Driving to Fort William takes at least 7 hours from Bradford. When you get there, however, there’s a pretty decent Morrison’s (supermarket) and it’s right next to a McDonald’s. On both of our driving holidays around the Fort William area, we saw a lot of this part of town because it’s the only supermarket in town as far as I know, and it sells things you can eat without having to cook them.
We didn’t actually make it to Fort William on the first night, because we didn’t set off at a reasonable time of day – I’d stupidly decided at 8pm the day before that life was slipping by without anything interesting happening, so I convinced my future husband that we absolutely had to pile into the car and find the Loch Ness monster (or rather, go to see Loch Ness). I felt it was deplorable that I’d never been the entire time I’d lived in Scotland, and now I lived 7 hours away it was suddenly imperative that we go. I get like this sometimes.
Before we got to Glencoe, as the road started to incline and about ten minutes after that point on the A82 (the main road) where my ears always pop, I got too sleepy to keep driving so we pulled into a layby and reclined the seats in my VW Golf (aka VW Rabbit in the USA) then caught some Z’s. FYI, the VW Golf is a very uncomfortable place to kip, and I awoke with a crick in my neck, sleep in my eyes and a bladder full to bursting. Luckily, around the corner from the layby we’d stopped in, there was another one which was surrounded by three spectacular waterfalls. Not only that, but there was also a brick wall on one side. I climbed over it, with difficulty due to what the rushing sound from the waterfalls was doing to my psyche, and I took care of the bladder problem (why is it that those of us with female anatomy get so embarrassed about urinating in public but people with man parts just do it at the side of the road in full view of traffic? We should get over it already). Anyway there were quite a few good waterfalls because it was the right time of year for them to be really big with the snow melt and rainwater off the mountains (in summer most of them are nondescript) and this was my favourite (all photos taken on Samsung Galaxy SII as this was early 2014 before I got a camera):
We carried on up to Fort Bill, stopping along the way to take some photos of the beautiful waterfalls and surprising rainbows, which formed from the clammy Scottish morning mist in the Highlands:
When we arrived at Fort William, we grabbed some breakfast from McDonald’s; my future husband had some sort of bacon McMuffin and I had three hash browns and a pot of Barbecue Sauce, all washed down with a nice cup of tea.
We headed upwards some more until we reached Fort Augustus, about which I remember nothing, and appear to have taken no photos, so I suspect it was just a main road, a roundabout and possibly a primary school. It looks bigger on the map. The significance of Fort A. is that it lies at the southernmost tip of Loch Ness, which was what we were there to see. From here onwards, we were driving with Loch Ness on our right and a bunch of trees on our left. The trees seemed oppressive, cloying, like they were clamoring to just reach out and push us off the road and into the Loch.
There was something very primal about this part of Scotland. The temperature stayed quite chilly around Loch Ness in the early morning, and we pulled over a couple of times to get a look at the water. I can confirm that it’s much longer than it is wide. And it’s very wide, too. Like, I could see to the other side, but I couldn’t make out what was there beyond distance-trees. And I definitely couldn’t have swam to the middle let alone the other side. We pulled into Invermoriston with the intention of walking around on the shores of the Loch, but we found this to be impossible because a) Invermoriston is a lot further away from Loch Ness than it looks on the map and b) the road is the only thing between the trees and the water. So we had a better view from the car. Having said that, Invermoriston is a place of spectacular scenery and if we were staying in the area for a few days, I would probably have wanted to stay in Invermoriston because its scenery kinda looked like Rivendell:
In all honesty I have to say Invermoriston was a nicer place to look at than Loch Ness. Loch Ness was a black, inky, deep place of mystery. I’m sure you know the story – that it’s a deep fissure in the land, that separates the top of Scotland from the bottom, that they’re just attached at all because of tectonic plate movement. Somehow, even though I could only see the surface, it *looked* deep. I certainly wouldn’t want to swim in it.
We climbed around Invermoriston for a while then got on. Having reached Loch Ness, we weren’t really sure what we were doing here or where our end point was. It was impossible to walk around Loch Ness and to be fair, the Loch was so big that it was entirely probable that a giant monster of the deep could live under it’s pitch black waters and never be found. Perhaps there would be a clue at nearby town Drumnadrochit.
I’d at least heard of Drumnadrochit from that episode of Count Duckula where the Count and his BFFs teleported their castle to Drumnadrochit and had some sort of episode involving both of the townspeople. Count Duckula was very good at taking Londoners’ perceptions of the rest of the world and playing with them.
In real life, Drumnadrochit is a reasonably sized village, with a post office and three Loch Ness visitor centres, all of which, I believe, are privately owned.
We went to the first one but it was closed (despite a roadsign claiming “open every day”) because apparently it was the wrong time of year. The second one was also closed for the same reason.
The third visitor centre took itself very seriously and had a cinematic entrance (and correspondingly high ticket prices). It looked like a proper museum. I think they were catering to fancy people with plenty of holiday money (of which I believe there is a steady supply in the tourist season).
We weren’t feeling very fancy, and we didn’t have lots of money so we just walked around to the gift shop which was free entry, and where I *finally* found the Loch Ness Monster. She’s now sitting upstairs on one of my bookshelves with her friend who is a Loch Lochy Monster but was visiting Nessie at her home in Loch Ness when they both got caught and put in a gift shop:
After that we drove on, following the road beside Loch Ness until we reached Inverness. The Loch really is spectacular and I highly recommend seeing it out of season when you don’t have to worry about hitting someone because they’re trying to take photos whilst driving (I narrowly missed crashing into a lot of distracted drivers last summer when we used this road to get from Fort William to Aberdeen), and out of season there are also far less entitled angry Audi drivers, talking on their phones and speeding on the wrong side of the road as well. For the best of both worlds, most things in the Highlands are fully open in April and it’s still fairly quiet by then. If you’re looking for an actual Loch Ness monster, it’s also far more likely that you’ll spot one off-peak because everyone knows that Nessie is scared of tourists. Here’s what Loch Ness was looking like: