Loch Ness is probably the best known attraction in the Scottish Highlands, not least because of the legendary Loch Ness Monster, affectionately known as 'Nessie'. The story goes that way back in the mid 600s AD Saint Columba was travelling from the stronghold of the Scots in Western Scotland to the capital of the Picts, Inverness, in order to bring the Pictish King Brude to Christianity. Among the many adventures the group of monks had on their way to Inverness was an encounter with the monster. Their boat was attacked and one of the monks was actually eaten by Nessie. After he and his colleagues made safe landing on the shore, Columba turned and cursed the monster, condemning it to never again eating any person. As far as we know, she never has since.
Nowadays, the village of Drumnadrochit is well-geared to accept tourists. There is a selection of gift shops, galleries, places to eat and , of course, the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre. At the ruined Urquhart Castle, right on the loch side past Drumnadrochit, there is a brand new visitor centre, but be warned! - the parking at the castle is very restricted.
We can recommend a detour up to the pottery up the hill just outside Lewiston, turning right off the main road just as you cross the bridge heading for Borlum and Urquhart Castle.
The Highlands are justifiably renowned for their stunning landscapes and breathtaking natural beauty. Famous though it is, Loch Ness is by no means the most beautiful of the places to visit in the area. The location for Druimorrin was originally chosen with the convenience of holiday makers wanting to explore the Highlands by car very much in mind. The following are a few suggestions for days out by car from Druimorrin, taking in some of our favourites.
The Black Isle features rolling farmland, criss-crossed by a pattern of roads. Following the A832 east brings you firstly to Munlochy, where a slight detour through the village and up to Drumsmittal will bring you to the Black Isle Wildlife Park. There is animal food available to feed the animals as you go round and a chance for children to handle chicks or bunnies under supervision. They also have a 'train' to visit some of the further away animals. After coming back through Munlochy, and heading east again, the bird sanctuary of Munlochy Bay is on the right.
Travelling round the coast you come to a series of historic villages beginning with the picturesque fishing port of Avoch. This was where the standard was raised in 1297 by Andrew de Moray as a call to arms for the local clans, which led ultimately to the Scottish victory of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. De Moray, incidentally, led the troops alongside Wallace and sadly died shortly after the battle from wounds sustained earning the victory. At the end of May each year, the local villagers participate in battle re-enactments and march up to Ormonde Hill to raise the standard once more. The flag is visible year-round and there is an easy and well signposted walk up to the site of the castle.
Carrying on round brings you to Fortrose and Rosemarkie, with the Chanory Point lighthouse, now well-known as a dolphin watching site, pleasant sandy beaches, the Groam House Museum whose hands-on exhibition on the mysterious Picts is specifically geared to families; and the Fairy Glen, where you can stop for a stroll along the bank of the burn up to the gentle waterfall. At the furthermost point of the Black Isle you come to the winding streets of Cromarty, where you will find the award-winning interactive Cromarty Courthouse museum and the cottage home of the 'father' of geology, Hugh Miller.
Some 5 miles west of Druimorrin are the Falls of Rogie, well worth a visit, but accessed over very uneven ground and some narrow bridges. They are at their most impressive at either end of the season, when there is plenty of water in the falls.
The first village is Garve where the road splits and taking a left leads you on a clockwise tour of the north west - the best way to see some of the loveliest views in Scotland, especially as you come down towards Loch Maree.
A lot of this road is very recently upgraded, and it will not be many years before all of it is double track. In Summer, the small fishing port of Gairloch offers a wide variety of watersports. We recently had great fun on the glass-bottomed boat trip from Gairlich pier, which takes about 1.5 hours and had a lovely meal at the Na Mara restaurant. The Heritage Centre in the village gives an insight into West Coast Highland life. Carrying on round you pass through some uninhabited reaches of mountain and moor before you reach Inverewe Gardens - as far north as St Petersburg, but growing palm trees and exotic plants outdoors.
The breathtaking Falls of Measach at Corrieshalloch Gorge, just south of Ullapool are well worth a stop on the way back, much more easily accessed than Rogie.
Here lie the open landscape of Sutherland and the splendour of Dunrobin Castle. En route north you pass the burgh of Tain, founded in 1066, with its 'Tain through Time' Centre, and the cathedral town of Dornoch which is centred around an attractive square with ample parking and interesting shops. The landscape as you drive north is known as the flow country and you will notice the roofs and fences made out of slabs of solid rock. Just the job when there are few trees and fewer mountains to slow the wind across the county.
A wee gem on this route, is the Dunbeath Heritage Centre. It is easily missed as you pass through, but well worth the detour, with local heritage and archaeology displayed and interpreted in highly original and artistically stunning ways.
At the Georgemas Junction the road splits, left for Thurso and right for Wick, although many tourist prefer a visit to Land's End, just to be able to say they've been!
The first stop on a tour south is the village of Beauly, 6 miles from Druimorrin. The village centre has plenty of parking space flanked by shops, boutiques, banks and so on on two sides and the ruined priory on a third. As you leave Beauly, the House of Beauly centre is on the right. This centre incorporates a sales base for high quality Scottish crafts, knitwear, furniture, books and gifts, and a restaurant and tearoom.
If your interest is in Highland history, your trip could then take in the Clan Chisholm burial ground at Kilmorack, or you might want to take in the Aigas Dam Fish Lift, which was built to allow salmon to make the arduous journey back to their spawning grounds, despite the construction of the Aigas dam, blocking the river.
The direct route to Drumnadrochit involves cutting across Cul na Kirk. This means you can avoid the busy route from Inverness, where you can often get stuck behind a tourist bus on the winding loch side road. Drumnadrochit has the obvious attractions of Loch Ness, Nessie and Urquhart Castle. Personally, I have always fancied the submarine trips in the loch; you never know what you might see down there.
Your return trip could take you through Inverness or via the Highland Wineries at Moniak.
Along the south coast of the Moray Firth is Inverness, now accorded the status of city. The shops, art galleries and museum in the Town Centre and the Leisure Centre, Aquadome and Floral Hall at the Bught could themselves fill more than one day out.
Less well-known is Leakey's, the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland, housed in the old church at the foot of Church Street and hosting very popular cafe on the first floor.
On the South side of the city is James Pringle's Woollen Mill, a large tartan manufactory where you can see how the cloth is produced, and a large shop. A few miles further east is the infamous Culloden Battlefield, where Bonnie Prince Charlie's campaign for the British throne met its brutal end. An explanatory visitor centre outlines some of the history surrounding that event and stones on the battlefield and all around mark the graves of the clans on both sides of the conflict.
Further on again is Cawdor Castle, complete with ancient dungeon and acres of beautiful gardens. There is a thorn tree in the depths of the castle and it is said that the site for the castle was chosen because a donkey stopped to eat in the shade of this same tree.