She said it would be a relaxing stroll around Loch Ness Lake. “Easy-peasy,” she said. “No poles necessary.” There would be an impressive 24-mile-long lake with spectacular views, cute B&B’s, hearty Scottish food, quaint villages, fields of highland cows, and cool weather. She was right about everything but one.
The journey around Loch Ness Lake is no beginner hike. I’ve done a fourteener in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, hiked the Milford Track and Routeburn Track in New Zealand, and done extensive hiking in the mountains around Tucson. I’m an experienced hiker and a former long-distance runner, and the Loch Ness 360 is no easy-peasy hike. I’m talking steep elevation gains and switchbacks that never end. I can’t believe she did it. She did not train AT ALL.
By “she” I’m referring to my daughter—also my best friend—and intrepid cryptid hunter, the one and only Dr. Daisy. Have you seen her videos on YouTube? She has a Facebook page and a website, all under the name “Cryptozoology with Dr. Daisy.” She has a lot of fun with her cryptid hunting, and her audience does too. She just started doing this and already she has 500 followers.
Daisy’s unique background allows her to create fun content. She has advanced science degrees, a high school background in musical theatre, and a bunch of experience teaching kids and adults. I’m unbelievably impressed with her tenacity on the Loch Ness 360. The complete hike was almost 80 miles, but let’s not forget the real purpose here. We were on the hunt for the most famous cryptid in the world, or at least a theory about all the Nessie stories.
The Loch Ness monster is big business in this area of Scotland, and the shops and businesses really play it up.
We started out on the Loch Ness South Trail, at Inverness in the highlands of Scotland. After a night in an uncomfortable hotel (more about this later), we walked an easy 10 miles—first to the Tesco Supermarket for lunch items, and then to Dores where we got our first glimpse of Loch Ness. Hello? Nessie? Are you there? Our first stop was a small shop with gorgeous local items and a chatty sales lady. I bought Daisy a hand-crocheted Nessie, made by the elderly lady down the road in the village.
Walking down to the shore of the Loch, we dipped our hands in as we scanned the water for Nessie. Not too cold. We ate an early dinner at the charming Dores Inn. A veggie pie with gravy is the absolute best after a day of hiking; Daisy chose fish n’ chips but regretted it later. Our B&B was on a small hill overlooking the village. We were delighted to see that our luggage had indeed been transported ahead of us and was waiting in the room; this service continued to be reliable during our entire trip.
“It’s supposed to rain tomorrow,” Daisy told me. She continued to repeat this almost daily, but my reply was always the same. “Nope. People tell me I’m good luck when they hike with me. It won’t rain.” And it really didn’t, for all our hiking days.
Off we went to Foyers on a supposed 13-mile hike that turned into 16 due to forestry clearcutting. The Lorax would not have been pleased about the shocking amount of tree-felling all around the Loch. My only consolation was that most of the trees were introduced (lots of Douglas firs). The beautiful Scots pine—the national tree and the only pine native to Scotland—has played a unique part in the Caledonian forest. Ever hear the term keystone species? I don’t believe there are many left on this trail, but then I confuse my conifers. Any botanists out there who’d like to comment? I wish I’d had this tree identification with me.
This was a day of wildly varying landscapes: meadows full of reddish-pink lupins, riparian areas, sheep grazing, hills and flat areas, forests and bare areas, and a wonderful silence devoid of people. It was a challenging day of hiking, and my knees had had enough of it without my poles. Daisy found me the perfect walking stick, which I promptly named “Sticky,” and it stayed with me for the entire hike. Daisy didn’t pick up her own stick until a few days later.
We ended at the darling Craigdarroch Hotel for dinner. Yes, we had drinks. And appetizers. And a few more drinks. Then we walked to our B&B.
We nicknamed our B&B the “rule house” due to the profusion of posted, somewhat odd, regulations. After a big Scottish breakfast, we headed down the road, stopping at a tea shop to watch fuzzy highland cows.
We soon realized we were going the wrong way. Turning around, we headed back into Foyers. “Wait,” Daisy said, looking at her map. “This isn’t right either.”
Determined not to act like men who won’t ask for directions, we inquired from the woman sweeping the entrance to the post office. Like all the Scots, she was chatty and sweet, asking us where we had been staying. Smiling, she told us the trail head was in the side yard of our B&B. We walked back and were quite embarrassed when the proprietor ran outside to ask if we were ok. We waved and called out that we’d been a bit disoriented, but now we were fine. It was almost 10:30 am and we had to make 15 miles to Ft. Augustus (our half-way point). This was, for several reasons, the toughest day of the entire hike.
