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LOCH NESS FAMILIARISATION TOUR


It would make good sense to learn a little about the area. As part of this we will now take a journey around the loch to orientate the reader. At various points you will find the SATPIC hyperlink which you may use to help you keep track of where you are. This NASA image scrolls in a separate window and the number, i.e. SATPIC 8 means you are at location number 8. If you use the NASA image regularly you will soon become familiar with the loch.

Let us start in the capital of the Highlands, Inverness. Inver means "mouth of" and so Inverness means "mouth of the Ness river". The river is only six miles long.

It leaves Loch Ness at the Bonar Narrows, separates from the canal at Loch Dochfour SATPIC 1 then continues its way to the firths of Moray and Beauly through gravel beds deposited by the glaciers of the last ice age and upon which Inverness now stands.

Made the Millennium City for Scotland in 2001 Inverness has a growing population approaching 65,000. It remained a town until recently despite having a cathedral. Story has it that because funds ran out before the cathedral spires were completed, Inverness was denied city status.

The city is the centre of administration for the Highlands and hosts the HQs of the Highland Regional Council, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and other organisations. Industry is light and varied with tourism being the single major income generator. Good city planning is demonstrated by the bulk of industry being located in the north east side of the city, but the city centre exhibits some rather disastrous planning of yesteryear when concrete monstrosities were erected on the river side almost completely obscuring the attractive nineteenth century castle which houses the sheriff courts.

The River Ness, as it runs through the city centre is some 50 to 60 metres wide and, after heavy rain, can be extremely fast flowing. In the eighties the force of the Ness in flood washed away the rail link to the north of Scotland. In January 2005 there was a similar flood.

Leaving the city centre along the road which follows the north bank of the river westwards, we pass the cathedral with its truncated spires, the modern Eden Court Theatre and arrive at the lovely Ness Islands where the river meanders around a series of gravel islands crossed by attractive Victorian bridges. On the south side of the river here are some of Inverness' most expensive homes and the north side is a green area of football pitches and leisure complexes.

Shortly, in the west, a strange isolated hill is seen. It is a gravel mound, called an esker, made of gravels moved around under the ice sheet and just left behind when the ice melted some ten to twelve thousand years ago. Today it houses Tomnahurich cemetery and is an extremely beautiful feature of the area. The road bends away from the river towards the cemetery and shortly rejoins the A82 motor road where the cemetery meets the Caledonian canal. Here, several times per day, the traffic comes to a standstill while yachts and cruisers laze their way east or west through the swing bridge. Amazingly the Brahan Seer predicted that ships would sail behind Tomnahurich hill more than a century before the building of the Caledonian Canal which was completed in 1822. Telford's canal links the North Sea with the Atlantic via the Moray Firth, Loch Dochfour, Loch Ness, Loch Oich, Loch Lochy and Sea-loch Linnhe.

Caledonian CanalWe cross the canal and head towards Loch Dochfour SATPIC 1, passing further gravel mounds on our left at Torvean. The site of King Brude's seat is high on the right. King Brude met with Saint Columba in 565AD and some of his people were converted to Christianity, although apparently not the king himself.

Soon we start to pass through Lord Burton's estate SATPIC 2 and reach the man-made Loch Dochfour, created when the level of Loch Ness was raised by three metres (9 feet) to facilitate the construction of the Caledonian Canal. Dochfour is at the point where the river and canal part company SATPIC 3 on their journeys to the sea.

Loch Dochfour and, therefore, Loch Ness are sixteen metres (51 feet) above sea level. This means that the loch is fresh water. The water is acidic and the colour of very weak tea. This is caused by a combination of peat staining and the suspension of peat and other particles in the water. The taste is slightly peaty, but both the taste and colour can be easily disguised with cheap whisky. Don't waste the good stuff on it though.

