Loch Ness by Jacobite: our family cruise in Scotland’s Highlands

Loch Ness by Jacobite: our family cruise in Scotland’s Highlands

The most creative of storytellers would have found it hard to dream up Loch Ness. It sits on a seismic fault line, thrown up by glaciers in the Ice Age, so visitors occasionally feel ominous rumblings beneath. Along its shores, fierce battles were fought. Warriors from Highland clanspeople to Vikings treasured its surrounding lands. Those same warriors passed down stories of a powerful, mysterious creature that lived in Loch Ness’s icy depths. These tales still live on today. The romance of Loch Ness appeals to youngsters, and its striking beauty make it one of the UK’s must-see points. So when Loch Ness by Jacobite invited us to visit, we knew it would be the highlight of our summer.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness has many stories woven around her waters.

Where is Loch Ness?

Loch Ness is in the Highlands of Scotland. It runs for almost twenty-three miles, from the edge of the city of Inverness, down to Fort Augustus in the south. It’s part of Scotland’s Great Glen, which you’ll see on the map as a long, thin strip of water, running deep into the country from the north-east.

Loch Ness is easy to reach. Inverness airport runs regular connecting flights to the rest of the UK, including Heathrow and Gatwick, and a train line carries passengers from the north and south, including a direct sleeper train from London. Once you’re at Inverness, the main route along the Loch is clearly signposted. The A82 is a popular, winding road, with mossy banks along one side. Peer out the other window and you’ll occasionally catch a glimpse of the most breathtaking views, when the Loch comes flashing through the trees.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness, as seen from the road running between Inverness and Drumnadrochit

Loch Ness by Jacobite invited our family on board the Jacobite Rebel for one of their renowned cruises. Such a long, narrow expanse of water means the banks are always in sight, so there are plenty of things to spot from the water on Loch Ness cruises, like a lighthouse, castles (Aldourie, and Urquhart) and cute little cottages.

Bona Lighthouse Loch Ness

Bona Lighthouse, one of the many places to spot along the way.

My son and I imagined what it must be like to live in one of the houses at Dochgarroch Lock, where we boarded our ship. On our way back, we saw a little boy playing with his ball in one of the gardens. Loch Ness is so much more than a tourist attraction. It’s home to generations of Highlanders, and their sense of cheery pride really shone through on this visit.

Dochgarroch Lock

A house at Dochgarroch Lock. Could you imagine living here?

Loch Ness by Jacobite

Loch Ness by Jacobite, or Jacobite cruises as they’re sometimes known, have run Loch Ness boat trips since 1975. Our Loch Ness tour was the four-hour ‘Rebellion’, which included a two-hour stop at Urquhart castle.

Jacobite Rebel Loch Ness by Jacobite

The Jacobite Rebel, docked at Dochgarroch Lock

Our boarding point at Dochgarroch Lock was a five minute drive from Inverness on the way to Drumnadrochit, where we stayed for this trip. We’d barely left the car when the Highland sightseeing began. A small herd of Highland cattle live in the field next to the car park, and they calmly watched us, chewing the cud as we took pictures, and the children squealed with excitement over the ‘beasts’.

Highland Cattle at Dochgarroch Lock

Nessie wasn’t the only beast to see on our tour.

Dochgarroch Lock’s gift shop sold tasteful souvenirs. I found it difficult to leave without buying one of their elegant tartan cushions or rucksacks. And my daughter pored over the large stack of Highland-themed books, for adults as well as children. If we’d had more time I’d have grabbed a coffee from the shop’s cafe and taken the time to browse properly. But the Jacobite Rebel was about to leave, so we hurried along to meet Ranald and the rest of the crew.

Dochgarroch Lock

The gift shop and cafe at Dochgarroch Lock was watched over by a steely beast.

Browsing books in the Dochgarroch Lock bookshop

Browsing books in the Dochgarroch Lock bookshop

Loch Ness by Jacobite gift shop Dochgarroch Lock

The Loch Ness by Jacobite gift shop sold Nessie toys, of course.

Keeping the children occupied on board: the Loch Ness monster for kids (and grown-ups, too!)

The Jacobite Rebel was spacious inside, with a cafe/bar area selling tea, coffee, and whisky.

Loch Ness by Jacobite Jacobite Rebel

The cafe/bar on the Jacobite Rebel sold all the essentials.

After we’d sailed down the pretty Caledonian Canal, carved out in the nineteenth century to let boats cut through the Great Glen from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, the water became deeper.

