Deeper than the North Sea and filled with more water than all of England and Wales’s lakes combined, it’s hardly surprising that Loch Ness is shrouded in folklore. It’s most famous, of course, for that eponymous monster which was first reported in 1933 as ‘an enormous animal rolling and plunging on the surface’. Since then, scientists armed with sonar and passionate self-appointed investigators have scoured its waters for any sign of a giant aquatic beast, but no such animal has been found.
If you come to Loch Ness you’re unlikely to find Nessie, but you will discover a beautifully green landscape surrounding a brooding body of water that’s well worth exploring – by boat or on land.
One of the highlights of the Scottish Highlands, skinny Loch Ness is 37km long and around 1½ km wide, stretching from the charming city of Inverness in the north right down to low-key Fort Augustus in the south. Its western side is relatively gentle, characterised by rolling green hills and patches of forest, while its eastern edge is fringed with bulbous rocky peaks and unusual geological formations – a landscape more akin to the drama for which the Highlands is usually known.
It’s just an hour’s drive between Inverness and Fort Augustus, and it’s perfectly possible to take in the length of the loch in a weekend. Base yourself in Fort Augustus, where one of Scotland’s most dog-friendly hotels provides an ideal base, and you could enjoy walks along the Caledonian Canal, which wends its way south after a series of five locks and a swing bridge. Or choose Inverness as your weekend home and enjoy the hubbub of the city and its picturesque riverside location.
Dolphin Spirit Inverness
Forget Nessie spotting: strike out on to the Moray Firth to look for otters, dolphins and porpoise. Cruises last around 75 minutes, sailing around the Beauly Firth and Munlochy Bay, and a guide is on hand to help you spot and learn about the wildlife and local folklore.
Unsure of where to sit? The upper deck has the best views and offer your best chance of spotting a dolphin in the wild, while the lower deck is weatherproof; a better choice for those hoping to avoid the sharp winds of the Moray Firth.
Heading from north to south and back again, Jacobite Cruises offer the best way to see the real extent of Loch Ness, taking in the western shore, and cruising past the ruins of Urquhart Castle and along the Caledonian Canal.
Live commentary provides insight into the region’s history, as well as that all-important bit of folklore: tales of the Loch Ness monster. Dogs are allowed on the outdoor upper deck and covered indoor areas below. The visitor centre at Dochgarroch Lock, a 15-minute drive south from Inverness, has an excellent dog-friendly gift shop and café.
Dores Beach & Torr Point
One of the best viewpoints for admiring the sea-like expanse of Loch Ness, Dores is a lovely shingly stretch of beach just a 20-minute drive south of Inverness on the eastern side of the loch. Come here to paddle in the achingly cold waters – the loch enjoys a year-round temperature of just 5 ̊C – and take the kilometre-long footpath out to forested Torr Point: head all the way along the shoreline away from Dores, then turn into the pine woodland to meander around the forest before heading back.
Falls of Foyers
Set within a dramatic gorge on the eastern side of Loch Ness, the spectacular Falls of Foyers can be seen on a beautiful 4½ km walk that takes up to 2 hours.
The trail starts opposite the car park, a 25-minute drive north of Fort Augustus, and leads down steep steps to a pair of viewpoints from which you can see the main, 50m-high cascade. It then passes through glorious woodland towards the lower, smaller falls, and on to the shores of Loch Ness before climbing back up to the village.
For a sedate, picturesque dog walk head, 15 minutes north of Fort Augustus to the village of Invermoriston, an idyllic little place on the banks of the River Moriston which flows on the western side of the loch. Here, you can walk along the river on a network of trails, passing a picturesque 19th-century bridge that was once the main river crossing and the handsome Invermoriston Falls. Come in October or November, and you might spot salmon jumping out of the water around the bridge.
Travel to Loch Ness
The A82 runs the length of Loch Ness’s western shore. From Edinburgh, take the A9 to Inverness; for Fort Augustus, aim for the A86. Inverness railway station sees direct trains from Edinburgh and Glasgow and sits at the end of the line for the Caledonian Sleeper from London, which has dog-friendly berths.
Where to eat in Loch Ness
Black Isle Bar & Rooms – The city-centre tap room for the organic Black Isle Brewing Company offers their newest beers on tap, guest ales and excellent wood-fired pizza.
Dores Inn – This beachside pub on the eastern shore of Loch Ness, 15km south of Inverness, serves great fish and chips and good local ales. Booking ahead recommended.
The Lock Inn – A splendid little boozer on the Caledonian Canal in Fort Augustus, dishing up pub classics such as burgers, scampi and fish and chips.
Where to stay in Loch Ness
Bridgend House – Ideally situated between Fort Augustus and Inverness, this lovely self-catering house sits on the western edge of Loch Ness. It sleeps up to eight in four bedrooms and you’ll have an enclosed garden for the dogs and a bubbling hot tub for chilly nights. From £708/week.
The Glenmoriston Townhouse – This upscale riverside property offers cosy rooms with a few tartan touches. Dogs can dine with you in the Piano Bar, which has over 250 whiskies. From £159/night B&B.
The Lovat – Hotels rarely come more dog-friendly than this excellent place in Fort Augustus. The garden rooms have their own enclosed patios, there’s a large fenced-in lawn for off-lead runabouts, and dogs can join you in the restaurant which serves fantastic tasting menus. From £110/night B&B; dogs from £20/night.
For more information, see Lottie Gross’s guide: