With its outstanding beauty and unspoilt landscapes Loch Ness really is a place to get away from it all. It's a place where a walk on the moors could easily drift into enjoying the stunning views across the loch itself, before visiting a nearby village where a warm welcome from the locals is always a given. It's also the place, if rumours are to be believed, where Nessie the Loch Ness monster resides. And it's the legend of the Loch Ness monster that makes a visit to the Scottish Highlands even more intriguing.
Located in The Great Glen which stretches from Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands, to Fort William, Loch Ness is the longest and deepest of all the lochs in the area. In fact, there's more water in Loch Ness than in all the other lakes in England, Scotland, and Wales put together. One of the best ways to experience the beauty of Loch Ness is by taking a boat cruise or a kayaking trip on the water where you'll be able to appreciate the surrounding landscapes and villages and, who knows, maybe even catch a glimpse of Nessie while you're at it!
The first photograph of Nessie, as she's been affectionately known since the 1940s, was taken by Hugh Gray in 1933. He'd taken the photo whilst walking along the loch after church, the blurry image seeming to show a creature emerging from the water. Since then there have been countless stories and much-disputed sightings of the Loch Ness monster and even some explanations as to what the strange long-necked, four-legged creature could be.
The mystery hasn't yet been solved but that's half the fun of visiting Loch Ness. Spend an entire weekend walking or cycling, fishing or sailing, witnessing the colours of the loch changing throughout the day before relaxing in a local pub and putting your feet up. All with the knowledge that you might return home with a story to make your visit to the Scottish Highlands even more memorable.
And if you don't spot Nessie? Well, you can always visit the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition in Drumnadrochit.
It can be tempting to plan a summer holiday to Scotland; everyone loves exploring in the sun after all. But there are a couple of reasons why you should visit Loch Ness outside of peak season. Firstly summer means crowds. Secondly, the period between June and October is when the dreaded Scottish midges come out to play. When Nessie comes out to play is another matter entirely - keep your eyes open and look closely, you never know when she might make an appearance.
Your best bet is to plan your Scottish Highlands getaway around May-time when the area will be less crowded and the weather cooler but not unbearably so (you'll be doing so much walking you'll likely warm up anyway). You'll also want to make sure you've hired a car instead of relying on public transport. Buses do run at Loch Ness but they're infrequent and many of the places you'll want to visit will require your own vehicle.
If you're hoping to search for Nessie at Loch Ness you'll probably want to have your camera ready to snap that all-important evidence. The real money shots though, the ones that are almost certainly guaranteed, can be taken by exploring the south side of Loch Ness, specifically Suidhe Viewpoint and the surrounding area where you'll find panoramic, high-level vantage points over Loch Ness and beyond.
Make your trip extra special with a visit to Falls of Foyers, a waterfall on the River Foyers which serves Loch Ness, and Urquhart Castle, one of Scotland's largest castles. Try to make it to the castle for sunset when it will be a stunning silhouette against a, hopefully, colourful sky.
The Scottish Highlands continue to charm visitors northwards with the promise of breath-taking views, adrenaline-filled activities, and the chance to relax in peaceful surroundings. Add the search for Nessie to your bucket list and see if you can solve the mystery of Loch Ness once and for all.
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Beverley Reinemann is a freelance writer and founder of the travel and lifestyle blog, Pack Your Passport. Originally from England, she's a self-confessed Australophile and travel lover and spends most of her time drinking way too much coffee in east London, going to gigs and planning her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @PckYourPassport.