John Ross: Unashamed monster territory only true believers dare to tread

SO WHICH is better? Harry Hill would settle it his own way, but instead a fight over two rival visitor centres went to court for settlement.

The ''official'' Loch Ness centre is housed in an imposing structure built in 1892 alongside the Drumnadrochit Hotel on the main A82 Inverness-Fort William road. Outside a large plastic Nessie in the iconic dinosaur shape of legend peers into the car park from a large pond.

Inside (6.50 for adults, 18 for families) guests meander through a dark simulated cave, while naturalist Adrian Shine, the Loch Ness Project leader, meanders through 500 million years of history; the formation of the loch, its unique environment and how the monster legend grew up (with 17 language translations).

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The scientific approach rules out the possiblity of Loch Ness being an underwater Jurassic Park and Nessie being a plesiosaur like the iconic images - and much like the plastic model in the car park - and put in context of a mysterious place with "rare and unusual properties" which can "create monsters".

Using archive footage and photographs it takes visitors through some of the 1,000 "sightings", including the most famous image by London surgeon Robert Wilson, which was later shown to be a hoax.

Emerging from the fake cave, you are taken straight into a world of fake Nessies.

The cartoon image of a friendly, green dinosaur is emblazoned on t-shirts (5.00), hoodies (19.99), baby bibs, mugs, beenies, inflatables, china models, and dinosaur paint sets, alongside the ubiquitous tartan teddies, but also more 'serious' tourism trinkets such as Orkney jewellery, clan ties, tweed jackets and discounted kilts on sale for 150.

Along the road and the "original" centre also has a plastic green Nessie outside. Built off the main road, the newer and smaller buiding is harder to find than its rival, but visitors are lured by the signs proclaiming "We Believe in the Monster" and "Best Value Family ticket in the area" (5 for adults and 14 for families).

This is unashamedly monster territory.

A narrow, tartan-carpeted corridor displays a largely historic collection of photographs and drawings from St Columba's encounter with a crerature in 565 AD to the Nessie legend's later revival in the 1930s.

The historic trail leads to a 150-seat cinema and a loop film, presented by a kilted Gary Campbell, from the Loch Ness Monster Fan club, offering real-life accounts and close encounters (with seven language translations) Interestingly, Mr Shine's scientific work is mentioned.

From the dark cinema, you are directed into Nessie's Lair, or the gift shop as others recognise it. The cartoon image of a friendly, green dinosaur is emblazoned on t-shirts (5), baby bibs, china models, inflatables, key rings, beenies and mugs with Nessie's neck as the handle.