Scotland’s lochs are famous around the world. From the mysterious Loch Ness and its famed monster to the majestic Loch Lomond and its many islands – Scotland’s waterways have cast their spell on many a traveller down through the ages. And with the country boasting an estimated 30,000+ freshwater lochs and lochans alone – a figure which doesn’t include its many and varied sea lochs – there are a truly dizzying array of waterways for you to explore. So, with such variety on offer, where should you start your loch-spotting adventure? These are just some of the stunning waterways to be found around Scotland.
1. Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond is the largest freshwater loch in Scotland and home to around 30 diverse islands – including the largest in any lake or loch in the British Isles… and another which houses a naturist colony. Its sheer size, its close proximity to Glasgow, and its position on the Highland Boundary Faultline, which separates the country’s distinct Lowlands and Highlands, means it has been an important landmark and destination for centuries. Of course, there is much more to the loch than popular culture alone. It is located in the heart of a beautiful and ecologically important landscape, reflected in its inclusion within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. One of the country’s most popular mountains, Ben Lomond, also rises above its eastern shores. And those looking to explore its waters can also enjoy one of the boat tours and passenger ferries that criss-cross between the “bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond”.
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park
2. Loch Ness
Everything about Loch Ness is BIG. One of Scotland’s longest freshwater lochs, it is also one of the deepest. Its steep hillsides, which were gouged out by glaciers during the last ice age, plunge below the surface by 745 ft (or 227 metres) – which means it is actually deeper than most of the North Sea.
In fact, it is so deep and long that there is actually more fresh water within Loch Ness than ALL of the lakes of England and Wales combined – a truly jaw-dropping thought for those familiar with the former’s world-famous Lake District. Of course, this vast amount of freshwater makes for the ‘perfect’ hiding spot for the loch’s most famous resident, Nessie – the mythical and legendary monster who has long drawn visitors to the loch’s shores, eager to see if they can prove she exists.
The loch’s banks are also home to one of Scotland’s most famous historic buildings – the ruin of Urquhart Castle near Drumnadrochit. Boat tours from the north and south ends of the of the loch also prove especially popular with tourists.
Loch Ness by Jacobite
Address: Main office is at Dochgarroch Lock, Dochgarroch, Inverness-shire, IV3 8JG. Also has a dock at the Clansman Harbour. Tours leave from either/both locations
Price: From 14 GBP per person (18.45 USD)
Duration: From one hour to seven hours (for a coach tour and cruise ticket)
Contact: +44 1463 233999 or [email protected]
Website: Loch Ness by Jacobite
3. Loch Tay
Those fascinated by history will find much to interest them at Loch Tay. Its near 15-mile (24 km) length is home to no fewer than 20 submerged crannogs. These are defendable man-made islands which were built in the Iron Age and can be found in many lochs across Scotland. Loch Tay, however, seems to have been a particularly popular spot for these fascinating structures, and it is today home to a visitor centre that explores their uses and the building techniques employed in their construction. The Scottish Crannog Centre is even home to its very own full size crannog replica, so that you can see what these mesmerising structures once looked like.
Elsewhere, the mountains around the loch are popular walking territory. Ben Lawers, which is among the top ten tallest peaks in Britain, towers above the loch’s northern shore. And six other ‘Munros’ can also be found nearby – these are peaks with summits in excess of 3,000 ft (or 914 metres).
The village of Killin at the loch’s western end is also home to the impressive Falls of Dochart.
Scottish Crannog Centre
Address: The Scottish Crannog Centre, Loch Tay, Kenmore, Near Aberfeldy, Perth & Kinross, PH15 2HY.
Price: Adults 10 GBP (13.18 USD); Seniors 9 GBP (11.86 USD); Children (aged five to 16-years) 7 GBP (9.23 USD)
Opening Hours: Open from around the start of April to the end of October. Daily from 10 am to 5.30 pm (closes at 4 pm on final day of season).
Contact: +44 1887 830583 or [email protected]
Website: Scottish Crannog Centre
4. Loch Leven
Located in Fife close to the M90 motorway, Loch Leven is easy to reach from Edinburgh. It is set in a nature reserve and is an important spot for migratory birds, with tens of thousands setting up home in the area over the winter months.
Despite only being 3.7 mi (6 km) long at its largest, the loch boasts no fewer than seven islands. One of these is home to Lochleven Castle, which has a rich history – including strong connections to Mary Queen of Scots, who was imprisoned there after being ousted from her throne, before ultimately escaping with a little inside help. Seasonal ferries land on the island, giving people the chance to explore the castle’s ruins. Walkers are also well catered for – an all abilities path encircles the entire loch.
