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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
A screen showed just how deep the water was, and a sonar picked up any creatures lurking beneath. There were a lot of fish.
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 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.
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.
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.
UPDATE: Scientists discovered no trace of Nessie in the waters of the Loch. Instead, there was lots of eel DNA. So Nessie could in fact be a giant eel…..
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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