Caledonian Canal

The Caledonian Canal cut through the Great Glen of Scotland, from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.

A screen showed just how deep the water was, and a sonar picked up any creatures lurking beneath. There were a lot of fish.

Loch Ness by Jacobite

The sonar screen helped us see what was lurking beneath.

People travelling with children can request Nessie activity packs, which come with a pencil in a little bag. Austin and Gwen grabbed some seats and dived into their activity packs while the chirpy Ranald pointed out landmarks, recounted legends and told us some Loch Ness monster facts.

Loch Ness by Jacobite

Loch Ness by Jacobite’s activity pack told tales from local history and legend.

Loch Ness by Jacobite

The activities in the pack were divided into ‘easy’ ‘difficult’ or ‘hard’, so children of different ages could enjoy them.

Loch Ness monster sightings are legendary. Predictably, the first question our children asked us was, ‘is the Loch Ness monster real?’ Some think the story began as a ploy by a hotel owner to drive more tourists to the area, while others believe the Loch is deep enough to hold many mysteries, including a large beast. Ranald ran through all the different theories about the identity of the Loch Ness monster, and who claimed they’d seen her. We’ll have to add our son to that list. He swears he saw Nessie, just a few hundred metres from Urquhart Castle. Personally, I think it was an otter.

Loch Ness by Jacobite

Nessie, or an otter? I guess we’ll never know…..

How deep is Loch Ness?

On even the brightest, sunniest of summer days, Loch Ness’s waters are still a crystalline navy. When the weather’s dim and overcast, it looks almost black. The Loch is deep – almost 230m at its deepest point. At Castle Viewpoint, in Inverness, we learned that it holds more water than all the lakes of England and Wales combined. It’s no wonder that stories have grown about what might be hiding in the waters. To this day, scientists still don’t know the full truth.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness’s waters look almost black when the sky’s overcast.

Wildlife on Loch Ness

Later this year, scientists will take DNA from the loch bed, to try and find out exactly what forms of life Loch Ness holds. Regardless of whether or not the DNA includes Nessie-like traces, there are bound to be all sorts of interesting findings. Arctic charr, relics from the Ice Age, swim in the depths, and closer to the surface, trout, minnows and sticklebacks provide food for the elusive osprey. A top tip for a Loch Ness by Jacobite cruise is to take along your binoculars.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle – with an interesting-looking bird flying above the loch, over my daughter’s head. Can anyone tell me what it is?

Exploring Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness

Our Rebellion tour was in three parts: an hour sailing to Urquhart Castle, two hours there, and then an hour back. Urquhart Castle, seen in the popular Outlander series, is in the most romantic of settings, perched on a promontory overlooking the loch.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle had splendid views out to the loch.

Urquhart Castle is in ruins, after decades of fierce battles between Jacobite rebels and Government forces. These days, the castle stands proud as a striking emblem of Scottish history.

Urquhart Castle

The Scottish flag flies proudly at Urquhart Castle.

For a castle that appears at first glance to be so ruinous, there’s plenty to see and explore. We easily filled our two hours there before the Jacobite Rebel came to collect us. We climbed the Grant Tower (where I took the shot with the two children and the bird, in the section above). On the other side of the castle, a prison cell was eerily lit, and if you peered long enough, you could make out the figure of a man, sitting inside.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle’s prison cell

Scrambling down some steps took you onto a small beach, where the children skimmed stones across the loch, and dipped their toes into the water.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle had a small beach.

The visitor’s centre sold refreshments, and we watched a short film, which filled us in on some of Urquhart Castle’s 1000-year history. It was a leisurely couple of hours, in the sunshine, and the children enjoyed exploring the place described in Randal’s stories on board the Jacobite Rebel.

Urquhart Castle

There were lots of interesting things to see at Urquhart Castle.

Urquhart Castle

Stunning views were around every corner.

How much does a Loch Ness cruise cost?

Our four-hour Rebellion Tour would have cost our family of four £122. This includes entrance to Urquhart Castle. Children under four are free. Prices vary for Jacobite’s Loch Ness cruises, and there’s a shorter, two-hour Queen’s cruise which is cheaper.

Places to stay near Loch Ness

We stayed at Fiddler’s Restaurant and Rooms in Drumnadrochit, a pretty little village which was a good base for seeing the loch. It was a twenty-minute drive from there to Dochgarroch Loch. Nessie fans can also visit the Loch Ness Visitor Centre at Drumnadrochit. Inverness has some pleasant accommodation options too, like the Heathmount Hotel, where we dined on our second evening in the Highlands.