Address: Pier Road, Kinross, Fife, KY13 8UF
Price: Adult 7.50 GBP (9.89 USD); Children (aged five to 15) 4.50 GBP (5.93 USD); Under fives free
Opening Hours: 1st April to 30th September, Daily 10 am to 4.15 pm (last outward sailing); 1st to 31st October, Daily 10 am to 3.15 pm (last outward sailing); Closed 1st November to 31st March
Website: Lochleven Castle
5. Loch Maree
When imaginations run to famous loch monsters, most will inevitably think of Nessie swimming beneath the surface of Loch Ness. But that impressive waterway is by no means the only loch rumoured to be home to a mystery beast. Numerous lochs around Scotland have their own monster myth – including Loch Maree.
One of Scotland’s largest freshwater lochs, Loch Maree sits in the country’s far north-west close to the villages of Gairloch and Kinlochewe and is skirted by the famous North Coast 500 tourist route. The impressive peak of Slioch rises above the south-eastern end of the loch. It and other nearby peaks such as Beinn Eighe are popular hiking destinations.
The loch itself is a nature reserve and contains more than 60 islands, making it an attractive destination for kayakers – just make sure to keep a watchful eye out for Maree’s resident mythical beastie, the Muc-sheilch.
Loch Maree National Nature Reserve
Website: Loch Maree National Nature Reserve
6. Loch Katrine
Located among the Trossachs, Loch Katrine – pronounced Kat-rin – is a very popular tourist destination. It is thought to get its name from the Cateran, or cattle thieves, who once roamed the area including the famous Rob Roy, who was actually born next to the loch. Its waters also provided rich inspiration for 19th century author Sir Walter Scott, who set his novel Rob Roy and the poem Lady of the Lake around its waters. This connection continues to this day – a 117-year-old steam ship bearing Scott’s name ferries the public on tours of the loch from a visitor centre at Katrine’s eastern end.
Website: Loch Katrine
7. Lake of Mentieth
When is a loch not a loch? When map cartographers get their translations wrong. Mentieth is famously, though slightly erroneously, known as the ‘only lake’ in Scotland, thanks to a misinterpretation of the lowland Scots word 'laich’ (which means 'low place’) by mapmakers in the 17th century. The lake, which has also historically gone by the name Loch Inchmahome, is home to several islands, the largest of which is Inchmahome and contains the ruins of a priory of the same name. Robert the Bruce is among the noted historical figures to have visited the monastic site down the ages.
Lake of Mentieth
8. Loch Fyne
The shores of this sea loch in Argyll are home to the beautiful Georgian village of Inveraray, which is popular with tourists for its picture postcard design. The original settlement was located slightly to the north-west, in the grounds of the striking manor of Inveraray Castle. When its owner, the third Duke of Argyll, decided to rebuild the castle in the 1740s he took the decision to flatten the small original settlement so the castle grounds could be properly landscaped, and build a new town half-a-mile (0.8 km) away. However, by the 1770s little of this planned work had been done and it was the fifth Duke of Argyll who ultimately oversaw its completion.
As well as the castle and town, another of Fyne’s popular spots is the Fyne Ales brewery at the head of the loch.
Address: Fyne Ales, Achadunan, Cairndow, Argyll, PA26 8BJ
Opening Hours: Daily 10 am to 6 pm
Contact: +44 1499 600120 or [email protected]
Website: Fyne Ales
9. Loch Linnhe
This large and picturesque 31 mi (50 km) long sea loch runs from Fort William in the north to the Firth of Lorne – the gateway to the mainland port of Oban and the Isle of Mull – in the south. The length of Loch Linnhe means it acts as a sizeable natural barrier to the remote mainland peninsulas of Ardnamurchan and Morven. The Corran Ferry, which links the east and western shores of the loch shaves more than an hour off the road journey to get to the other side.
Near Linnhe’s southern end lies the inlet of Loch Laich, which is home to Castle Stalker, a medieval tower house which is among the country’s most perfectly preserved. This fortification, which is set on a small island, is privately owned but does open to the public during the height of the summer.
Address: Corran Ferry Office, Corran Ferry, Ardgour
Contact: +44 1855 841 243
Website: Corran Ferry
10. Loch Eriboll
Motorists taking the North Coast 500 tourist route will loop around the shores of this sea loch, which can be found in the far north-west of mainland Scotland and played a crucial role in the Arctic Convoys between the UK and Russia during World War II. Its deep waters made it the perfect muster point for a host of military ships – the crews of which left reminders of their time there by placing painted white stones on nearby hills that spelled out the names of their vessels, although these are not readily visible from the roadside. Eriboll is also where the Battle of the Atlantic ‘ended’ – 33 of Germany’s remaining U-boats formally surrendered here in 1945.
North Coast 500
Address: North Coast 500 Ltd, 13 Harbour Terrace, Wick, KW1 5HB
Contact: +44 1955 609806 or email [email protected]
Website: North Coast 500
Spellbinding lochs to capture the imagination
These and countless other lochs too numerous to mention leave visitors mesmerised year after year. All you have to do is decide where your travels will take you and which lochs will find their way into your heart…