As we drive westwards along the A82, after passing Loch Dochfour we pass a charming farm with its myriad ducks, geese and hens as we head towards the tiny village of Lochend SATPIC 4. Loch Ness becomes visible in the distance, a vast expanse of water stretching into the distance. It is lovely to see the loch in brilliant sunshine, but I always feel that the first encounter with the world's most famous body of freshwater should be in murky, overcast or even drizzly conditions when it seems to exert a heavy and oppressive presence.

The River Ness exits Loch Ness and becomes Loch Dochfour at the Bonar Narrows SATPIC 5. Although this area is accessible by road it is a private area and readers are asked not to park on its private road. It is here that Saint Columba is supposed to have encountered his water beast.Aldourie Castle on Loch Ness

As we leave Lochend on the opposite shore we see Aldourie Castle SATPIC 6 where the reception for the premier of the film Loch Ness was held. A picture of the castle on a flat calm day is shown on the left. Today it is difficult to park opposite Aldourie Castle so take care. The A82 is a major trunk route and carries both fast and heavy traffic so beware any dangerous parking or reversing manoeuvres and never park unless you can park completely and safely off the main highway.

At Aldourie the Loch Ness is only about 600 metres wide and this narrow section continues for about three miles. Towards the end of the narrows you will find a long layby which contains some information panels and a cairn SATPIC 7 which marks the raising of the Wellington bomber discovered by the Academy of Applied Science using side-scan sonar in 1976.

Suddenly the loch widens to over one mile and the village of Dores SATPIC 8 can be seen in the distance. It remains almost at this width all the way to Foyers SATPIC 9, but that is on the far side and we are progressing along the north shore. Soon we approach Abriachan (the emphasis in pronunciation should be on the second syllable) and tall fir trees are seen beside the road marking an ancient graveyard. On the left of the road there is a track leading down to the remains of Abriachan Pier SATPIC 10 which was a pick up point for pedestrians and goods before the building of the main road. Recently Abriachan Nursery has been developed into an attractive garden centre with a walk for which a small charge is made.

Some six miles from Lochend we come to the Loch Ness Clansman Hotel and harbour SATPIC 11 which is also occasionally used as a base camp by the Loch Ness Project. In 1996 and 1997 a commercial submarine operated from the harbour, but was not a financial success owing to the very short season and the limited visibility in the depths of the loch. Today the harbour is used by cabin cruisers for overnight berthing. The Loch Ness Clansman Hotel, itself, is a creation of the sixties, a timber faced modern hotel with a bar and restaurant boasting panoramic views over the loch. The Loch Ness Project have an area near the Clansman harbour which they occasionally use as a base camp

Leaving the Clansman the road climbs higher above the loch and twists and turns past a number of laybys before a view is obtained of Urquhart Castle across the mouth of Urquhart Bay. The A82 then bends right to follow the line of the loch into the bay. Shortly we pass another disused, but well maintained pier from the days of the ferries. This one is called Temple The Iscan Expedition Main Rig at Loch NessPier SATPIC 13. High on the hill above it is the old croft of Tychat SATPIC 14 now owned by Dr Robert Rines. Temple Pier itself is private and there is no admittance to it. Many expeditions have been run from there including the John Cobb water speed record attempt in 1952, the two submarines of 1969, the seventies' Rines expeditions and many more. The rig for  the Iscan expedition can be seen to the left with Urquhart Castle in the far distance.

In recent years a harbour has been constructed SATPIC 15 in the corner of Urquhart Bay to the right of Temple Pier and this is utilised by a number of commercial cruise vessels and hire boats.

Now the road leaves the loch to skirt the wooded area of Special Scientific Interest SATPIC 16 . We pass Drumbuie and the home of the late author, Richard Frere. As we enter the village of Drumnadrochit we encounter the Official Loch Ness Centre and Drumnadrochit Hotel then the Original Loch Ness Centre and Loch Ness Lodge Hotel (what used to be the Glenurquhart Lodge Hotel). There is an ongoing feud between the two centres. Loch Ness Centre is a professional multi-media presentation which presents an honest and clear presentation of the material. The "Original" centre's exhibition shows many fakes and hoaxes and does not attempt to explain them. This is seen as "showing the evidence and letting the public make up their own minds about the evidence", but, if you are not given all of the facts, how can you come to a valid conclusion?

