Well, if you ask us, it’s all of the above! Loch Ness is a large freshwater lake in the Scottish Highlands, extending for about 37 kilometres southwest of Inverness. While it’s best known for the alleged sightings of the Loch Ness Monster, Loch Ness is more than just a home for Nessie. It is also a place of natural beauty, historical significance, and cultural heritage. In this blog post, we will explore some of the fascinating aspects of Loch Ness, from its geography and history to its myths and legends.
An Overview of Scotland's Most Famous Lake: Loch Ness
Geographically, Loch Ness is a marvel in its own right. Carved when huge glaciers scraped and gouged the land more than 10,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, Loch Ness lies in a deep valley that stretches across Scotland from Inverness to Fort William, called the Great Glen.
Loch Ness ranks as the second-largest loch in Scotland in terms of surface area, following only Loch Lomond (cruise Loch Lomond on our Scotland Discovery short tour). However, it claims the title of the largest loch by volume in all of Great Britain. Stretching for over 36 kilometres in length, this remarkable body of water plunges to depths of 230 metres, which is even deeper than the height of the Great Pyramid of Giza!
The only island in Loch Ness sits near the southern end. Known as Cherry Island, or Eilean Muireach (meaning Murdoch’s Island in Scottish Gaelic), this island is actually manmade, called a crannog. A crannog is a type of ancient lake dwelling that was built by placing wooden beams and stones on the lakebed. Cherry Island was probably used as a fortified residence or a hunting lodge in the 15th century, and once had a castle on it, but no traces of it remain today. The island was originally much larger but shrank when the water level of the lake rose due to the construction of the Caledonian Canal in the early 19th century.
Urquhart Castle by Megan Sanford, Unsplash
One of the most iconic landmarks perched on the shore of Loch Ness is Urquhart Castle, a majestic sight intertwined with the turbulent history of Scotland. Now laying in ruins, the castle was built in the 13th century when Scotland was fighting for its independence from England. However, the history of the site stretches back even further, after excavations undertaken in 1983 unearthed evidence that the area had been a medieval fortress between the 5th and 11th centuries. Urquhart Castle has witnessed many battles and sieges, changing hands several times between the Scottish kings and the rebellious lords of the Isles.
Urquhart Castle was held as a royal castle and was raided on several occasions by the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles. The castle was granted to the Clan Grant in 1509, but the conflict with the MacDonalds continued. Urquhart Castle was last used by the royalists against the Jacobites, who supported the exiled Catholic king. In 1692 the castle was partly destroyed to prevent its use by the Jacobite forces, and then abandoned to decay into ruins.
Today, it is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions, and a place where visitors can learn about its fascinating history and enjoy its stunning views of Loch Ness. Visit Urquhart Castle on our Scotland Discovery tour.
Loch Ness Monster in Drumnadrochit, Scotland by Adobe Stock
It’s what we've all been waiting for… the Loch Ness Monster! The Loch Ness Monster or Nessie for short, is said to be a large, long-necked beast with flippers that lives in the depths of the lake and is one of the most enduring mysteries of Scotland. The legend of the Loch Ness Monster has fascinated people for centuries, and has inspired countless books, films, documentaries, and scientific expeditions. But what is the origin of this legend, and why does it still captivate the imagination of millions?
References of a sea monster lurking in Loch Ness have been found throughout Scottish history from around 500 AD, when the Picts created stone carvings near Loch Ness depicting a mysterious aquatic creature. The first written account of the Loch Ness Monster can be found in the 7th century biography of Saint Columba detailing his encounter and banishment of a beast that was attacking people in the lake in 565 AD. However, it was not until 1933 that Nessie gained worldwide attention after an article featured in The Inverness Courier reported a couple seeing a creature on the surface of Loch Ness.
Since then, there have been hundreds of alleged sightings and photographs of Nessie, as well as several expeditions and investigations to find scientific evidence of its existence. However, none of these efforts have conclusively proven or disproven the existence of Nessie. Some possible explanations for Nessie include misidentification of natural phenomena (such as waves or logs), rare animals (such as sturgeons or seals), or hoaxes and pranks.
One such hoax is the famous “surgeon’s photograph” which was taken by a doctor named Robert Kenneth Wilson and published in the Daily Mail newspaper in 1934, showing a long-necked animal rising from the water. The photograph was revealed to be a hoax, made with a toy submarine and some wood putty. Despite the lack of proof, many people still believe in Nessie and visit Loch Ness hoping to catch a glimpse of it. Nessie has become a cultural icon and a symbol of Scotland’s mystery and magic.
Loch Ness is a fascinating place that offers much more than just a monster hunt. It is a place where nature, history, and culture blend together to create a unique and unforgettable experience.
Experience the magic of Loch Ness on our Scotland Discovery short tour. If you're lucky, you might even see Nessie!