One of the first things that I wanted to do on my first visit to Scotland was to go see Loch Ness and catch a glimpse of Nessie. That was before I realized a couple of different things:
- Scotland is really big
- Inverness and Loch Ness are WAY at the top
How far away? I would say that Inverness is a good 3 hour drive away from Edinburgh. If you don't have a car and want to take a train, you're looking at 5 or 6 hours with all the changes.
Luckily, I was in Dundee, the City of Discovery! Inverness was a mere three hour train ride away, and it was only that long because you have to go through Perth and change there.
Other than seeing Nessie, though, what tempted me was the tales of an "Afternoon Disco" in a pub up there.
This I had to see.
I consulted the train and bus schedules. If I took the 9am train, I could get up to Inverness in time to take the 1pm bus out to Loch Ness, take in the museum, do a bit of Nessie hunting, then then make it back in time for the Afternoon Disco. My plan was set.
The train ride through the Highlands is pretty spectacular. The rails pass through mountain gorges filled with waterfalls (ie: pre-whisky) gurgling over jagged rocks, sheep grazing seemingly against gravity on the side of hills and old timey, one platform train stations that look like something out of a Spaghetti Western.
This was my kind of country.
Shortly before 1pm, the train pulled into Inverness station. This is where the last connecting trains on the British mainland all connect to run up to Wick, at the very tippy top of Scotland.
Sadly, this station was even nicer than the Dundonian one. There were a few restaurants, and a full fledged pub that would sell you beer to go. That would have to come later, however, as I had an appointment with Nessie.
I stepped out into Inverness town into a fine mist of rain. I however, was unfazed, as I'd lived in Scotland long enough to know that it would probably rain at some point on this trip. I didn't stop for any sightseeing on the way to the station, because I had a tightly knit timetable to adhere to.
The Afternoon Disco and Nessie awaited. I did tarry long enough to snap a picture of the American diner sign right next to Inverness bus station. Apparently to judge from the American presence of retail establishments in the UK, we're really good at eating and cleaning other people's clothes.
The bus to Loch Ness drops you off at a town called Drumnadrochit, which also happens to be where the Loch Ness Center(re) & Exhibition is located, which, conincidentally is exactly where I wanted to be. The short, 20 minute bus ride drove along the western edge of the fabled Loch. After leaving the Inverness suburbs, I finally caught a glimpse of my destination through the trees.
First impressions of Loch Ness:
- Not as big as I thought it was going to be
- Looks cold
- No Nessie
Undaunted, however, I determined to see my adventure through to the end. I took a quick look around the village. As you can see by the sign on the right, when you get up here into the Highlands and the West Coast of Scotland, you start seeing signs in Gaelic.
Which is pretty helpful if you speak Gaelic and you're tying to find Beauly or Inverness, but what if you only speak Gaelic and you're trying ot find the Loch Ness Center(re) & Exhibition?!! How are these people going to find it?!!
Unless there's some ulterior motive to keep Gaelic speakers from visiting Nessie....maybe Nessie only speaks Gaelic and they've come to warn her....
The Loch Ness Center(re) & Exhibition is located in the old Drumnadrochit Hotel, which is where one of the first Nessie sightings was reported. The museum if nothing but thorough. The story doesn't just start with Nessie. Oh no. This museum starts about a million years ago, describing how Loch Ness was first formed. Once all the boring rocks are out of the way, we're into the meat of the exhibit - the hunt for Nessie! The museum lays out all the most famous sightings and describes the history of the hunt for Nessie. There was a film about all the different searches that have been conducted for Nessie over the years.
Despite the picture of Nessie on the front of the building, the museum does a pretty good job of walking the line between the pro and anti Nessie sides of the debate.
But the most frightening exhibit in the whole Center(re) is the terrifying "Gift Shop" where they have a number of Nessie babies stuffed and on display! I could hardly contain my disgust. I quickly made a beeline out of the gift shop and headed for the Loch itself. I was determined not just to talk to Nessie, but to warn her about the dangers awaiting her babies.
I passed through the town of Drumnadrochit and headed for the Loch,which was somewhere just beyond the green hills. I paused only long enough to snap a picture of this "Nessie Crossing" sign on the road just outside of the village.
I was getting close!
A hiking path appeared after the village and pointed the way to the Loch. I checked the time and figured I'd be able to have a few words with Nessie before I was due at the afternoon disco.
However, I froze in my tracks when I saw the obstacle that was before me and the Loch.
Why were all these graves out here in the middle of nowhere? Nessie's victims perhaps? The secret burial ground of lost Gaelic speakers trying to find their way to the Nessie Center(re)?
Or was it the final resting places of those foolhardy enough to try and warn Nessie about the fate that might be awaiting her children in the Loch Ness Center(re) Exhibition gift shop!
I sat on a nearby rock (don't worry, it wasn't a grave) to ponder my situation. And it was here, too, that my journey met it's metaphorical end. Here, at this windswept graveyard in the middle of the Highlands, I finally gave up my foolhardy quest to go speak to Nessie.
Not because I was scared, my dear readers, but because I saw a nearby trail sign and realized that the shore of Loch Ness was actually OVER TWO MILES AWAY.
That means that the "Loch Ness Center(re) & Exhibition" is ACTUALLY NOT NEXT TO LOCH NESS.
Not that I minded hiking two miles, but, after all, I did have an afternoon disco to get to. Slowly I turned away from the trail leading to the Loch and made my way back to the bus stop.
Sadly, in life there are choices we'll always have to make.
I guess I can count myself lucky enough that I was forced to choose between the afternoon disco and Nessie.
At the time, I just hoped that I made the right choice.