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    Loch Ness & Nessie

    nessie

    The Mystery Continues

    By Meike van Krimpen, Content Manager
    More by Meike

    Scotland's Most Famous Loch

    You’ll find ‘seeing the Loch Ness Monster’ on many a travel bucket list. Loch Ness is an enigmatic destination, the loch itself is gorgeous, and the associated Nessie mystery makes it extra alluring. The loch sits in between Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, and Fort William which is hailed as the Outdoor Capital of the UK. Therefore, with a central location and along a popular tourist route, it’s easy for travellers to combine visiting Loch Ness with other activities.

    So if you’re thinking of visiting Loch Ness and want to know a little bit more about this vast expanse of water and her resident monster, we’ve collated everything we know in one place, from things to do to our favourite monster theories.

    Take Me Straight To:

    Where is Loch Ness?

    Loch Ness is Scotland’s most famous loch and you’ll find it in the Highlands. It’s about 30 minutes by car southwest of Inverness to get to Dores Beach. From Edinburgh and Glasgow, it’s around 3-4 hours to get to Fort Augustus.

    Introducing 'Nessie', the Loch Ness Monster

    Most people will have heard of Loch Ness because of its connection to a fabled monster. The subject of much awe, investigation and rumour, the Loch Ness monster can be named in one breath alongside Big Foot, the Yeti, the Bermuda Triangle, Chupacabra and the Roswell UFO as one of the most tantalising unsolved mysteries of all time. The strangeness surrounding the Loch Ness monster is not unfounded, as there have been numerous sightings over the past 1,500 years and many theories.

    What Does Ness Mean?

    The Loch Ness monster probably has the most affectionate nicknames out of all cryptids (mysterious creatures) worldwide – ‘Nessie’. It is both a diminutive of the word Ness and also a shortening of the scientific name the monster received in 1975, ‘Nessiteras rhombopteryx’. The scientific name is purely descriptive, translating to ‘Ness monster with diamond fins’.

    But what does Ness mean? There are several interpretations of “Ness” in relation to Loch Ness. Firstly, the Loch itself is named after the River Ness, and in Scots Gaelic and Old Norse the word Ness/nis can be translated to mean ‘from the headland’. Other interpretations suggest it means “roaring one” and also “water’. In addition, there are also sources that think the name links to a water goddess named ‘Nessa’. However, we wonder if this is a chicken/egg situation where the sea goddess may have received that name from Nessie rather than the other way around.

    Loch Ness Monster Statue

    ‘Nessie’ Sightings

    References to Nessie or the Loch Ness monster can be traced back to around 500 AD, with St Columba’s claimed sighting. There are even some Pictish carvings of an unidentified marine animal that have been thought to have been the earliest hints at a Highland monster. To date, there are over 3,000 claimed ‘sightings’ – with recent years having around 5-10 sightings reported annually. Sightings range from verbal accounts to blurry photographs, sonar scans, webcam freeze frames, videos, drone footage and underwater sound bites.

    After St Columba’s report of seeing Nessie, things went a bit quiet. Interest in Nessie resurged in the 1930s when there were many notable sightings that gradually sparked media interest. Subsequently, national and global intrigue snowballed into even more sightings and various photo “hoaxes” like the famous Surgeon’s photograph. Have a browse of all the ‘official’ Nessie encounters on the Loch Ness Sightings website.

    Loch Ness Stats & Facts

    Length of Loch Ness

    36.3 km / 22.5 miles

    Depth of Loch Ness

    At its deepest point, Loch Ness is said to be 230 meters deep

    The volume of Loch Ness

    7,452 million cubic metres, more than all English and Welsh lakes combined!

    Average Annual Sighting of Nessie

    5-10 logged sightings

    Footfall

    300,000 annual visitors to the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition

    Fastest swim of Loch Ness

    Rachel Godburn swam the length of Loch Ness in 1995 in 9 hours and 25 minutes

    What’s So Special About Loch Ness?

    There is much more to Loch Ness than its legendary monster – but what makes Loch Ness particularly interesting in its own right certainly adds to the overall mystery of Nessie herself.

