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Issue 49 - 10 Best Lochs

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 49
February 2010


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10 Best Lochs

Keith Fergus takes us on a tour of some excellent watery walks.

Loch Ken is a beautiful stretch of freshwater in Galloway and its length of nine miles provides opportunities for sailing and fishing whilst the western side of the loch is peaceful and ideal for walking and cycling. In spring wildflowers are here in abundance and in autumn the colours along the banks are stunning. But it is the red kite, which has re-established itself in the region after years of persecution, that many visit Loch Ken to see and the Galloway Red Kite trail is a popular way of exploring the area. There are several walks and hides around Loch Ken, a feeding station nearby at Laurieston and a visitors centre at Clatteringshaws all of which provides a fascinating means to explore this picturesque loch.

Loch Lomond Loch Lomond National Park Loch Lomond, lying on the Highland Boundary Fault line, has the largest surface area of freshwater in Britain and at twenty-four miles long and five miles wide there is plenty to do.

The flora and fauna throughout the year is fantastic with many walks allowing you to explore the loch. Ben Lomond, the Luss Hills and Conic Hill are some higher walks while a cycle path runs along its western side for 28 miles between Balloch and Tarbet. My own favourite walk is following the West Highland Way path along the eastern shore for a short distance from Balmaha to Millarochy Bay via Craigie Forts which offers a sublime view across Loch Lomond. On your return to Balmaha the mail boat can escort you (along with the post) to the island of Inchmurrin allowing for a different vantage point to view Loch Lomond from.

Loch Fyne Argyll & Bute Situated along Scotland’s celebrated west coast, Loch Fyne is the longest sea loch with Inveraray being its main town. Inveraray sits at the lochs head and with its castle, shops and jail is an ideal place to visit.

A hot summer’s day on Loch Fyne is hard to beat and as it is a sea loch otters, seals and dolphins can all be spotted. If seafood is your thing then Loch Fyne is the place to be and is renowned for the likes of oysters and langoustines. At the western tip of Loch Fyne is the technological marvel of the Crinan Canal which links Loch Fyne at Ardrishaig with the Sound of Jura. A fantastic few days can be spent sailing along the canals nine miles negotiating the fifteen locks whilst it is also quite feasible to walk or cycle the canals length making the most of the hotels and pubs along the way.

Loch Sunart Highland Another of Scotland’s wonderful sea lochs is Loch Sunart which stretches west from Strontian on the Ardgour peninsula to Scotland’s most westerly point at Ardnamurchan. My own favourite method of travelling to Loch Sunart is by taking the very brief Corran Ferry journey which lies a few miles south of Fort William. Once across the Corran Narrows it is a short trip to the village of Strontian which sits beside Loch Sunart. Once in Strontian the famed Sunart Oakwoods can be explored, the ancient woodland home to an incredible display of wildflowers particularly during May and June. Continue west along Loch Sunart by single track road and the landscape becomes sparsely populated but the scenery is stunning and you may be fortunate enough to see otters, dolphins and if extremely lucky, the elusive sea eagle. On reaching Sanna Bay the views towards Rhum and Eigg are sumptuous.

Loch Linnhe Highland Loch Linnhe meanders its way south and west and has many significant points of interest along its length to visit. Fort William sits on its banks and from here there is a multitude of activities including climbing nearby Ben Nevis, although if you like your mountains a little bit quieter then the neighbouring range of the Mamores comprising of ten superb Munros can be climbed. Back down at Loch Linnhe the road travels south from Fort William along the shores of the loch and crosses the Ballachulish Bridge before striking west towards Oban. The drive here is spectacular and passes the distinctive Castle Stalker and into Port Appin and from here a short ferry ride crosses Loch Linnhe to Lismore (The Great Garden). Here you can enjoy the island’s hospitality as well a variety of walking and cycling opportunities either across or around the island – the views are quite simply stunning.

