Saturday, 24 September 2011
And then I’m on the road again, driving along the north shore of the fabled Loch Ness, lake of myth and mystery; until now nothing but a name tag on the map, but about to assume a concrete shape. On this road trip, it is the only place of which I have some knowledge and a certain amount of anticipation – and indeed, who doesn’t?
But first, a visit to the ruin of Urquhart Castle. I learn about its bloody history and admire its superb setting, for it towers high on rocks above the only spur of land jutting out and piercing the side of Loch Ness, a body of water as long, grey and narrow as a sliver of slate. From here you can see a long way up and down the lake, and the wind whistles past your ears.
A visit to the Nessie Centre in Drumnadrochit is of course essential. It is housed in the burnt-out building of a former hotel that served as the base of many expeditions and projects as they went about probing the secrets of this lake. In a series of hushed, dark and ceilingless rooms, groups of visitors are led through the history of the Nessie myth and the scientific exploration of the enigmatic loch. A great measure of thought and effort has been put into this exhibition to make it interesting and informative. The story is imaginatively presented with projections of images and film, and one resurfaces having understood a good deal.
I learn about the discovery of the thermocline, that energetic layer below the lake’s surface where warm (upper) and cold (lower) water meet and move daily in measurable rhythms, influenced by the fluctuating temperature in the natural wind channel of this valley. The strong undercurrent this thermocline creates is able to transport a floating log, for example, against the direction of the wind, making it look as if it were an animal moving of its own volition. It is also explained that the waters of Loch Ness are poor in nutrients and only able to support a relatively small number of fish. Certainly not enough to feed a monster, whatever its nature. And because the lake’s basin consists of hard, insoluble Moine schist, there are no caverns or tunnels under water for anything to hide in, thus escaping all the thorough investigations, as some have surmised.
So – no Nessie! Except of course in the gift shop, where monstrous creatures in fleece, putty and plastic perpetuate the fantasy.
Fascinated by the picture presented here in such a lucid manner, I leave the place thinking that although this lake is certainly mysterious, the way in which intelligent investigations made sense of its natural phenomena is even more compelling than the ancient myth.
Rather tired by now, I am keen to find somewhere to stay. A detour into the hills brings me to the door of a lovely ‘Organic B&B’ overlooking the loch. I am very taken with the place and its friendly hosts, the flowers and the gorgeous view, but £75 a night is too steep for my budget and I continue my search along the scenic shoreline. I arrive in Inverness in the early evening and find the streets lined with plenty of pleasant B&Bs, rather more affordable at only half that price. I check into one of them and then walk into town to have a look at the well-preserved castle, the Fiona MacDonald monument and the River Ness …
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