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Sometimes it seems that there are breathtaking views on every bend of the road in the Scottish Highlands but I generally find that it is the ones that are a little off the beaten track that are the most memorable as there is always that feeling that one has discovered that view for the very first time.
Off the beaten track is not really a description that can be applied to Loch Laggan since the A86 road runs along more or less the full 16km length of its northern shores. This is one of the main routes to Fort William but it is a slower journey than the other routes so many tourists tend to avoid it.
Loch Laggan is a freshwater loch that boasts the largest freshwater beach in the British Isles. Its soft golden sands are enough to rival many of the great coastal beaches of Britain but sadly this beach is largely out of bounds as it lies within the privately owned Ardverikie estate. The house to this vast estate was built in 1844 for Cluny Macpherson, Chief of the Clan Macpherson and is accessed via a 3 mile long private road. It was in this house in 1847 that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert spent their first holiday in the Highlands, although it is said that this was cut short because they couldn't tolerate the midges. Shortly after this holiday they purchased the Balmoral Estate where the midges are less severe.
Ardverikie also has another claim to fame. It is the setting for the TV series "Monarch of the Glen" where it is known as "Glenbogle".
The loch is flanked by many high peaks including Creag Meagaidh and Beinn Teallach, the former is a designated National Nature Reserve and provides an unique habitat that it very wild yet reasonably accessible by only a short walk from the A86 road of no more than a couple of miles. There are many different places to park along the loch and I don't think that I have ever stopped in the same one twice.
My most recent visit to Loch Laggan was in the late July of 2008. I had purposely set aside an extra hour to enjoy this area but I had almost forgotten just exactly how beautiful it was. I pulled into one of the many designated parking areas/viewpoints and ended up staying for nearly two hours rather than just the one. I walked about 50 metres from the parking area and found a monument to a Corporal that had died in 1941. This simple stone monument stood against the backdrop of one of most beautiful vistas in Scotland. The inscription on its plaque read: "Memorial to Corporal James Hendry GC. Royal Canadian Engineers died 13 June 1941 aged 29 during construction of nearby hydro electric tunnel. Posthumously awarded George Cross for conspicuous gallantry in alerting comrades before attempting to prevent an explosion. Sapper John M Stewart RCEng died simultaneously."
The construction of the hydro electricity system that is referred to in the above text began in 1934 when a dam wall was constructed. Since this date the loch has been used as a reservoir, providing a supply of freshwater to the surrounding area and also to produce electricity for the Lochaber hydro electricity scheme. All of this has been done in a very sympathetic manner with the minimum impact on the environment.
Creag Meagaidh is one of several mountains in this region. At 1,128 metres (3,701 feet) above sea level it is one of several Munro mountains that dominate the skyline. A Munro mountain is classified as any Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet above sea level. This whole area is a designated National Nature Reserve (NNR). The higher slopes of this magnificent peak support breeding Dotterel, Ptarmigam and Snow Buntings, three of Britain's rarest breeding birds whilst the loch itself supports several pairs of Red Throated Divers and also its much rarer relative the Black Throated Diver. During my recent visit here I observed a pair of Red Throated Divers on the loch with two fully fledged young. Golden Eagles and Peregrine Falcons can often been seen as can Red Deer.
One of the best places to experience Creag Meagaidh is at Coire Ardair. There is a large car park there that is well sign posted from the main road and it is only a short, easy walk to the steep crags that dominate Coire Ardair.
Overall I would certainly recommend a visit to Loch Laggan to anyone that is heading towards Fort William, Inverness or Loch Ness as the short detour is well worth the effort. It should however be noted that the midges that drove Queen Victoria away can be a problem, especially during July/August so long sleeves are recommended and I would suggest that early mornings or late evening visits should be avoided.
Freshwater loch in Lochaber.