In the Scottish Highlands, sightings of the elusive Loch Ness Monster, affectionately called "Nessie," have captivated locals and travelers alike since the 1930s. The mystery continues to draw visitors to the deep misty lake in this historic region of Scotland. "It's comes down to luck," says Gary Campbell, president of the Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club. "There are over 300,000 visitors each year and only 1 to 2 bona fide sightings." These odds encourage new and returning visitors to try to document a legitimate run-in with Nessie. "Pretty much everyone carries a cell phone or camera so they can snap what they see," says Campbell. Set out with a digital camera and the spirit of the hunt, and you too might have Nessie tales to tell.
The Legend of "Nessie"
Though stories of a mysterious lake monster date back to the 7th century, they didn't become mainstream until 1933 when a London man claimed to have seen a prehistoric beast on the Loch Ness shores. Locals came out of the woodwork with additional claims of their own. Soon, legend of the "Loch Ness Monster captivated the world, with hordes of people arriving to photograph the lake in the hopes of a monster sighting. Formal investigations ensued, such as the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Board, a UK-based society that organized its members to watch the lake from different vantage points armed with cameras, and "Operation Deepscan," a 1987 venture that included 24 sonar-equipped boats that scanned the lake floor. Still, the investigations yielded no definitive evidence. Today, visitors to the lake continue to investigate on their own.
The Loch Ness Skinny
So you're ready to find Nessie? To reach Loch Ness, fly into the nearby town of Inverness, the Scottish Highlands' largest town with an airport. The Inverness train station also lies in the center of town and has direct connections to Edinburgh, Glasgow and London, in case you travel in from these alternate cities. From Inverness, rent a car to drive the 5 miles to Loch Ness, or hop aboard a boat for one of the many tours offered of the loch. Accommodations are plentiful (check Visit Scotland for a complete listing), so you can be well-rested for your search.
Nearby Sights and Activities
The Loch Ness region has no shortage of monster-related attractions. Start with a visit to the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre, where photo and video presentations provide an in-depth history of the loch. The multimedia exhibit "Scotland's Journey" explains how the geology of the Scottish loch's unusually flat and smooth sedimentary rock floor could support a creature such as Nessie. "Legend and Eyewitness," another multimedia exhibit, introduces visitors to the stories, photos and videos that claim to prove the monster's existence. Both exhibits include real and fake images. See if you can tell the difference.
Families with small children can enjoy a monster meetup at Nessie Land, an exhibit and playground with informational displays detailing the legend of the Loch Ness Monster. The big win for the kids is Nessieland Castle, a large play area with multiple 2-story wooden playhouses displaying pretend painted images of Nessie eating meals and sleeping. Slides and ropes lead to Nessie's Lair, the playhouse Nessie calls home, where lucky little ones just might encounter the monster -- or at least a big, green statue of her.
Loch Ness Tours & Cruises
The best way to seek out Nessie is on the loch, of course. Deepscan Passenger Cruises conveniently runs from the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre. Trips on the boat explore the lake shores, surrounding valleys and Urquhart Castle, the ruins of a 13th-century structure which, legends says, is Nessie's home base. Another tour company, Jacobite Cruises, offers a convenient pick-up at 3 points in Inverness city center, and explores the lake's deepest point, which measures 755 feet deep. The grand 6 1/2-hour "Passion Tour" includes a visit to Caledonian Canal, which connects Scotland's east and west coasts to Loch Ness. You never know when Nessie may get a case of wanderlust; keep your eyes open on the canal, too!
Scotland's beloved Nessie may be a slippery, sneaky creature who rarely deigns to appear before her many admirers' clicking cameras. Still, a visit to her lakeside lair will entertain hardcore monster hunters and curious souls alike, just as Loch Ness's verdant environs only lend to the magic of the chase.