Although famous the obscure and cryptomythical monster that has spawned a number of movies and continues to this day to excite the imagination, the popularity of Loch Ness often overshadows the accessibility – and beauty – of the multitude of other lochs that dot the Scottish highlands.
Quickly vying for its chance in the limelight, Loch Lomond is not only the biggest loch in Scotland, but it’s the biggest inland source of fresh-water. It is now also a part of the Trossachs National Park, the first of its kind in Scotland. The deep cool waters offer a placid and riveting vantage of slowly tapering hills and surrounding mountains, and is also scored with several islands – of these, Inchmurrin is the largest inland island in the British Isles. Aside from scenery, Lomond also offers a number of leisure activities, including a continuous cycle path that skirts the shoreline (just be sure to check the weather before heading out).
For hikers, the more than 30,000 different lochs that pepper Scotland may seem a bit daunting, however there are a few that are continually favored by outdoor enthusiasts. Loch Arkaig, although only twelve miles long, is hedged on either side by mountains and glens that seem to have jumped straight from the pages of Tolkien, and produce some of the most staggering sunsets in Scotland. To the north the mountains of Lochaber are a popular (although not for the faint of heart) locale for hikers eager to meet the explosion of colors that heralds each sunrise.
For the less extreme traveler, Loch Awe near Argyll and Bute is an out-of-the-way locale with a small fishing community that rarely sees tourists stay for long, which is a shame. The idyllic shoreline is the definition of pastoral, and is also inhabited by several species of trout. As a result, sport fishing has produced a small tourist market, and for the avid angler this is an ideal getaway. More than that, Loch Awe is also the site of several oft-overlooked castles, including Kilchurn Castle – they may not be as impressive as some of the more complete and well-maintained fortresses near Dublin, but there is a quiet almost haunting charm to visiting these ruins, especially since they see so few tourists.
For history buffs, a quick visit to Loch Katrine is indispensable – although the loch has few activities associated with it, it does contain one of the oldest steamships in Scotland, the indefatigable Sir Walter Scott with more than a hundred years to her name. Although once situated on Loch Lomond, its journey to Loch Katrine is almost as impressive as the renovations that have turned it into a luxury class ferry that caters to cyclists, backpackers, and fresh-from-the-city weekenders on vacation.
For those truly willing to explore the side of Scotland that few tourists get the chance to see, a circuit of the lochs offers an unforgettable experience, and a privileged glimpse into a culture that is as rooted in tradition as it is in a sense of place.