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Drumnadrochit (Scotland)

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A beautiful and welcoming village which is home to the Loch Ness Monster.

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      14.04.2003 21:21
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      I stopped travelling after a traumatic time in my life left me without confidence. The woman who loved motoring and would leap into her car and bomb off for 100 miles for no reason other than she felt like it, was now anxious if a new roundabout had been constructed a few miles down the road. I solved this problem by just not going anywhere. For some reason this didn't apply if I were visiting my stepson 200 miles away or flying to Florida where my brother in law was waiting for me in his home. Clearly I needed the comfort of loved ones waiting for me. The occasion to put this right arose 3 or 4 years ago when my best friend Wyn was grumbling that her husband still wouldn't take her to Scotland. Wyn believes absolutely in the presence of the Loch Ness Monster, so the Highlands of Scotland were for her a much a needed pilgrimage. You can imagine her delight when I said , "Let's go ourselves then." Come August, I dropped my less than athletic lhasa apso off at my sister's, left my horse in the enthusiastic and capable care of a whole stableyard, put my jack russell terrier Jody's basket in the back of the astra estate, together with the dog of course, before setting off to Drumnadrochit, a few miles south of Inverness. To others who live in the SE, I would not recommend making the journey in one hop even if at night as we did. It is a long old way. Drumnadrochit is an extraordinarily pretty village close to Loch Ness and the centre for all who who have an interest in Scotland's monster. With guest houses, small cafe's which we happily ate in daily and souvenir shops set around a large green dressed everywhere with flowers, this village certainly has tourism in mind. Pubs are there, but as I was the driver, I couldn't sample the beer. Although so touristy, it is also relaxed. People from all over the world just strolling around or sitting on the green in the sunshine gave no impression of crowds. My guest house (wanting single rooms we had to book separate guest houses) was set beside an old bridge over the River Enrick and had a welcome and service I could not fault. All for £18 per night B&B. On arrival it was clear that my hostess had not taken it in that I would have my dog with me. She was concerned that Jody would bark as the car was parked beneath windows. However, when one evening she looked out to count 10 Japanese tourists who had wandered in off the road and were peering in at Jody with no resultant noise, she was enchanted by her good behaviour. Little did she know that if the door handle had been tried all hell would have been let loose. It wasn't long before she suggested that Jody could sleep in my room. I gracefully declined as Jody's day from her first run beside the river at 6.30am consisted of much swimming and dirt finding. That early walk was not completely for good dog ownership reasons as the guest house was non-smoking. Drumnadrochit, although small has much to offer. We sat on the grass in the afternoon as pipers in full regalia marched with swaying kilts across the green, their pipes stirring the air as only bagpipes can. The Glenurquart Highland Games take place on the last saturday in August and attract competitors from all over Scotland. Everywhere surrounding the village were baskets and tubs of massed flowers. We saw this all over the Highlands even beside isolated roads and on tiny garage forecourts. There are 2 Loch Ness exhibitions and the largest is beside the main hotel across the bridge. This is really worth viewing and is the type that one walks through to a recorded narration. Surprisingly the exhibition was not geared to belief in Nessie. The facts - and they were absorbing - were shown and given accurately and you are left to make up your own mind. I didn't come away with a belief in the Monster, but had learned some fascinating facts about the loch itself. I was p leased that we hadn't missed it. This village, situated as it is, means that the tourist is within easy driving distance of stunning glens and historic towns and I will tell you of this soon. We had been told that Loch Ness is at is most eerie at sunset, so decided to drive the short distance down, leave the car parked on the road , then sit and wait. The loch is the largest body of freshwater in Europe, deeper than the North Sea, 23 miles long and could fill every lake, and river in England. It is vast! When Wyn and I reached the loch we were beside the picturesque Urquhart Castle, the remains of which jut out into the Loch and are lit at night. To our disappointment we found that the gates were closed. Feeling devilish, we climbed over with difficulty, particularly as Wyn wears long skirts, and walked down to the water's edge. Once the sun had gone down we gazed out into the far black nothingness and, alone in the silence but for the sound of water splashing up a narrow beach and against the supports of a small jetty, it was very eerie indeed. So scary in fact that I wouldn't let Jody into the water. Did I think she would be grabbed by the Monster? No, of course not, but...........! When we turned to go we saw that we had been followed over the fence by dozens of other tourists who were walking through the floodlit castle, yet we had experienced such emptiness around us that we hadn't noticed them. Where to go? The most spectacular drive was taken over Mam Rattigan Pass to the Kyle of Localsh. The road twists and turns and undulates on the side of the mountain until we were 1100' high. It is one of those mountain roads which reaches a peak before dropping and turning so quickly that the poor front seat passenger just sees the sky for a moment. Our 2000sri was more than capable of safely negotiating the pass in safety, but Wyn's endearing faith in my driving was stretched by the route. After one such t urn I stopped the car and we faced a scene of such beauty that the emotions were stirred mightily. To our left was the magnificent Island of Skye and far