Verdict

Loch Ness by Jacobite

We loved our Rebel Tour with Loch Ness by Jacobite.

If you’re looking for the best Loch Ness cruise for families, I know my two children would highly recommend Loch Ness by Jacobite. Although we don’t have anything to compare it to, the onboard facilities and the children’s packs meant that the kids were kept happy. Let’s face it: children don’t always appreciate beautiful scenery, and their attention can wander during even the most gripping of tales. Four hours sounded like a long time for a boat tour, especially with an eight- and six-year old to accommodate. But I was surprised at how quickly the time flew by – and not once did we hear the words “I’m bored”. So for that, I’d give Loch Ness by Jacobite top marks.

Here’s a video of our all-too-short three days in the Scottish Highlands. As well as scenes from our cruise with Loch Ness by Jacobite, you’ll see clips from the Highland Wildlife Park (with Scottish wildcats), Culloden, where the last battle of the Jacobite Uprising was fought in 1746, and Inverness. Look out for a blog post about these and other things to do near Loch Ness – coming soon.

This trip was sponsored by Loch Ness by Jacobite and Visit Scotland. All views are my own.

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48 Comments

  1. August 3, 2018 / 11:58 am

    I’ve loved following your trip on social media and this cruise sounds wonderful, definitely one for my list when I get to explore the Highlands properly. I had no idea there was quite so much water in the loch, and I love all the tales which have grown up around it. Such a gorgeous spot too. And otters are tricky to spot, so I reckon it must have been Nessie 😉

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:49 pm

      My son would agree with you there!

  2. August 3, 2018 / 4:01 pm

    This is fascinating. I’ve just been reading the facts about loch Ness to my husband in the car. I’d love to visit the highlands and might look into swimming loch Ness one day, it seems like a great challenge. We’d definitely do the cruise too, it looks amazing!
    Nat.x

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:51 pm

      The cruise really was a fab way to see the Loch. And swimming the Loch would be incredible, but I’ll bet it’s a real challenge! Good on you. xx

  3. August 3, 2018 / 4:27 pm

    This is such a great boatride – we loved our time at Loch Ness. Reading this has made me want to head back!!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:53 pm

      I’m right there with you!

  4. August 3, 2018 / 5:17 pm

    We were meant to go on this too. It looks amazing, I had no idea it would be so child friendly. X

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:54 pm

      You should definitely try and go, Sam.

  5. August 3, 2018 / 7:04 pm

    Scotland is high on my list and I would love to do a boat ride on the Loch!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:54 pm

      It really should be on everyone’s bucket list, I reckon!

  6. Laura
    August 3, 2018 / 8:33 pm

    What an amazing experience! This is definitely on my bucket list 🙂

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:55 pm

      It was fantastic.

  7. August 3, 2018 / 10:41 pm

    I’ve been on the Jacobite cruise a couple of times in the past 3 years and I love it, especially as you get closer to Urquhart castle. It’s such a beautiful part of the world, isn’t it?

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:55 pm

      Oh, lucky you, having so many trips on it!

  8. August 3, 2018 / 10:51 pm

    Oh I love that castle so much! We visited in Jan and had a beautiful sunny winters day. It was bliss. I can’t wait to take the boys back one day. X

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:56 pm

      I bet it’s gorgeous in the winter months.

  9. August 4, 2018 / 6:21 am

    How fun! It sounds fascinating. Scotland is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit and have never quite made it to (yet) – with Loch Ness being top of my list. I had no idea there was so much to do in the area, or how pretty it is. Looks like you had a fab time. I love the sonar on the boat – I wonder if it’s ever picked up on anything other than fish?

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:56 pm

      I’d be interested to find out!

  10. August 4, 2018 / 10:00 am

    I wish we’d taken a Loch Ness boat ride when we were there many years ago. I do love how this story of the beast has kept the area surrounding in mystery and it’s a great talking point for everyone especially the kids. I can’t believe the boat has sonar, too – that definitely ramps up the excitement!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:57 pm

      It was an inspired touch!

  11. August 4, 2018 / 12:31 pm

    I’ve driven round Loch Ness but never been on it! Looks fab – and I would love to visit Urquhart Castle too. Your little ones really seem to have enjoyed the trip too – it’s great they didn’t get bored and a good indication of the quality of the cruise!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:58 pm

      Yes, they do get bored easily if something’s not designed for kids. This was.