The road now bends sharply left over the River Enrick towards and through the village green which is overseen by a number of B&Bs, the Glen cafe, Fiddlers Bar and the Drumnadrochit Post Office.

On through the village there is an excellent gift shop called the Gallery which also takes bookings for Castle Cruises then a mini-supermarket housed in a sixties' concrete monstrosity. The A82 then passes from Drumnadrochit to the sister village of Lewiston where you can find petrol and the  Loch Ness Inn. At the cross roads the left junction leads to the Benleva Hotel which provides simple accommodation and food inexpensively. Also along here is Loch Ness Back-Packers shown below.Loch Ness Back-Packers

We now cross the River Coilte SATPIC 17 and pass by Borlum Farm SATPIC 18 (Borlum being the traditional name for the farm which supplied the local castle). The farm provides a range of activities, but is particularly noted for its specially schooled horses which participate in Riding For The Disabled. Here you can ride, trek or even be lead by the reins. They also organise fishing expeditions on Loch Ness with an experienced ghillie.

The road now climbs about two hundred feet as it approaches the promontory which is home for Scotland's, perhaps the world's, most famous ruin ... Urquhart Castle SATPIC 12. Dating back to the eleventh century (the current structure to the thirteenth century) it was finally destroyed by government forces at the end of the seventeenth century to prevent it falling into the hands of the Jacobites. Parking problems at the castle are legendary. When I first moved to Drumnadrochit the castle was served by a layby which took four cars. This was later expanded to cater for twelve cars and in 1985 a new car park was built with 47 spaces which was supposed "to solve the parking problem once and for all". Needless to say, the car park gradually became more and more crowded and has developed into more of a problem than it ever was. There is now a far superior parking area, but the new visitor centre is overpriced and poorly designed.

The famous MacNab picture (below) was taken from the bend just north of the castle car park.MacNab Picture. One of the famous Loch Ness monster fakes.

The A82 is, at best, a road which demands respect, but in the vicinity of the castle it is nothing less than downright dangerous and extreme care is required when driving this particular stretch from the castle, on past Lenie and the Cobb memorial right through to Invermoriston.

As we pull out of the Urquhart Castle car park, having taken our souvenir pictures, we head south along one of the most precipitous stretches of the northern shore. The hills here plunge towards the depths of the loch at between 45o and 60o. The road winds dangerously for about a mile until we see a stone cairn SATPIC 19 standing on the left of the road at a collection of two houses and some ruins called Lenie. This cairn was erected by the people of Drumnadrochit and Glenurquhart in memory of John Cobb, who died while attempting to set a new water speed record in 1953.

John Cobb, with his jet powered boat, Crusader, had been waiting a long time for calm weather. It is a mystery to the author why anyone would choose Loch Ness for an event which required absolute flat calm conditions. Even the best flat calms at Loch Ness rarely last longer than an hour and often include areas of ripples which can spring up without warning. On the fatal day Crusader was rapidly prepared to take advantage of one of the few calm mornings for weeks. Cobb warmed up the vessel and then made the first pass along the measured mile comfortably breaking the existing record. To be valid, however, an average had to be taken of passes in each direction. A worrying ripple had begun to appear on the surface and John Cobb swung the vessel around to begin the return leg as quickly as possible.Loch Ness in winter just south of Urquhart Castle The snow scene below looks towards the measured mile from just south of Urquhart Castle.

As he entered the measured mile his speed was probably already over 240mph. Crusader seemed to be skimming along just above the surface, it bobbed two or three times then somersaulted and disintegrated. Cobb was pulled from the water alive but died shortly afterwards. The boat was eventually found by the Loch Ness Project who staged a small exhibition for the fiftieth anniversary.

The press, as might be expected, tried to link the accident with Nessie, making suggestions that the waves which had sprung up were the monster's wake, but the answer was far more simple. According to Cobb's local engineer, Alex Menzies, whose son still runs the Lewiston garage, Cobb, in his haste to get the second trip completed, had begun his run closer to shore than he should have. The result was that he ran into his own reflected wake. Ironically, as careful viewing of the film of the disaster perhaps demonstrates, if Cobb had not reduced power when he began to hit the wake he may well have ridden through the disturbance. Reducing power probably allowed the nose to drop and strike the next wave. The rest is history. If stopping to view the cairn do take care both pulling on and off the road and crossing it from the layby on the opposite side. The road is fast and dangerous here with many locals using this short straight stretch as a rare opportunity to overtake slower traffic. Expect cars to be exceeding 70mph (112kph) even though the limit is 60mph (96kph).

Loch Ness Investigation Bureau HQBeyond Lenie we reach Achnahannet SATPIC 20 which was the location of the Loch Ness Phenomenon Investigation Bureau's sixties base camp although there is nothing there today to mark the spot. The area of the camp was on the flat field, opposite the Achnahannet cottages, which is now home to a solitary, but well looked-after horse.

Just beyond Achnahannet, and even better hidden, was the home of the Loch Ness Project's shore station back in 1984 SATPIC 21 where they monitored mid-loch equipment. It is also the location which saw one of the most despicable and dangerous pieces of Loch Ness foolhardiness.

Project base camps are modest affairs with a few tents, an area to prepare food and a few inflatable craft which can be pulled ashore when not in use. The picture below shows Maralyn Shine and Betty MacDougall assisting with the Rosetta Project ... one of the Loch Ness Project's collaborative expeditions.Rosetta Project underway at Loch Ness

On one warm evening the off duty project members were sleeping on the open beach in sleeping bags when a man in a boat approached the camp and threw a petrol bomb which exploded into flames close to a university student who was asleep. She awoke and clearly saw a man she identified as Frank Searle who then turned and headed off across the loch. Owing to the remoteness of the location and the fact that there was no vehicle at the base camp, it took possibly three quarters of an hour before Project Leader Adrian Shine was woken at his cottage at Strone above Urquhart Castle and the police were immediately called.

No charges were ever brought as it was one girl's word against Frank Searle's. She had never met him and yet identified him immediately from a collection of photographs. Frank Searle had long been carrying out a campaign of lies and threats against the Loch Ness Project in addition to death threats against the author. His action at the base camp was the final straw and it was decided to get Frank Searle's publications and planned new book, stopped by suing its publishers. Shortly after that someone scrawled "SHINE CON-MAN" in red paint on the loch-side wall of the ruin of Urquhart Castle, then the petrol bomb event took place and Searle soon disappeared from the area for ever. He was last heard of in the late eighties looking for buried treasure along the west coast of Scotland and the best advice the author can offer is for readers not to buy any golden doubloons from him without a very thorough check! Channel Four have produced a documentary about Frank Searle called "The Man Who Captured Nessie". Watch out for the webmaster who was interviewed extensively.

From there to Invermoriston the road is quite featureless. By that I mean that the scenery is stunning, the trees and loch beautiful and the drive most enjoyable, but there is little to add to our story other than the Altsaigh Youth Hostel SATPIC 22 which was once the Half-Way House Tea Room. There have been many sightings from there. Of interest is the name "Altsaigh" for this is taken from the burn which runs down to the loch beside the hostel. Apparently the burn was named after a wolf which was also called Altsaigh and which was, reputedly, the last wolf shot in the area back in the nineteenth century.

The road bends away from the loch at Invermoriston and there is a sharp bend at the village where the road to the Isle of Skye departs from the A82 to Fort Augustus. The village contains a hotel, small store cum post office and some tourist shops. The River Moriston SATPIC 23 is very attractive here and there is a good view from the modern bridge of a folly towards the loch and an ancient Wade Bridge in the opposite direction. If you visit Invermoriston in wet conditions the river at this point is well worth stopping to photograph or just to view. Salmon can sometimes be seen leaping up the waterfall.

As the road leaves Invermoriston we pass Tigh na Bruach SATPIC 24 and the old jetty where the ferry used to pick up in the nineteen-thirties. Here the road is very close to the level of the loch and a good view is obtained looking across the mouth of Invermoriston bay SATPIC 25. Next we pass the Loch Ness Camp and Caravan park SATPIC 26, once the home of the best of the model Nessie's which have been made over the years, and start along the final stretch of the A82 towards Fort Augustus.

The hillsides here have been recently harvested of timber, but some of the larger trees above the road have been left in place to hide the newly cut areas. Shortly, on the other side of the loch we see the Horseshoe Scree SATPIC 27 where the side walls of the loch plunge almost vertically into the depths of the loch. In the early eighties Whittle's cage was moored and monitored off the Horseshoe. Between Foyers and Fort Augustus along the south shore there is no road and no population except eagles, deer and a few wild sheep, but as the road approaches the fort we see a large house on the southern side and then turn a bend and Fort Augustus Abbey SATPIC 28, the crannog of Cherry Island SATPIC 29 and Inchnacardoch Bay all come into view.

Overlooking Inchnacardoch Bay, the Inchnacardoch Hotel SATPIC 30 stands on the right of the road, often with some Highland (hairy) cows in the adjacent fields. This was often used as a base by Harold "Doc" Edgerton when he was working at the loch (see Anecdotes section). The bay, itself, is very shallow and this is why it would have been selected as a good place to build a crannog. Crannogs usually have foundations of stones and timber and formed a refuge where people could retreat to in times of invasion. Cherry Island is currently collapsing into the loch as the foundations rot away. This was exacerbated when Telford opened the Caledonian Canal in 1822 and raised the level of Loch Ness by about nine feet or 3m.

Soon we enter the village of Fort Augustus, which used to be known as Kil Chumein until General Wade completed the military fort in 1730 and named it in honour of the King's son William Augustus, the Duke, or the "butcher" Cumberland. As we pass the village car park an attractive disused railway bridge can be seen, dating from the closure of the railway in 19**. In the centre of the village, after crossing the River Oich, a staircase of canal locks SATPIC 31 is seen as we pass over the swing bridge across the canal.Fort Augustus Abbey, the Oich and Caledonian Canal

Next, on our left, is the mooring for the Royal Scot cruise boat and the Clansman Centre, a seasonal exhibition of Highland life in centuries gone by. Behind these is Fort Augustus Abbey.

The Abbey was built on the ruins of Wade's fort by Benedictine monks in 1878. The magnificent Victorian buildings were a boys boarding school. Over the years more buildings were added, but, regrettably, not in the same style. In its hay day, under headmaster Father Mark Dilworth, the school had approximately 150 boarders.

Changing educational patterns coupled with legislation and the new curriculum brought pressures to bear on the finances of the school. In 1993 it was closed by the same Mark Dilworth OSB who had recently been elected Abbot. I had the good fortune to be called in to devise a rescue package for the Abbey and we created a visitor centre, shop, restaurant, budget accommodation for over fifty people and a conference centre.

Although things started well, the huge overheads of the buildings swallowed all of the profits and we were in the process of a complete restructuring with the assistance of the Inverness and Nairn Enterprise company, Historic Scotland and the National Lottery. This would have created a more viable business, would have permitted the twentieth century buildings to be demolished and replaced with structures more in character and would have secured the future for the next twenty years.

Unfortunately, Abbot Mark retired in 1998 and was replaced by an appointed Prior called Francis Davidson, who was known as having an aversion to all things Highland. Within weeks he made it clear that he did not want the monastery to continue in Fort Augustus and, with the poor tourist season of 1998 as his excuse, he summarily shut the Abbey, put over twenty people out of work and changed the whole complexion of the village.

