You know her as Nessie and the first image of her ever captured caught the imaginations of dreamers and scientists, children and adults, and everyone in between. And even as the world learned that image was a hoax, it was too convincing—too many people wants to believe. The legend of the Loch Ness Monster, pulled straight from Scottish folklore, captivates minds with tales of a dinosaur-like prehistoric aquatic creature that has survived millennium at the bottom of Loch Ness. I had ample time before I needed to arrive in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, so I planned a multi-day stop to Fort Augustus, a small city situated in the heart of Scotland and home to the long and legendary lake holding Nessie’s secrets.
It’s not so much that I believe that Nessie exists, truthfully I only knew her from pop culture references in movies. But any story that generates that much intrigue deserves a closer look! Just as I love learning about myths, spirituality, and local legends in any place I travel, I wanted to dig deeper. I grew up on Celtic mythology from my dad, and thought it would be fun to learn more about Gaelic mythology and it’s influences on modern Scotland.
Plus, I wanted another reason to take some epic hikes and walks through the Scottish countryside after my Old Man of Storr hike was so memorable. From the Isle of Skye, I took a bus to Fort Augustus with a plan to hike, walk, and simply relax by the lake on a Nessie-spotting mission. The locals have an affectionate indulgence for the Nessie legend—after all, she brings in tourist dollars—and the woman at my fantastic hostel, Morag’s Lodge, mapped out several hiking routes in and around Fort Augustus. Many of these hiking routes offered ample vistas over Loch Ness (which literally means Lake Ness).
The Myth & Mystery of Nessie
The lake itself is big at 23 miles long, but it’s a mere one mile across, which is an intriguing shape and arguably made the Nessie hunting harder over the years since it was such an expansive distance. Several towns dot the shores and they are tiny and lovely spots afternoon Nessie-spotting picnics. I embraced the “Nessie-ness” of the area as a way to entertain myself. As a solo traveler, I was hiked and walked along most day, and Nessie provided me with of food-for-thought as I studied the placid ripples on the surface of the lake.
Now, no shade on any Cryptozoologists reading this (they search for legitimate evidence of legendary and mythical animals, think: Big Foot, Nessie, Yeti, etc), but most scientists now agree that Nessie is a modern-day myth. Using modern technology in 2003, a BBC-sponsored expedition extensively canvassed the entire lake using sonar technology and found no evidence of anything the size and scale of Nessie. Even so though, dreamers and skeptics persist—plus, the well-read scientist Robert Rines contends that Nessie may have died only recently as a result of global warming!
With such a pervasive myth around her, I was far from the only tourist on the shores of Loch Ness hoping to feel a piece of the legend.
Evolution of the Loch Ness Monster Myth
Nessie-themed cruises are a popular attraction in Fort Augustus, and many backpackers and families take the small boats onto the lake for an afternoon of sunshine (or rain). I didn’t take a cruise this time around because I had quite enjoyed my other hikes int eh Scottish countryside. Plus, boats aren’t my thing. Instead, the local tourist information office shared a wealth of information with me about how the myth has evolved since it reached a fever pitch in the 1930s.
The first sighing of a large monster in the area actually dates as far as the sixth century, but water beasts myths were actually a common thing back then—they were very popular in Celtic folklore! So, those accounts are even less credible than the video footage, photos, and sightings that have come forth in the last 70+ years. Basically, despite the best technology offered today, there is a whole lot of speculation and very little proof. The scientific community has indulged the myth by using extensive sonar testing equipment on the lake floor—not once, but multiple times over the decades. And although some sightings contend that Nessie resembles the prehistoric plesiosaurs, paleontologists say that not only did the lake’s formation not overlap with the time period the animal lived, but that its anatomy and cold-blooded status would make the lake an impossible habitat.
Suffice to say, I loved seeing first hand the place that launched so many myths—a lake so dark and vast that it gave way to a myth as persistent and beloved as Nessie. Even though the bulk of the scientific and global community agree that Nessie is likely a myth, there’s something thrilling about a new shadowy photo taken and shared online. I want to believe. :)
But thankfully, even in a town built around such a potent legend, Loch Ness offers a lot more to do and see, so I will soon share how I spent my days on Loch Ness!
Video Tour of Loch Ness
Quick Tips: Planning Your Trip to Inverness
Where to stay: The Inverness Youth Hostel is the best budget option in town—book well ahead during high season, however, as Inverness can fill up quickly! The King’s Highway Wetherspoon is a lovely option for those on a mid-range budget.
Rent a car: Driving a rental car is the most popular way to explore the Scottish Highlands. Many backpackers are willing to pool resources to share rentals for a day of exploring.
What to wear: The weather changes quickly not only in Scotland. You’ll be glad for waterproof boots and a raincoat, and I was grateful for the travel umbrella I carried with me around Scotland—it made waiting at bus stop more enjoyable, so I highly recommend bringing one if you’re backpacking the area and not renting a car. Bring a scarf as well so you can protect yourself from the midges if they’re out in full force. And if you’re bringing nice camera gear, heed the warnings that it can be wet—bring your camera’s rain jacket and even consider a small dry bag.