Since the 6th century, and the time of Saint Columba, there have been murmurings that there is something unusual living in Britain’s largest freshwater lake. Its image has become iconic—the long neck, the humped back protruding from the water—and despite seemingly unceasing progress in the fields of technology and science, Nessie still captures the public imagination. Indeed, 2017 was a ‘record year’ for sightings of Scotland’s most famous denizen of the deep. In the spring of 2018, the New Zealand scientist Professor Neil Gemmell announced that he would lead a team of researchers to the Loch to see what he might find using the latest DNA sampling techniques.
Visitors to Inverness may be tempted to see for themselves. They wouldn’t be alone: Nessie is almost unique among creatures whose existence is disputed in that there are so many people who are convinced of its authenticity. Half a million people travel to the loch every year. And there’s something very Scottish in the affectionate way in which the locals talk of Nessie. Neither the Yeti nor Bigfoot have managed to inspire such tenderness and warmth.
The loch is remarkable even if you forget what may be hiding under its surface. It is roughly 37km long and is, in some places, as deep as 230m. It is the second largest and second deepest Scottish loch by area and the largest by volume in the British isles. There is more fresh water in Loch Ness than in all the lakes in England and Wales combined. What you can’t fail to notice—and what fuels the fire of the Nessie legend—is its murkiness: due to the high peat content in the surrounding soil, the water visibility is exceptionally low.
Such is its size that visitors will have little difficulty seeing the loch itself (even if its resident is camera-shy) but some viewing points are better than others. At the north end of the lake, the village of Dores has a beach and a charming pub with old church seating; here you can sample delicious local fare, including haggis, neeps and tatties, as well as traditional British favourites such as haddock and chips for the less adventurous. If you’ve hired a car in Inverness, you may also drive up the hill and enjoy one of the very best views of the loch.
At the southernmost end of Loch Ness, Fort Augustus is a good spot to enjoy a picnic. A favourite vantage point for monster-spotters, or aspiring monster-spotters, is at Urquhart Castle, which overlooks the loch and was once the main fortress of Great Glen. And even if you don’t see a head and long neck rise out of the depths, you might instead notice a red deer swimming or a family of otters playing on the banks. Not quite so morbidly fascinating but nonetheless lovely to see.
The village of Drumnadrochit on the west shore of Loch Ness is the site of the Loch Ness Centre, whose exhibition has been described as a “portal to the unique phenomenon that is Loch Ness.” There is original equipment, such as sonar survey vessels and miniature submarines, as well as original photographs and film footage of the monster’s alleged sightings. You can also learn more about the ecology of the loch: is there, for instance, enough food in the loch to sustain its most famous inhabitant? And is Nessie alone?
The village itself is worth exploring, too. There are charming little cottages, cafés and gift shops, as well as a beautifully crafted miniature model of nearby Urquhart Castle. What’s more, Drumnadrochit is the point from which a number of monster-spotting cruises depart; what better place to see the monster than from the surface of the lake itself?
In 2003, the BBC took to the loch to try to prove, once and for all, that there was something in the lake. But they found nothing of substantial size, and said that this proved that Nessie was a myth. But rumours and sightings still abound. Scottish Natural Heritage even has a contingency plan should the monster be discovered. And there are many people who believe that Nessie, perhaps bored of all the attention, has simply left the loch and now lives elsewhere. Whatever the truth, any visitor to Inverness should visit the famous loch… just in case.