Today the buildings are falling down and the Raven Group are trying to sell a sort of holiday club  there, but I have my doubts at its viability. It is no longer open to the public.

Passing the Abbey on your left, we head towards the south side of the loch along the A862. As we skirt Borlum Bay SATPIC 32 the fields on the right were used three times a year for the Loch Ness Highland Gathering.  One of the finest Loch Ness views is obtained from Borlum Bay SATPIC 33 where you can see the entire length. See if you can spot the mirages on the horizon, but you won't in this stormy photograph of the loch from Borlum Bay.

The road now climbs steeply towards the Glen Doe deer forest and Cumin's seat where a magnificent view is obtained looking northeast towards Inverness. The view from the Suidhe (seat) can be seen below as being filmed for a new series of In Search Of for which the Webmaster is a consultant.

Loch Ness is no longer in site as we continue along Wade's road on its long straight descent. Soon we pass the deluxe Knockie Lodge and Whitebridge hotels. Watch for the first major road junction which will be signed left to Foyers. Here we join a narrow winding single track road sometimes called the Fairy Glen and we follow this through the village of Upper Foyers SATPIC 34, past the famous Falls of Foyers and descend back towards Loch Ness which we start to glimpse between the trees. Just beyond here was where Tim Dinsdale obtained his famous film in 1960.The view from Cumin's Seat above Loch Ness

After a particularly steep section a sign to Lower Foyers  SATPIC 9 is seen to the left and if you take this detour you will pass the old aluminium works and arrive at Foyers' harbour where the notorious Frank Searle had his caravan and exhibition. Further along the Hydro Electricity generating plant SATPIC 35 can be seen. This was the first in Britain where power was generated from water tumbling down a tunnel from Loch Mhor during the day and pumped back up at night using over capacity electricity. It is interesting that my brother-in-law helped to plan the surveying for the tunnel long before I moved to the lochside.

Returning to the main road we continue east above the Hydro plant and past the Foyers Hotel where Tim Dinsdale stayed during his 1960 visit. It was the owner of the Foyers Hotel who went out in his boat so that Tim could obtain a comparison film.

The road undulates eastwards providing some wonderful views of Loch Ness. In the months of June this road makes a wonderful trip in blazing late-evening sunshine. On the way you pass Boleskine House SATPIC 36, once the home of Alistair Crowley, the most evil man in the world. Shortly you come to Inverfarigaig ("inver" meaning "confluence of " or "mouth of").  Here the River Farigaig SATPIC 37 has cut a deep gorge.  If you travel a short way up the road beside the river you come to an excellent little forestry exhibition. Opposite Urquhart Castle and at various points along the road there are well laid out picnic areas.ISO crew filming eye witness Ian Cameron at Loch Ness  It was near here where Ian Cameron had his sighting and he can be seen below describing the encounter to the In Search Of crew.

After passing the Clansman Hotel on the other side, we reach the salmon farm SATPIC 38 which is gradually sprawling its way towards Dores SATPIC 8. The planning authorities permitting a fish farm on Loch Ness was an extraordinarily stupid decision. There is already a build up of nutrients under the cages and unwelcome bacteria are drifting into Dores bay. Fish farms in firths and sea lochs are at least flushed out by the tides, but in a land-locked body of freshwater introducing all the possibilities of diseased fish, changes in the water chemistry and extra nutrients is just asking for trouble.

We pass Ballachladaich SATPIC 39 where Hugh Ayton had his sighting and then enter the village of Dores where old-style monster hunter, Steve Feltham, has his base. The Dores Inn is also an excellent place for lunch and a stroll along the beach where you can get superb views back along the loch.

From here the road leaves the loch on its way through Scaniport SATPIC 40 and on into Inverness. As you enter the city you will see the moraines of Torvean and Tomnahurich in the distance to the left. Next is the Pringles Woollen Mill and Exhibition on the left and then you find yourself beside the Ness Islands and the River Ness again.

Our tour of Loch Ness is now complete.


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