Growing up American, there is one thing that always comes to mind first when I think of Scotland...the Loch Ness Monster! I know it's silly, but when I found out that we had the opportunity to travel to Scotland, I put in my request to include Loch Ness on the itinerary. Not only did I have to do Loch Ness, but I had to see it properly, with a cheesy Nessy tour.
Monster aside, Loch Ness is a gorgeous part of Scotland. That being said, the whole monster stuff is big business and the locals inundate you with it. There are more Nessy themed tourist traps in the area, than there are Starbucks in Seattle!
We did two Nessy themed activities. The first was a rib (rigid inflatable boat) tour of the loch.
The loch is massive. The tour that we took out of Fort Augustus was one of several that operate from various entry points around the loch. We arrived in time for the last set of tours and we had our choice of transportation, the rib or a slower double-decker boat. We picked the rib, because it covered more of the loch in the same amount of time and it was guaranteed to be more of an adventure.
The rib tour lasted approximately thirty minutes and was fifteen pounds each. We got up to speeds of about 40mph, which felt a lot faster with the open air and jostling from the wakes. I felt safe, although a few times I felt like I might be bumped off the boat!
Prior to the trip. we suited up in The Rib Shack. We were given waterproof jackets, life vests and protective eye goggles.
The ride started off slowly, as we left the Caledonian Canal and entered the Loch. Soon we were speeding through Loch Ness.
Dan recorded us as we sped by the slow boat tour.
So, did we find Nessy?
Of course not.
Loch Ness doesn't need a sea monster. It's creepy enough on it's own!
It's extremely deep, the second largest loch in Scotland, but by far the one with the biggest volume. When people drowned in Loch Ness, their bodies are not recovered. Loch Ness is so big, deep and dark, that most of it has gone unexplored, further fueling Nessy rumors.
I certainly didn't want to fall overboard and I hung on to the boat as the water grew choppy and the tour guide picked up the speed. On the way back, we saw a Tornado fly over Loch Ness. Our guide told us that the military often does drills over Loch Ness and encountering Tornados is not unusual. Sometimes they even fly extra low on purpose to freak out visitors. Dan managed to record it!
Our guide slowed down to point out mountain goats in the nearby hills.
Loch Ness has one small island, called Cherry Island. During the 15th century, it held a castle, but the island has since shrunk in size when the water level of the loch was raised to accommodate the Caledonian Canal. The island is now part of The Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology.
The rib tour was a great way to explore Loch Ness. Our guide struck a good balance between giving us factual information about the loch and bringing up the monster lore. If you're in Fort Augustus, I highly recommend booking a rib tour with Cruise Loch Ness.
On our way out of town, we stopped at The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition.
The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition is the quintessential Nessy tourist trap. We arrived prior to opening and just ahead of the bus loads of tourists. If you come to Loch Ness, you're going to be stopping here.
The exterior of the building was pretty, so we took some pictures to kill time before the doors opened.
I was pretty darn excited to visit The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition. I have a weakness for Tourist traps. Really. We were the very first in line and we paid our 6.95 pounds a person. I was ready to be dazzled.
If we had done the exhibition prior to the rib tour, we may have been impressed. The problem is, the information that we got on the rib tour was repeated and visiting the centre didn't add to our understanding or experience.
The Loch Ness Center took us about an hour. It's set up in a way where you filter through the museum in a small group, going into a series of rooms where there is a movie presentation. It's not so simple as just a film on a screen, as the rooms are all elaborately themed and most have props that become illuminated during certain segments of the film. For example, the first room is a cave with prehistoric bones. It's very atmospheric and well-done. This is also good from a pacing stand-point, as it pushes visitors along at a consistent rate.
The very last part of the exhibit is a room with artifacts in which you can take your time exploring. There is a listening station where you can hear accounts of people who claim to have seen Nessy. There are plenty of grainy photographs of the supposed monster.
Next door to the Centre, is the Nessy Shop. The Nessy Shop sells more things themed to Loch Ness than you could ever imagine and it is nearly the same size as the exhibit. It's huge!
We picked up our one Scotland souvenir in the Nessy Shop.
If you're visiting Loch Ness, you need to do something Nessy related.
I recommend picking one activity, as there is simply not enough unique information to warrant two activities. The rib tour wins. The loch is absolutely stunning and it's much more interesting to hear about the mysteries of Loch Ness, while bobbing around on a boat in the middle of the water.
I'm still a skeptic and although I will admit that there are probably mysterious creatures lurking below Loch Ness, I doubt that there is a monster similar to the classic image of Nessy.
Plan a visit to Loch Ness and decide for yourself!