Loch Tay Perthshire Many of Scotland’s towns and villages have been established beside lochs and rivers. Loch Tay still has tangible evidence of settlements in the form of Crannogs which were dwellings built out on the loch dating back nearly 3000 years.

The Scottish Crannog Centre near Kenmore at the eastern end of Loch Tay is well worth a visit as you can see the authentic recreation of these ancient homes. Autumn is a fantastic time to visit Loch Tay as the colours along the banks and into nearby Glen Lyon are incredible. This is also fine hill-walking country with many exceptional mountains above Glen Lyon as well as Perthshire’s highest mountain, Ben Lawers, which at 3982 feet is Scotland’s 10th highest. At the western end of Loch Tay sits the small village of Killin, home to the spectacular Falls of Dochart which provides irrefutable evidence of the incredible power of water and the effect it has on a landscape.

Loch Tummel Perthshire Staying in Perthshire, a short distance from Loch Tay is beautiful Loch Tummel which steers its course through the equally beautiful Strath Tummel. Again an autumn visit here is highly recommended. The most celebrated view of Loch Tummel is from Queens View which was named after Queen Victoria visited here on her travels through the Highlands in 1866. She certainly had good taste as the vantage point is exceptional and looks right along Loch Tummel towards Schiehallion and onwards to the mighty peaks of Glencoe.

There is a variety of short walks in and around the loch whilst for cyclists a journey along the quieter southern shore is popular. Other places to visit nearby are the Killiecrankie Visitor Centre which details the natural history of the gorge and the famous battle that took place there whilst the attractive village of Pitlochry is home to many shops and restaurants as well as the impressive salmon fish ladder.

Loch Ness Inverness-shire Apparently Loch Ness holds more freshwater than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. I have also heard tales of a monster beneath its surface but have yet to take that elusive photograph (and the riches it would bring). However rather than spend time looking for something that probably isn’t there, Loch Ness has plenty to keep the visitor occupied.

High on the list is Urquhart Castle which stands near the village of Drumnadrochit. The impressive remains (or certainly the site of) date back to the 6th century and the visitor centre provides a fascinating insight to the castles history. At the southern end of Loch Ness is Fort Augustus and the Caledonian Canal which runs through the village. For the keen walker the Great Glen Way, a 73 mile long distance footpath running from Fort William to Inverness, follows the full length of Loch Ness providing possibly the best way to appreciate everything it has to offer.

Loch Shiel Highland Loch Shiel begins at Glenfinnan and ends some twenty miles later at Acharacle only a couple of miles short of the sea. Glenfinnan is obviously best known as to where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard to launch his rebellion in 1745 which ended in disaster at Culloden only a few months later. The Jacobite Monument at the northern end of the loch is a magnificent memorial which continues to attract visitors from all around the globe.

Recently visitors with different motives have flocked to the head of Loch Shiel as a scene in the first Harry Potter film utilised the magnificent Glenfinnan Viaduct and since then many have come to photograph and walk to the bridge.

However, to truly appreciate Loch Shiel it is only possible by boat and there are regular sailings to transport you along the loch to enjoy the stunning scenery and witness fantastic wildlife such as eagles and black throated divers.

Loch Duich Skye & Lochalsh Loch Duich holds a spectacular location with sumptuous views to the great mountains of Kintail and towards Skye, which lies only a few miles north, whilst the wonderful Eilean Donan Castle stands at the meeting point of Loch Duich, Loch Alsh and Loch Long. The original castle was built in the 13th century and played a major role when in the Battle of Glen Shiel it was occupied by Spanish troops. Today the castle, which stands near to the attractive village of Dornie, is a major visitor attraction and must be one of the most photographed buildings in Scotland and with good reason as it is a beautiful viewpoint. If you really want a spectacular view looking across Loch Duich and have strong nerves then take a trip up Mam Ratagan, a single track road with many hairpin bends on its ascent and at 1100 feet you probably won’t get out of second gear – however, the white knuckle ride to the top and the resultant view is worth the effort.