Travel: Delve into a legendary landscape

Urquhart Castle commands great views of Loch Ness and can be found beside the village of Drumnadrochit.
Urquhart Castle commands great views of Loch Ness and can be found beside the village of Drumnadrochit.

Some say it is of prehistoric interest, others say a giant sturgeon, but whatever the truth behind the elusive Loch Ness Monster, it has attracted thousands of visitors to the Scottish Highlands for decades.

The centuries-old legend is so popular in fact that a global team of scientists are now hoping to reveal what really lives in the loch’s waters by sending samples of the loch to labs in New Zealand, Australia, Denmark and France for testing, with findings to be announced next year.

The first sighting of Nessie dates back to 565 and since, there have been more than 1,000 recorded sightings of the mythical creature as well as many stories and films, all keeping the legend of Loch Ness alive.

Stretching 23 miles long and 700ft deep, the loch is Scotland’s largest and sits between Loch Dochfour and the picturesque village of Fort Augustus, which is on the popular Great Glen Way walking route.

The ideal base from which to explore this scenic setting is Inverness, in the heart of the Highlands.

The small city offers more than its size might suggest with more than 60 shops in the Eastgate Shopping Centre and historic buildings throughout its old town, including Inverness Castle, built in 1836 on the site of a former 11th-century fort.

Inverness Castle Viewpoint, the city’s newest attraction, offers 360-degree views across the Highland capital and is close to cosy pubs and restaurants.

The city is a gateway to the north of Scotland and one of the best ways to explore it is by road.

There is no road trip more spectacular than Scotland’s answer to Route 66, the North Coast 500. The 500-mile loop starts and finishes at Inverness and includes some of the country’s most breathtaking views.

It winds up the West Coast past the Applecross peninsula to Ullapool and the most northerly town on Scotland’s mainland, Thurso, before returning down the East Coast to Inverness.

The best time to explore the area is during the summer when there are numerous events taking place.

Dornoch is less than an hour’s drive from Inverness and with a world-class golf course and sandy beach, it is the ideal spot to visit on a sunny summer afternoon. Between June and September, every Saturday there is a pipe band parade through the town followed by Highland dancing.

In July, the nearby village of Tain will host its 26th annual Highland Gathering at the Glenmorangie Field for a day of Highland sports including track and field events, caber tossing, Highland dancing and piping.

In August, the Black Isle Show – the largest agricultural show in the north – takes place and includes horse shows, livestock parades, trade stands and food and craft fairs.

While there, it is worth travelling across the peninsula to the gorgeous beaches of Rosemarkie.