    Geologically

    • Loch Ness is very deep. At 227m, it’s the second deepest lake in the UK (after Loch Morar) and this combined with its overall surface area means it contains the most water of all lakes in the UK. It’s estimated that Loch Ness contains more water than all of the lakes in England and Wales combined! That’s a lot of water for the Loch Ness monster to hide in…
    • Loch Ness is dark, even near the surface visibility is poor because of the peat runoff from the nearby hills. This characteristic also contributes to Nessie’s overall secrecy, making it impossible to get clear underwater photography.
    • Because of its depth, Loch Ness will never completely freeze over. There’s a large enough volume of water in Loch Ness that cold water sinks to the bottom and the warm water stays near the surface. This movement of water also explains the ‘unnatural’ water behaviour reported in various Loch Ness Monster sightings like unexpected large waves and objects seen moving in the opposite direction of the flow of the water.
    • Loch Ness is also very old. The loch is the result of the Great Glen Fault Line, a 400 million-year-old strike-slip tectonic movement that separates the North-Eastern Highlands from the South-Western Highlands, along with glacial weathering 10,000 years ago.

    Historically

    • You’ll find Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness – Scotland’s third most visited castle and one of the largest castle ruins. Legend has it that Nessie likes to hide in caves underneath the castle, which makes sense as most sightings take place there (it is also the spot with the highest concentration of visitors).
    • There’s only one island on Loch Ness, Cherry Island, which is actually the remains of an ancient Crannog (a fortified wooden dwelling built on the water). We wonder if these early inhabitants on the loch spotted Nessie?

     

    What Could the Loch Ness Monster Be?

    Is the Loch Ness Monster a Dinosaur?

    Nessie often appears in popular media as some sort of plesiosaur. This characterisation stems from George Spicer’s 1933 description. He and his wife claimed to have seen the creature crossing the road to the loch and reported seeing a long wavy neck. After that, Arthur Grant also claimed to have seen a long-necked beast on the road nearby the loch in 1934, the same year that the hoaxed surgeon’s photograph was published depicting Nessie’s small head on top of a long arching neck. Finally, the 1972 Academy of Applied Science and Loch Ness Investigation shared the flippers picture taken that vaguely showed diamond-shaped fins.

    Each ‘sighting’ built upon the image of what we now recognise as Nessie. Plesiosaurs are thought to have long necks, small heads and long diamond-shaped fins. The pictures of the fins consequently inspired the official scientific naming of Nessie by Sir Peter Scott, a British Ornithologist as ‘Nessiteras Rhombopteryx’ which means ‘Ness monster with diamond fins’. We should point out that that the Latin name is an anagram for ‘monster hoax by Sir Peter S’.

    Our favourite monster hunter, Adrian Shine, has long held that the loch does not contain a dinosaur, that people simply see what they want to see, or hold what they expect to see against things they don’t recognise like salmon, seals, boats, floating logs and waves.

    More Realistic Theories

    More exciting suggestions include a rogue sturgeon, whales, seals and also catfish. Sturgeons used to be a popular theory, their size, long nose and ridged backs align nicely with the preconceived notions that the public has of Nessie. Moreover, it did not seem entirely unlikely that a Baltic sturgeon wandered up the River Ness in error looking for its spawning grounds. Similarly, this is why whales and seals were thought to be the likely suspects. Catfish were also contemplated as an explanation for the Loch Ness monster. It was not unheard of for catfish to be released for hunting into English lakes by Victorians and they can grow a considerable size and are long-lived, being the second largest freshwater fish in the world.

    Eels are currently the most popular theory, and the most backed up by science. DNA sampling of Loch Ness excluded the presence of a prehistoric dinosaur, surgeons and catfish, but rather revealed a high density of eel DNA. Who knows, maybe a giant eel is lurking in the depths? If this is the case – the mystery continues as eels are also a source of much intrigue.

    Best Places to Visit at Loch Ness

    Whether you’re visiting Loch Ness to try and spot Nessie or just want to enjoy the epic scenery, here are some of our favourite spots.

     

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    Lochend Beach

    Lochend Beach is, you guessed it, at loch’s end. It’s a lovely stretch of land before Loch Ness turns into Loch Dochfour on the northern side. The beach is a great spot for wild swimming and stand up paddleboarding. The is area is also relatively peaceful and quiet, as there’s no easy parking and it’s not signposted.