below us a loch of such clarity and stillness that it mirrored the mountains behind, reminding me of pictures I have seen of Greenland. We left the car for a moment and Wyn pointed above us to our right and between the hills. A pair of Golden Eagles soared on the thermals and we held our breath. At the foot of the pass we came to a tiny parking area as we waited for the ferry to Skye. This was a flat boat which took very few cars and had to be better than the Skye Bridge which charges £4.70 each way....and that in the winter. This ferry only operates in the season. We did return over the Skye bridge though to join the A87 and then the A82 back to Drumnadrochit. Fort Augustus is a charming town on the southern tip of Loch Ness where you may watch a line of lochs lifting boats one section above the last as they travel along the Caledonian Canal. This lovely canal joins the lochs of the Great Glen including Loch Ness and takes boat traffic from Inverness on the North Sea and Moray Firth to the Atlantic close to Fort William. Inverness to the north is a truly beautiful town on the River Ness and close enough to Drumnadrochit to visit and shop. From here you can experience a wealth of Scottish history including Cawdor Castle and the site of Culluden. Not unexpectedly, the BP filling station there has a huge Loch Ness Monster on the forecourt. This really is Nessie country! For Wyn and I the charm of our holiday was the ability to just wander and take in the scenery. We walked along the stunning Glen Affric among caledonian pine forests, stopped off to view Dog Falls and later stood beside and below the wonderful Falls of Foyers, about which Robert Burns wrote a poem. We also drove along the Great Glen, stopping off to wander on the banks and little beaches always with mountain s in close view. I can only speak for our holiday and this time of year, but we were often alone on the roads and at beauty spots. At one picnic table beside a loch Wyn offered some bread to a goldfinch. Immediately we were completely overwhelmed with fearless gold finches. A pretty experience. Not far from Inverness is the Beauly Firth. Standing on a beach on this inlet of the Moray Firth you may be able to see some of the 100 or so bottlenose dolphins which live there. These pass close to shore and were the reason we were there. Although we sat at a picnic table while Jody dived into the waves for pebbles, we did not see any dolphins. Just wrong timing as apparently it depends on the tide. However Jody attracted quite a few fans, as her plump white stubby-tailed bottom was all that could be seen most of the time once she had grasped a large stone on the sea bed. She rarely comes up for air until her chosen pebble is pulled up and the lack of dolphins was made up for as her audience watched in amusement and then applauded once she had succeeded. Jody's blunt teeth are the result of 14 years of pebble plucking. Two varieties of seal as well as porpoises may also be seen in the Firth although again we were not lucky that day. Dolphin viewing boats make regular trips into the Moray Firth. I was warned before we left that, unlike other wild countryside such as Northumberland, most of the roads are fenced and this is so. Since we found The Highlands so geared up for tourist welcome I asked someone why. It appears that rather than keeping the visitor out, the fences are supposed to keep the red deer in and off the roads. Despite this we did see herds of red deer. For us the wildlife was an important part of the scenery. The largest herd of red deer we saw was on the outskirts of Drumnadrochit itself. Because we were so far north, golden eagles were not a rarity and the shaggy highland cattle were not as fierce as they looked. I wouldn't bank on this last, but I can't resist introducing myself if I am fairly close to a getaway area. Hooded crows were in abundance along with other birds I could not expect to see at home. Although I am not a castle and building watcher, the Scottish castles have much romantic history. Cawdor Castle is linked with McBeth and although Urquhart Castle was destroyed in 1689 it is still a tourist draw standing on its outlet of Loch Ness. Eilean Donan Castle on the junction of lochs Duich, Long and Alsh was used for the film Highlander. Castle ruins standing out against the skyline add to the already romantic scenery as you pass. The Highlands of Scotland have everything for the hiker, cyclist and mountain climber, not to mention the skier. However they also make a great holiday for such as Wyn and I. We enjoy walking, but are not hikers. We like to scramble up and down steep wooded hillsides, but are not climbers. Our appreciation of wildlife did not need us to risk life and limb, as it was there for us without demanding effort. Drumnadrochit gave us delightful and friendly surroundings to chill out in and was close enough to everywhere to allow a good day out without having to worry about a long return journey. I at no time felt that I was being asked to pay more because this was a seasonal tourist area. In fact my car exhaust blew and the local garage told me it would take a couple of days for a replacement. When I expressed my disappointment, the owner made a temporary repair and only charged me a tenner for his trouble. I was impressed! Needless to say I bought all my petrol from him after that. Does Wyn still believe that the Monster lives beneath the chilly surface of the Loch? Apart from natural discussion after the exhibition I didn't press my own view. I love her as I do my sister and have left her to her dreams. Note: I haven't included any routes as these can be gai ned from the tourist office or local knowledge and we did tend to just drift as we felt like it. Although you may wander along isolated roads, the village is close by good A roads should you wish to drive directly to more major destinations. The A82 runs close by Drumnadrochit and directly to Inverness to the north and almost to Fort William to the south, passing Fort Augustus. The A9 turns off to the east and will take you to Perth, passing by Aviemore. Before we left I rang the Scottish Tourist Office who sent me very useful brochures and the AA planned my route from home.

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