Are you planning a trip to the Scottish Highlands to try and spot the famous Nessie along the shores of Inverness? If so, you’re in the right place. As in this guide, I’m going to break down the best ways to visit Loch Ness and the historical Urquhart Castle. As well as answer the all-important question, is the Loch Ness Cruise to Urquhart Castle worth visiting?
PS, I’ve also thrown in a cute bonus at the end!
The legend of Loch Ness
“Loch”, the Scottish word for lake, and “Ness” the Scottish word for headland, come together to form the legendary name, Loch Ness. Home to the infamous Nessie. So how did the legend begin anyway, I hear you ask?
The Birth Of A Legend
In the first century AD, the Scottish Highlands were inhabited by fierce tribal men and women that were covered in tattoos. When the Romans had arrived in the Northern regions of Scotland, they referred to these tribes as “Picts” or “Picture People”. But that’s not all that the Romans discovered. They went on to find that their art didn’t end at tattoos. In fact, they found Pictish stone carvings all around the highland regions surrounding Loch Ness. And in particular, they noticed that a lot of the carvings were of animals.
Whilst the animal carvings were easily identifiable, one animal stood out. It was a strange beast-like creature with a long beak and flippers for feet. It would often be described by scholars as a swimming elephant. Although no one knew what it was, one thing that was for sure, was that these Pictish carvings were the first known evidence of Nessie. The aquatic beast residing in the deep, dark depths of Loch Ness. And thus began, the birth of a legend.
The Modern-Day Revival Of The Legend
In 1933, there was a couple driving home along the shores of Loch Ness, when much to their surprise, they spotted “an enormous animal rolling and plunging on the surface” of the water. Their sighting was reported by the Inverness Courier, where the creature was described as a monster. And like with every sensational piece, the media became obsessed with this phenomenon.
Although public interest in this “monster” was slowly building up, it wasn’t until a second sighting, later on that year, that it became a media frenzy. This time, it was another couple, and they claimed to have seen Nessie bopping along the road close to Loch Ness.
Reporters were being sent in their hoards from London to Scotland, and radio broadcasts were being interrupted to bring listeners all the latest gossip surrounding Nessie. At this point, everybody wanted to know what this monster was. In fact, a British Circus had even put out a £20,000 reward for the capture of Nessie, which for those times was a very large sum of money.
Since then, many reporters and monster hunters have come and gone, with only a rare few having ever found/seen anything. Even then, most were discredited. But it doesn’t stop people from still trying today. In fact, there have been over 1000 – 4000 (depending on whom you ask) claimed sightings of Nessie. 19 of which alone were in 2020. Given that Nessie sightings are on the rise, there is no better time to visit Loch Ness than now.
History of Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle sits along the banks of the famous Loch Ness in Inverness. But what most tourists don’t know, is that Loch Ness’s Urquhart Castle is more than just a pretty face. In fact, the castle actually had a prominent role in the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Urquhart Castle is rumoured to have been built around the 1230s by the Durward family, after being granted permission by the then Scottish King, Alexander II. In 1296 however, homely bliss was no more, as Edward I, captured the castle. Thus began the start of the Scottish Wars of Independence, which would go on until 1357. During this time, the castle was repeatedly captured and recaptured until it became the summer hunting home for King David II in 1342. Establishing Urquhart castle as a Royal castle.
However, it didn’t end there. The Great Glen, which includes Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, went on to be repeatedly raided by the MacDonalds for the next 200 years. During this time, ownership of the castle again passed many hands until King James III handed Urquhart Castle to the Earl of Huntly in 1476.
Restoration of Urquhart Castle
Eager to restore order in the surrounding area, The Earl of Huntly brought in Sir Duncan Grant for assistance in 1502. In exchange, Grant was granted a five-year lease of the Urquhart Estate. He clearly did something right, as in 1509, James IV went on to grant Sir Duncan Grant ownership of Urquhart Castle. On the condition that he rebuilds the castle, of course.
But like the luck that comes with Urquhart Castle, this wasn’t as smooth sailing. As you probably guessed, Urquhart Castle went on to be raided, captured, and recaptured yet again, with parts of the castle being destroyed each time. And if that wasn’t enough, a storm in 1517 went on to further destroy the Grant tower at Urquhart Castle.
Fast-forward to 1911, upon the death of Lady Seafield, the last owner of Urquhart Castle, she entrusted the castle to the state. What remained was a roofless castle with numerous parts of the infrastructure blown out. And when you visit today, that is still what you see. As the castle has never been able to be repaired to its former glory.
Plan Your Visit
There are numerous ways, tours, and departure points to visit Loch Ness, after all, it does run through a large stretch of the highlands. But if you want to also see Urquhart Castle, there are only certain tours and departure points that will allow you to do so. Read on below to find the best option for you.
For a classic cruise, I highly recommend booking your tickets directly with Jacobite. The trusted tour operator that I personally went Nessie Hunting with. The best part, not only are they one of the official tour operators, but they also offer 4 different tours that you can choose from. These tours are all different lengths, depart from different locations, and include different sights. So there is definitely something for everyone.
If you’re after a tour that includes a cruise along Loch Ness and views of Urquhart Castle, I highly recommend the 50 minutes long Inspiration tour. If you would rather step off the cruise and spend more time at Urquhart Castle, then the Freedom tour is the one for you.
Want something more exhilarating? Why not book a speed boat experience with Cruise Loch Ness. They even offer a 90 minutes experience that includes Urquhart Castle.
Where does The Loch Ness Cruise Depart From?
If you’re departing from Inverness, you’ll be able to catch a Jacobite tour from one of these three departure points:
- Inverness Bus Station
- Dochgarroch Lock
- Clansman Harbour
If you’re departing from Fort Williams or the surrounding area, you’ll be able to catch a tour with Cruise Loch Ness, from Fort Augustus.
What To Expect From Your Visit
Of course, your experience will vary depending on which tour you choose to go with. But one thing that’s for sure, you’ll get fantastic views of Loch Ness and maybe even the historic Urquhart Castle. So be sure to bring your camera.
If you’re taking a speed boat tour, you can expect to get wet whilst having a thrilling experience.
If you’re taking a casual cruise and plan on sitting on the top deck with your hair (or hijab) blowing in the wind, it won’t be long until you start to feel cold. I highly recommend layering up and wearing a hooded coat or hoodie to protect you from the elements. It’s Scotland, it can get very cold and windy very quickly.
Where To Eat
After all the fun of trying to spot Nessie on the Loch Ness, you’ll probably have worked up an appetite. If you happen to take the Jacobite Cruise that departs from Dochgarroch Lock, there’s a gift shop with a restaurant that offers some fantastic warm meals and refreshments. And yes, this includes vegetarian friendly options.
If you’re departing from Dochgarroch Lock, be sure to look out for the two Highland cows living in the car park. Just remember to admire them from afar.
Looking for more things to do in the UK?
- Luxury Self Catering Cottages In Lake District
- The Best Epping Forest Walks & Hikes Trail Guide
- 34 Famous London Landmarks That You Must See
- 11 Halal Afternoon Tea In London That You’ll Love
- 22 Beautiful And Delicious London Picnic Spots