    Dores Beach

    A gorgeous pebble beach, fringed with pretty woodland and has epic panoramas of the loch on offer. It’s a delightful spot for a picnic or a pub lunch at Dores Inn. Despite its accessibility, the northeastern side of the loch is much quieter than the southern end so if you time your trip right you might have the beach to yourself.

     

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    Drumnadrochit

    You can’t really go to Loch Ness and not visit Drumnadrochit, albeit a bit touristy. It’s a pretty village, beautifully located just above Loch Ness and surrounded by wooded glens. Over time it’s grown into a one-stop-shop for all things Nessie, with many cruises departing from Drumnadrochit and it’s also home to the Loch Ness Visitor Centre & Exhibition and also Nessieland.

     

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    Urquhart Castle

    Dating back to the 13th century, Urquhart Castle sits on the shores of Loch Ness. It was formally one of the largest castles in Scotland when it was fully intact, but still to this day, its ruins are an impressive sight to behold. The castle is fun to explore and the higher points provide nice views out over the loch. Many boat tours combine cruising on the loch with a trip to the castle.

    Fort Augustus

    On the southern side of Loch Ness you’ll find Fort Augustus. This village is a popular tourist attraction, not just because of Loch Ness but also because of the Caledonian Canal. The canal runs between the east coast to the west coast by connecting the various lochs in the Great Glen. In Fort Augustus, you can admire the wonderfully-engineered locks that allow boats to traverse the difference in height between Loch Oich and Loch Ness.

    Falls of Foyers

    If you’ve had your fill of trying to spot Nessie, why not head over to the Falls of Foyers on the eastern side of Loch Ness? The eastern shores are much less busy than the western side of the loch, and the falls are a definite highlight. They are especially gorgeous in the autumn as they’re surrounded by impressive trees, and it’s said that the main drop is around 50 meters high.

    What to do at Loch Ness?

    Many are drawn to Loch Ness at the prospect of doing some monster hunting, however, there are various other reasons to visit. Loch Ness is a big loch that’s dotted with beaches, surrounded by lush woodland and small hills – so there’s plenty to see and do in the area.

    Canoeing

    We may be a bit biased, but we think Loch Ness is amazing to explore by canoe. It’s enormous, so you can opt to do a day or half-day paddle with a transfer or embark on a multi-day epic, canoeing the entire length of the loch. On our Great Glen Canoe Trail holiday, we spend 2 out of 5 nights camping on the shores of Loch Ness and along the way, we’ll visit Urquhart castle.

    Boat Tours

    This seems like an obvious suggestion – but some people may get put off by the cost of a boat tour or think it’s overdone. Group departures set off daily from Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit that are reasonably priced and worth the effort. Seeing the landscapes from the water makes the experience extra special and maximises your chances of spotting Nessie.

    History & Heritage

    Although approaching Urquhart Castle from the water is pretty cool, it’s also easily accessible from the road. The sprawling ruins are steeped in fascinating history and make for the perfect half-day activity if you’re in the area. In addition, you could also visit the Corrimony Chambered Cairn above Drumnadrochit. The stones and cairn date back around 4,000 years.

    Dores Beach at Loch Ness

    Walking & Hiking

    There are a lot of lovely walks to do near Loch Ness, from woodland wanders to lochside paths. Check out Walk Highlands for some ideas. Alternatively, if you are looking for a fully guided experience, we also include some hiking above Loch Ness on our Autumn Highlands walking holiday.

    Although there isn’t one dedicated single walking trail around the whole of the loch, you can combine the Loch Ness section of the Great Glen Way and the South Loch Ness Trail to make a near-perfect loop. This circuit has been nicknamed the Loch Ness 360. The route does not constantly hug the shoreline, but it does deliver a good variation in scenery and can also be cycled with some adjustments.

    If you’re wanting to do a hill day, our recommendation would be an ascent of Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, a Corbett on the Northwestern side of the loch. Your slog upwards is rewarded with some wonderful views out over the water.

    Visit with Us

    Meet the Author: Meike van Krimpen

    “Having grown up travelling across the world I've developed an addiction to all things spice and to travel! When it was time to go to university I wandered off to Scotland for a new adventure and now 10+ years later I've not managed to leave yet. Scotland's welcoming culture, beautiful scenery and a Scottish man captured my heart. Moving to Scotland has made me develop a passion for the outdoors and I love heading out for an explore.”

    View profileMore by Meike

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