Loch Ness in Scotland is filled with history and tales of a mythical creature. Stories of the monster go back as far as 565 AD when it was rumoured that a farmer was said to have been snatched by a monster. Other stories since have referred to the creature as a Kelpie, a strange water creature, whilst others believed it was a relic from the prehistoric era, trapped in the ice.
One thing's for certain. The tales have brought tourists flocking to the area for generations, hoping to catch a peek of the creature that the locals fondly refer to as Nessie.
A visit to Loch Ness has a lot to offer, and not just for those desperate to hunt down the mythical monster. Nestled in the Highlands, the area offers tranquil beauty, alongside the myths and legends of the area. With beautiful walks, historical castles, and a monster thrown into boot, it's a magical adventure for the young, and the young at heart. The Scottish hospitality and huge, huge portions of heart-warming food is simply the icing on the cake. If you're planning a visit to Loch Ness, here are five things you must definitely add to your list of things to do.
The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, Drumnadrochit
The legend of the Loch Ness Monster is undeniably the main draw to the area, so why not embrace it? Start off with this fabulous exhibition, which is located in the small village of Drumnadrochit. Visitors to the centre are told stories of the various sightings of Nessie, as well as being given the chance to listen to in depth scientific research into the geology of the area and explanations of these encounters. We went with our 9, 7 and 4 year old and they all found it exciting, although it was our nine year old who really listened to, and engaged with, the research and the stories.
The tour moves from room to room, where in one area a myth is revealed, and in another you are given a counter argument against the possibility of a monster lurking in the Loch. At the end, you can explore press cuttings of the sightings, find out more about monsters around the world, and listen to some of the eye witnesses describing what they saw.
The whole exhibition is cleverly constructed, and whilst my deeply cynical husband left feeling even more sceptical, my son believed that they had proven Nessie truly exists. So the jury's still out on that one. The whole exhibition is good value, with a family ticket costing just £22.95, whilst under 5s are free. More information can be found here.
I would definitely suggest doing this after the exhibition as I found that the kids' interest had truly been roused, and they were ready to become Nessie hunters.
Loch Ness is huge; in fact we were told that it holds more fresh water than the whole of England and Wales put together. As a result, there's a whole array of boat trips to choose from, which all leave from different harbours around the Loch. There are a couple of ticket offices in Drumnadrochit, and a regular boat trip from Fort Augustus. It all depends on what size boat, which type of boat and where you would like to see.
We opted to take the two hour Contemplation Cruise, with Jacobite which departs from Dochgarroch Lock, as we felt it would be exciting to travel from the Caledonian Canal into the Loch. This boat ride also journeys close to Urquhart Castle, which wouldn't have been possible by cruise boat from Fort Augustus with Cruise LochNess (although they do offer faster RIB boats which do visit it). There is also the option to get off the boat and visit the Urquhart Castle ruins as well. We opted to stay on the boat and you still get a really good view of the castle.
We went on a wet day, which I worried would ruin our visit, but the gloomy weather actually added to the atmosphere of the Loch, with low cloud and mists. The boat did seem quite crowded as everyone stayed undercover, but it was still enjoyable and there was plenty of room up on deck to have a good hunt for the mythical Nessie.
A boat trip of the Loch is a must for everyone (even the Nessie sceptics) as it offers the chance to really appreciate the surroundings as well as getting to hear some of the tales of Loch Ness by a knowledgeable guide. My eldest daughter was convinced she spotted monster, and left a very happy girl.
A visit to Fort Augustus
If you're looking for a beautiful town to while away a couple of hours, head to Fort Augustus, which is located on the south side of Loch Ness. It is probably the most touristy town by Loch Ness, probably due to the attractiveness of the town and its beautiful view of the Loch. Here, the Caledonian Canal and the River Oich meet the Loch, and you can take boat trips and wander through the shops.
If you fancy a bite to eat, there are several pubs alongside the canal. We settled for fish and chips as it's not often you get to enjoy sitting in the sunshine in Scotland. It was delicious, but not cheap, so be prepared.
One of the more interesting things in Fort Augustus for families is having the opportunity to watch the mechanisms of the working lock, as the boats pass from the Loch to the river. So grab an ice cream, and have a good nosy at the boats passing through.
Plodda Falls, Glen Affric
If you want to enjoy a dramatic waterfall which doesn't involve too strenuous a walk, head to Plodda Falls in the Glen Affric area. Thought to be one of the most beautiful glens in Scotland, Glen Affric has a huge selection of walks and waterfalls to choose from, where you can discover all kinds of wildlife, from red deer and golden eagles, to badgers and pine martens. The walk around Plodda Falls is an easy one to do with the kids. It has everything; a stunning 40 metre high waterfall, beautiful woodland walk and the chance to splash around in a river.
The walk to the top of the waterfall itself is short. You get the chance to stand on a platform over the waterfall which is incredible. Then, take a stroll down to the bottom of the waterfall where you can see its actual scale and marvel at where you were just stood. If you fancy a longer walk, you can take the trail through the woods, which is only around 1.5km. If you have kids, they'll love a play by the river and jumping on the stones. One word of warning -bring wellies. We didn't, and we had to bring some very soggy children home with us.
If you are around for longer and have children with longer legs, definitely take the time to explore more of the surroundings of Glen Affric. It's a truly stunning area.
Take a trip to the village of Beauly
If you are hoping to do some salmon fishing or want to take in some historic sites whilst visiting Loch Ness, definitely take a trip out to the village of Beauly. The River Beauly, which runs by the village, is renowned for its salmon fishing. As well as this, it boasts the historic ruins of a priory from around 1230 which is free to explore. It enjoys a beautiful setting by the river. Next door to the priory is a gorgeous shop called the Old School, which is simply a must for shopaholics. Wander from room to room, discovering everything from clothing and jewellery, to candles, bath products, toys and books.
It offers a lovely laid back approach; there's no one following you around as you wander and there was even a little reading corner with a coffee machine and biscuits where you are instructed to help yourself and pay on the way out.
The village of Beauly is also situated close to Beaufort Castle, which was sold back in 1995 by Lord Lovat to pay off family debts. Although it is currently being refurbished, if you park outside the village (in the riverside car park, just south of Black Bridge), it is possible to take a walk across the River Beauly and take in the views of the sandstone turrets of Beaufort Castle.
There aren't many places to eat in Beauly, but on the advice of a local, we headed to the old-fashioned Lovat Arms Hotel. We were pleasantly surprised; the menu choices for the children were more adventurous than some, the staff extremely friendly and the food was delicious. It's well worth a visit if you're in the area.