunters. Now, there’s an idea. Abandoning our lookout post we take a trip to the village of Fort Augustus where, after more coffee and more cake (like Napoleon’s army, we Nessie-hunters march on our stomachs) we board the boat for a loch cruise.
Boat Trips From Fort Augustus
This is considerably more promising. It isn’t just the fact that we get a new angle on our field of search: it’s that we get some helpful advice, complete with the boat’s skipper popping into the cabin to talk us through the sonar screens that are up on the wall. “This scar on the side of the hill is where Nessie tried to escape,” he assures us with a straight face, before explaining how underwater traps baited with bottles of whisky are always pulled up whisky-less the next day.
In actual fact the science of the loch is as interesting as the myth. It’s so deep, he tells us, that it would take eight hours for a weighted line cast from a boat to reach the bottom. And he points out the individual images of tiny fish on the sonar screen as he tells us that there’s very little in the water below us to feed the beast, if it really exists.
On days like this I’m surprised that Loch Ness – caveless, virtually beachless, so deep and almost starved of fish — is thought to be a fit home for a monster. On other days I’m not, especially when the water is garlanded in mist that looks like steam from a witches’ kitchen. And there’s no question that in this part of the world the light can play tricks – one moment the mountains and the water are alive with colours so vibrant you’d struggle to find them in a rainbow and the next the cloud has clamped down so tightly that it barely registers a single shade of grey.
Old Nessie, whatever she might be, is certainly still around – there are regular sightings, usually in the early stages of the tourist season. Did we see her? Well, yes, we did. And so, if you come here, will you. She’s everywhere – in the shop windows, the postcards, the municipal floral art in Fort Augustus. You can’t miss her, and you wouldn’t want to. Loch Ness will stand on its own merits, of course. But it just wouldn’t be the same without good old Nessie.
- You can spend a whole holiday around Loch Ness. The two main settlements are the villages of Fort Augustus at the south end of the loch and Drumnadrochit, on the north shore.
- There are plenty of organised tours – by bus/minibus, boat or a combination.
- Urquhart Castle, one of the best viewpoints on the loch, is just outside Drumnadrochit and is open daily: there’s an admission charge. If it’s wet, try one of the two monster visitor centres in Drumnadrochit itself.