  12. August 4, 2018 / 9:39 pm

    Looks like you all had a great time. I even see some blue sky in some of your photos! Not too bad for Scotland!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:58 pm

      We had a LOT of blue sky! So lucky.

  13. August 5, 2018 / 3:55 am

    Everyone has heard about the Loch Ness monster but not many people realise where the legend came from! Loch Ness by Jacobite looks like a great way to discover the delights of Loch Ness. It’s good to know that the cruise is great for kids too. The region looks mysterious and alluring.

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:59 pm

      There’s so much background to all these stories. It was fascinating.

  14. August 5, 2018 / 11:01 am

    Reading this post and seeing the photos really did bring back some great memeories. I havent been to Scotland for about four years now but doing Loch Ness and the castle I truly loved. Espeically if the weather right. 🙂

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 11:00 pm

      Yes, it does help when the sun shines!

  15. August 5, 2018 / 1:22 pm

    Scotland is still on my travel wish list. But every blog post I read moves it up. Your description of Loch Ness definitely makes me believe a monster could show up. But then the pictures make it look much more serene. Love the highland cattle. Looks like me on a bad hair day! The castle looks like fun to explore. Especially with young kids who can learn a little history at the same time.

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 11:00 pm

      Hehe the cattle were having a GOOD hair day. I love their look!

  16. August 6, 2018 / 3:22 pm

    You know what? I’d be pretty excited to see either an otter (I love them!) or Nessie. I’ve been to Scotland a few times now, but not to Loch Ness yet. Perhaps in the spring because I’m dying to see those adorable Highland cattle.

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 11:01 pm

      The cattle were pretty cool.

  17. August 7, 2018 / 6:35 am

    A cruise sounds like such a fun way to explore Loch Ness with kids. I love the fact that it can be interrupted to visit castles and quaint little towns. Yes, I can absolutely imagine living in Dochgarroch Lock!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 11:01 pm

      I’d like to stay there for six months – I think it would be fun 🙂

  18. August 7, 2018 / 7:55 pm

    Cruise seems like a great way to explore Loch Ness, and they had so many activities for kids, too! If I get to visit Inverness, I will definitely plan my trip here, too.

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 11:02 pm

      You really should. It’s a must-do if you’re in the area!

  19. August 7, 2018 / 9:25 pm

    I have been to Scotland twice, and I just visited the cities. I should go back there. This boat trip looks like a fun trip. I should add Loch Ness to my list to check it out. I didn’t know there is a flight from Heathrow to Inverness airport. That is good to know. Thanks for sharing

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 11:03 pm

      Yes, it’s a fairly accessible place. And Loch Ness isn’t out of the way at all – it’s right on the edge of the city of Inverness.

  20. August 8, 2018 / 5:13 am

    Hello two pigeons and mommy pigeon! Loch Ness looks so quiet but wonderful to see accdg to your description and I love the hour-rebel tour by the Jacobites!! What a name to describe their packages! So catchy! Anyway, it looks like that the kids would HIGHLY recommend the Jacobites Cruise bec it’s a kid-friendy cruise from what I’ve seen in the activities you posted. Great that I read this, planning to cruise around Europe next year! Loch Ness is a wonder to see and Jacobite is our cruise to be!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 11:03 pm

      Hello – thanks for stopping by! I do hope you make it to Loch Ness on your cruise.

  21. August 8, 2018 / 7:03 am

    That was such a fun read! I’d always heard legends of the Loch Ness monster as a kid, but never realized until I was an adult that it was an actual place! I always thought it was just a name they gave her. Funny that it’s so deep that they still aren’t 100% sure what’s in there. Although I’m not sure I believe that theres a monster! The boat tour looks like an ideal way to try and find out ^_^

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 11:04 pm

      Yes, if there’s a Nessie to be spotted, you’d see it from the Jacobie Warrior, I’ll bet!

  22. August 9, 2018 / 11:53 am

    We took this same cruise when we were in Scotland 3 years ago, and it was such a highlight to be in the home of this mythical creature that I remembered from childhood (which was thousands of miles away in America, no less – it is a worldwide legend!). I would love to tell my 8-year-old self that one day I would try and find it with my own eyes! As an adult, I will add that it was a treat having a hot chocolate (with whisky!) on board the Jacobite. 🙂

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 11:05 pm

      Ooh – now that sounds nice!

  23. August 11, 2018 / 12:54 pm

    A great post. Enjoyed reading it. It brought back such wonderful memories.

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 11:05 pm

      Thank you.

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 11:05 pm

      It’s an incredible place.

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