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Tour Scotland, Loch Ness

Perhaps the most widely known of Scottish lochs, Loch Ness is about twenty-four miles in overall length but is
comparatively narrow, being less than two miles wide at its maximum. It extends north-east to south-west along
the Great Glen, whose length divides Scotland in half and which was formed by a geological fault. This enormous
fracture of the earth’s crust left the fissures which are now filled by the waters of Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy. The skill of Thomas Telford joined these natural waterways by canal and lock to produce the Caledonian Canal. Almost 6,000 men were employed
in this great work before the canal was opened in 1822.

The hills which surround Loch Ness plunge at an angle of almost forty-five degrees into its deep waters in a manner reminiscent perhaps of a Norwegian fiord. The enormous depth of the water and its discolouration by peat accounts for its dark and murky appearance. Visibility under water is very restricted, even just a few feet below the surface. Soundings have placed the loch floor at 750 feet down in some places while recently a depth of 970 feet was touched at a point just south of Urquhart Castle.

Several interesting geographical features make the loch unique. Its great depth makes it the largest body of fresh
water in the British Isles. It never freezes over and even in the coldest winter it maintains itself, somehow, at an almost constant temperature of 42 degrees fahrenheit. This has long been a cause for wonderment and a letter written in 1675 states; “Our famous Lake Ness never freezes; but on the contrary in the violentest frosts, the great clouds of steams do arise from it.”

Fort Augustus atthe southern end of the loch was developed in the aftermath of the 1715 uprising and was named after the Duke of Cumberland. During the ‘45
it was taken by the Jacob ites but later it was re-occupied by the Hanoverians and a garrison remained there for a considerable time. Before the road was built, the garrison of the fort had to be supplied by water, a sixty-ton sloop sailing up and dawn the loch from Inverness. Ultimately the old fort was demolished and the Benedictine Order established a monastery there was an abbey and a school.

At one time the only road connection between this outpost and Inverness was the military road constructed by General Wade and his troops which runs along the eastern shore of the loch from Inverness to Fort Augustus through Dores, Inverfarigaig, Foyers and
Glendoebeg. At the latter the river Farigaig enters the loch in a small bay, while at Foyers are located the famous Falls of Foyers, which once cascaded down a ninety feet waterfall but now they are much reduced.

The old ruin of Castle Urquhart has a dimly remembered history. It was raised, it is said, by the Lords of the Isles. The Cummins once had it as their seat of power and it was sacked by Edward I during his campaigns. Robert the Bruce laid siege to Urquhart and later held it. At the time of the 1715 rising it was reported that the old castle, then long abandoned, had blown down during a great storm. Certainly it was shunned for centuries.

On the western side of the loch a new road was constructed during the 1930’s which connects Fort Augustus with Inverness through Inchnacardoch,
Invermoriston, where the Moriston river runs into the loch through a deep pool, and then on through Drumnadrochit and Abriachan. Most of the shoreline is overgrown and there are few places where the loch can be clearly seen from the road. Perhaps the best vantage points are at Castle Urquhart and Fort Augustus.

However unusual and scenically attractive the loch may be, what draw the visitors are of course the legends and
reports of the great beast that is thought to frequent it. Although the current spate of interest in this creature, mythical or otherwise, was revived during the 1930’s,
the sightings and stories concerning it go back into antiquity and not until one starts to gather in the reports down the centuries does one realise just how frequently the monster has been reported. The earliest witness is alleged to have been St. Columba in 565 A.D. According to an account of his life, written a century later, St. Columba witnessed the burial of a man who had been seized by the monster which had bitten but not devoured him. The saint was undeterred by this and wished to cross the water. Unfortunately his boat was on the far side of the loch and so the saint, rather intelligently, ordered one of his companions to swim over for it. This
was done and the saint rebuked the monster when she duly appeared in pursuit. This is a far cry from today’s
expeditions with mini-submarines and echo-sounding devices, Nessie herself, if she exists, remains as elusive as ever.

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