Thursday, June 1, 2017

Scotland: Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle

On our last day in Scotland, I had planned for us to take a boat tour of Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. We woke up that morning in Newtonmore, a good hour south of the Jacobite dock, and thanks to road construction and "Sunday drivers" (there's the phrase again!), we quite nearly missed the boat. Skidding into the gravel parking lot with mere minutes to spare, Dear Husband ran to the booth to pick up our tickets, while I grabbed a few things from the car. Between us we had two jackets, one hat, and one scarf, and it was half as much as we needed out on the blustery lake. Scottish weather had finally caught up with us, and we were not ready.

Nevertheless, we braved the wind and cold for the hour-long journey out to Urquhart Castle, a tourist trap if ever there was one.

First things first: no, we did not see the Loch Ness monster. Mostly we watched the water and steep hillsides, with gorse bushes, trees, a golf course, and sheep, while a very entertaining young Scotsman rolled his "r"s and chattered on the PA system about the loch (it's not a lake, it's a loch). Loch Ness is the UK's second largest lake by surface area and second deepest (to 754'), but it contains the largest volume of fresh water--more than the rest of the lakes in England and Wales combined. Below 100 feet, the water is a constant 44 degrees F; above that the temperature fluctuates but never gets cold enough to freeze over.

The tour company is named for the Jacobite Rebellion in the late 1600s, the failed attempt to put a Catholic monarch back on the English throne, after King James II was driven into exile in 1688. Clans living in the Scottish Highlands were some of his and his son "Bonny Prince Charlie"'s most ardent supporters.

Urquhart Castle is a ruin of Scottish wars for independence from England. Picts may have occupied the area in the late 500s. St. Columba, who converted the Scots to Christianity, is said to have talked down a loch monster who was trying to eat a servant about that time. The first medieval stone castle was built in the 1200s. Strategically situated on a promontory, it changed hands many times and was finally dynamited in 1692 by retreating Crown forces. We joined the throngs (3/4 German tourists?!?) in visiting the various "rooms" and waited our turn to climb the narrow winding staircase up Grant Tower (it wasn't all that great). A chapel existed for a few decades before the space was converted to weapons storage (go figure). Having seen everything, we bought sandwiches from the visitor center and spent a little bit of time looking at the exhibits before catching the last possible showing of the short documentary that ended with the screen being raised and the curtains opened to reveal the castle down the hill. They also have a working trebuchet on the grounds; no word on when they hold demonstrations.

On the way back it had begun to sprinkle. The boat was less crowded, so we sensibly decided to ride in the enclosed cabin. I wanted to try a spiked hot chocolate from the snack bar, but the cost was too dear, so I settled on a pair of Nessie stuffed animals as Christmas presents. Alas, neither of us remember to pee before we disembarked, so we spent ten minutes looking for a restroom before heading 3 hours to the airport and consequently didn't think to snap a photo of our vessel, so here's one from their website of the "Warrior" in all her glory, with the Highlands behind her.

If you want to read more about our trip to Scotland, check out this post about hiking Cairn Gorm Mountain, this one about death and dying in Victorian times, or the one about going to church with Queen E.


  1. We have been on a ride of the lake but from the south end. We did not stop at any castles and saw no monsters. There is still so much more to see in Scotland. I have been there 3 times and have not seen it all. Thanks for the account and pictures.

    1. Oh yes, we can't wait to go back. On our agenda would be Edinburgh and St. Andrews, Glasgow, as well as riding the "Harry Potter" train. Maybe Iona, too.


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