Fort Augustus – beyond Nessie, the real Loch Ness

Visit Fort Augustus and Loch Ness

Beyond the day-tripping tour buses and hoards of selfie-taking Nessie fans, lies a beautiful loch waiting to be discovered. With its location halfway up Scotland’s famous 62-mile ‘Great Glen’, the spectacular Urquhart Castle, there aren’t many more places in Scotland more iconic than Loch Ness. Here are my favourite things to do at Loch Ness and Fort Augustus.

Introducing… The Great Glen

Scotland’s spectacular Great Glen stretches coast to coast from Fort William beneath the mighty Ben Nevis, through the maelstrom of the Fort Augustus Locks, across the huge expanse of Loch Ness up to Inverness, taking in some of Scotland’s most special scenery along the way. Through the glen stretches the 62-mile Caledonian Canal navigable by canal and sailing boat. Halfway up the glen is the busy hub of Fort Augustus – the perfect spot from which to explore Loch Ness. 

Where to stay at Loch Ness

  • The Lovat, Loch Nessonce a large station hotel serving a long-gone rail line from Spean Bridge, The Lovat Loch Ness* is a family-run gem of a hotel with four-star facilities and a restaurant that puts out delicious food. With 28 rooms ranging from loch front suites to pet-friendly lodges, big on facilities and beautifully decorated in modern muted and tweedy tones.
  • Loch Ness Shores – a 5-star campsite (they even have underfloor heating in the showers!) on the wild south bank of Loch Ness. With an on-site farm shop and wifi, Loch Ness Shores is a campsite for those who like a bit of luxury with their tents. Paths run directly down to the banks of the loch where you can build a fire and keep an eye out for Nessie. 
  • Eagle Brae – If you are looking for true luxury accommodation and peace and quiet in the Scottish highlands, then stay at Eagle Brae, a small and exclusive village of 10 beautiful self-catering cedar log cabins. Hidden deep in Inverness-shire, close to Glen Affric, Scotland’s most beautiful glen and just 1 hour from busy Loch Ness and Fort Augustus. 

Things to do at Fort Augustus and Loch Ness

Explore Fort Augustus

Where else in Scotland offers up the odd sight of hundreds of people watching sailing boats and cruisers traversing down five canal locks and out onto a loch? The pretty village of Fort Augustus is one of my favourite places in Scotland, and is a bust village filled with enjoying cruises on the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness. There are a couple of canal ‘lockings’ a day so grab lunch at one of the canal-side pubs and cafes and watch the boaters ‘walking’ their boats through the locks. The Lock Inn does great pub grub (fab fish & chips and mac & cheese!) and serves real ale.

Fort Augustus was once home to both the British army and Benedictine monks in the huge Abbey that sits on the edge of the Loch. Did you know that Fort Augustus was also a casualty of the Jacobite uprising? The village was actually named Cill Chuimein until General Wade built his ‘Fort Augustus’ to stop the Highlanders moving down the Great Glen and renamed the village. The name Cill Chuimein is still reflected in the village’s tiny burial ground on the Cullochy Estate.

From Fort Augustus head south to walk a short stretch of the Great Glen Way, a 3 mile round trip to the pretty and remote Kytra Locks. The lock is a great spot for a picnic beside the canal as you watch the boats go past, or for a short walk, explore the village on the Fort Augustus path. 

Cruise The Caledonian Canal

Stretching the length of Scotland’s spectacular Great Glen, the 62 mile Caledonian Canal sails coast to coast, The Caledonian Canal connects Corpath at Fort William to Inverness and the Beauly Firth.  The Caledonian Canal is made up of man-made canal sections, 29 locks and four lochs, including Loch Ness. A loch and a lock might sound the same, but they are very different. Loch is Scottish for lake – and locks are man-made structures designed to take boats up and down steep sections of the canal. The Canal is navigable by sail and cruiser, and the route is accessible by both by foot and bike. 

Caledonian Canal boat hire

Take a high-speed RIB up Loch Ness

The Loch Ness Monster is a national treasure – and don’t let anyone tell you she isn’t real. From Fort Augustus you can take a leisurely cruise out onto the loch with Cruise Loch Ness to try and spot Nessie, but the best way to experience the loch is by a RIB trip. Travelling at 35 mph you scoot up Loch Ness from Fort Augustus to Urquhart Castle stopping occasionally to spot wildlife or (Nessie) and to dodge the fast moving rain (and hail!) – thankfully you are well wrapped up in cosy suits and goggles. It is a breathtaking thrill-seeking experience and one you won’t forget in a hurry! 

Urquhart Castle 

Urquhart Castle is one of the largest in Scotland, and is deservedly popular – there is even a working trebuchet siege engine in the castle grounds! Entry to the castle is £9 for adults free with an Explorer Pass.

Spot Nessie 

If you are a Nessie fan, then the nearby village of Drumnadrochit offers up the Loch Ness Visitor centre. This year marks the 84th anniversary of the famous Surgeon’s Photograph. Gossip is that the photo is actually of a toy submarine purchased from Woolworths with a fake Nessie head.  As ‘Nessie’ sank after the photograph, maybe the sonar equipment on Cruise Loch Ness boat might eventually find it in the loch!

Spot red deer and highland coos at the Lady Falls

Glen Tarff is a steep and narrow gorge hidden in the 8000-acre Culachy Estate to the south above Fort Augustus. To find the gorge, take the Fort Augustus explorer path to the edge of the Culachy Estate and then very carefully follow the path along the gorge edge. Behind the pink Cullochy House, now a private shooting lodge, are the pretty Lady Falls. Look out for red, roe and sika deer in the woods around you as you explore the estate as well a large herd of highland coos!

Climb up the Corrieyairack Pass

The Corrieyairack Pass is a remote pass across the 760m high Monadhliath Mountains from Laggan on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park to Fort Augustus on Loch Ness. The military road through the Corrieyairack Pass was built in 1731 and became the site of a key Jacobite battle – the Corrieyairack Pass was used by the Bonnie Prince to drive British army from the hills above Loch Ness – and back down the road they had just built! You can now walk or cycle the 25-mile pass along General Wade’s military roads with spectacular views of the Monadhliath Mountains. Short on time? You don’t need to climb far up the pass from the village for an incredible view of Loch Ness and Fort Augustus.

Things to do at Loch Ness

Every time I leave Fort Augustus and Loch Ness I leave a little piece of my heart behind. Get behind the scenes of the loch and I am sure you will too…

Love, from Scotland x

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