When Denis and I visited the Highlands in 2007, we got as far as Drumnadrochit (love that name!), a small village on the shores of Urquhart Bay in Loch Ness. The Loch Ness Monster is big business in Drumnadrochit, and I had fun going through the various shops looking at the touristy items for sale.
I didn't think we'd be visiting that village again, but I was wrong. During the week we stayed in Saltburn on the Cromarty Firth-- the week we drove to Inverness and spent those wonderful hours browsing in Leakey's Bookshop-- Denis suddenly asked me if I wanted to go on a cruise of Loch Ness down to the ruins of Urquhart Castle. Now... it was still cold. That gale-force wind from Russia and Scandinavia refused to stop blowing, and more than once when we'd gone out exploring, I'd almost frozen all my bits off.
The thought of being out on the water in that wind made frost form around my spine, but when Denis showed me the website for the business conducting the tours, I immediately said I'd love to go. The cruises had started just a few days earlier; we'd be going on Good Friday, so they shouldn't be crowded (besides... a lot of people would probably decide against going because of the weather), and I'd have a choice of staying inside where it would be warm or venturing out on deck to get another pair of icicle earrings. (In the photos that follow, just click on them if you want to see more detail. They'll open in a new window.)
|The Clansman Hotel from the cruise waiting area|
The starting point for the Loch Ness cruise was at the Clansman Hotel, just a couple of miles from Drumnadrochit, where we'd stopped to buy petrol. (Can I sound British or what?) We parked the car and began following the signs that took us on a path that wound through trees and underneath the highway. We paid for our tickets at the Jacobite office and waited. It wasn't long until other people joined us-- one of them being a teenage girl wearing a hoodie and short shorts. I almost froze to death just looking at her!
|the Forecasting Stone|
I was glad that Denis had taken a photo of the Clansman Hotel's "forecasting stone" because it's a pretty accurate assessment of weather in Scotland!
|the Jacobite Warrior|
The Jacobite Warrior docked and disgorged its passengers, and we were let aboard. Although I've been on several harbor cruises and the like, this was my first time on a catamaran, and I was eager to see what the journey would be like. Once the Warrior had gotten underway, Denis went out on deck, hardy soul that he is, while I stayed inside in the warm. I heard at least eight different languages being spoken, and the Jacobite employees were adept at all, answering any and all questions being thrown at them. (And if I don't say it later on, I was impressed with them all-- courteous, helpful, and very friendly.)
|Inside where it was warm!|
|Outside in the wind and cold!|
|Nessie has a lot of water to hide in|
|Houses overlooking Loch Ness|
One of the things I enjoyed seeing was the houses overlooking the loch. What views they must have!
|View of Loch Ness and the shoreline|
With the wind blowing the way it was, we seemed to be racing the clouds. Sometimes the sky was grey and menacing, at other times the sky would be a gorgeous blue.
|Glowing in the sun|
Sometimes an errant shaft of sunshine would spotlight a particular house or field and make it glow.
|Farmland on the shores of Loch Ness|
Most of the time, my eyes were glued to the views outside the window. The Jacobite Warrior ran smooth and steady, and I knew that if I had another chance to go out on a catamaran, I'd take it in a heartbeat.
There were times I saw mountains rising straight up from the loch, and I wondered if centuries ago marauding Vikings saw these waters and felt homesick for their fjords.
|Urquhart Castle in sunlight and shadow|
It didn't seem to take any time at all for us to arrive at Urquhart Castle-- one of my favorite memories from previous trips. Since we'd already explored it from the land side, we'd opted for the shorter cruise, so when almost everyone else got off to wander through the ruins, Denis and I stayed on board and watched the frozen explorers from the previous cruise come aboard and rapidly line up to order coffee, tea and hot chocolate.
|Urquhart Castle was one of the largest in Scotland|
|Urquhart Castle tower|
|People exploring the castle ruins|
|Urquhart Castle ruins|
People boarded quickly and the Jacobite Warrior headed back to its mooring at the Clansman Hotel. Denis and I stopped at the Clansman's excellent snack bar for something to eat, and I had a blast wandering the aisles of their well-stocked gift shop. (In fact, it was one of the very few places where I spent money during this month-long trip.)
On the way back to our cottage in Saltburn, we decided to stop in Inverness to do a bit of shopping... maybe even stop in Leakey's again. However, traffic rapidly became snarled, and just in the nick of time we both realized that it was Good Friday, and everyone else had the same idea we did. We barely had time to get positioned where we could turn off on a street that would take us out of the gridlock and on our way back to home base. (One thing that Americans need to realize when traveling in the UK at that time of year: Easter is a big deal in the UK. Almost every place of business is closed Easter Sunday, so plans need to be made in advance and carried out. Denis and I were traveling on Easter Sunday to get to the final leg of our trip. If it hadn't been for a food shop being open at a motorway service area, we might've gone without food until sometime Monday!)
|West of Inverness|
West of Inverness and before turning onto the road to Saltburn, I couldn't help but stare at the mountains buried in many feet of snow. They almost looked like mirages issuing a challenge to anyone daring enough to step foot on them. I, for one, knew I'd never take that challenge.
|Sheep and neeps|
Once we'd made our turn, we had to stop and take a photo of sheep out in a field. Later on a friend told us that the sheep had been turned out in a field of turnips ("neeps"), which is a rather common thing to do. (Learn something new every day!)
|Our home base in Scotland|
It had been a marvelous day out, but we were glad to spend the rest of the evening in our snug cottage on the shore of the Cromarty Firth looking out to the Black Isle. Had we really been looking for Nessie? No. There's a mysterious air about Loch Ness, a sense that those deep cold waters know something we don't and never will. Live long and well, Nessie-- and always evade those who would try to capture you.