It started out innocently enough—around the river, over the meadow, and through the woods, to Ft. Augustus we will go. But . . . the wind. The elevation gains. The steep trails. Did I mention the wind? It had been blowing fiercely since Day 2, but today it was insane. I was silently cursing by mile 13 that if I went over one more hill only to see one more hill, I was going to scream. Of course, no one would have heard me with THAT WIND.
While I was complaining bitterly about the logistics of peeing with hurricane force winds, Daisy was lamenting about not seeing the Loch as we’d veered quite far away. “How can I look for Nessie?” she joked as she continued to hike forward—not at a fast pace, but at a steady one.
Finally at around 3 in the afternoon, we searched, somewhat unsuccessfully, for a sheltered area to eat lunch. Exposed on this high, barren mountaintop that felt like we were on another planet, we searched the horizon for the Loch. One more hill? Two more hills? The “Twilight Zone” of hills? The wind was howling, but we managed to smile at each other through bites of sandwiches and Cadbury bars. Life always seems brighter with a bit of chocolate. Finally determined to find a good peeing spot, I stood up and saw him. It was a gorgeous red deer on the empty hillside, looking at us as if to say, “Wind? What wind?”
We limped into Ft. Augustus after walking through beautiful meadows full of sheep. Yes, we had conversations with them, and some were quite chatty. I left Sticky by a tree, and we ate at an outside table on the shores of Loch Ness at The Boathouse Restaurant. If you’re a South Park fan, you’ll appreciate Daisy’s offering of “tree fiddy” to Nessie.
We talked about the next day—a rest day—and our two boat rides on the Loch. We’d made it to the half-way point! The South Loch Ness Trail was completed, and we’d soon be picking up The Great Glen Way Trail. Go, us!
Our hotel—The Lovat Hotel—was our favorite of the trip. We had a bathroom so big you could hold a party in it. And really, shouldn’t we have had one to celebrate making it half-way? Sticky had his own private courtyard, and we were able to send out every piece of dirty clothing to be laundered for only 10 pounds.
The folks all over town were friendly, and Liam, our guide on the high-speed boat ride, was adorbs. Daisy and he discussed various Nessie theories, and yes, I was watching for that most famous of cryptids. Later that day we went on a slow-speed boat. No Nessie yet. But there were a fair number of tourists. Up until this point we’d seen few people, and felt we had the Scottish Highlands to ourselves.
After a gigantic breakfast, we started off on the Great Glen Way. That eggy bread, fried eggs, and Scottish porridge stayed with me until the early afternoon. Best. Breakfast. Ever. Daisy is not a vegetarian like me and said the bacon and sausage were both excellent. And of course, there’s the traditional loaf of toast and little pots of jam.
We noticed it immediately. Hardly any wind! Woo hoo! It was an easier hike, only 8 miles, and we ended the day in Invermoriston. We took the low route so we could Nessie spot. This, finally, was the easy-peasy stroll I’d been promised. We were so early that we went to a waterfall, played around in a cool little house overlooking the falls, and watched some crazy people swimming. We lounged around a picnic table in front of the Glen Rowan Café, which had surprisingly good food and the nicest servers I’ve ever encountered.
The Bracarina House B&B was comfortable, but our room faced a surprisingly busy, noisy road. A fan would have helped with the noise and the stuffiness. A loud American woman across the hall was dubbed by us “Summa cum Loudy” for her booming conversations with her husband and the other couple traveling with them. We ate a tasty lasagna dinner at the B&B and the owner packed us lunches for the next day.
The two American couples decided to take a taxi to the next town, rather than hiking. Were we privately gloating a bit? Sure we were.
Go, us, for hiking 15 miles today! The trail on this side of the Loch was definitely easier. No wind, but at the end of the day we were wishing for it. Instead of wind, we picked up swarms of midges. I hate them! Nasty, biting, little monsters! We hiked the high route today and took photos at the highest point on the Great Glen Way, next to an interesting sculpture.
We ended at Drumnadrochit in a horrid hotel. I knew as we walked up to the building that it was going to be awful, and we were booked here for three nights. Walking to Inverness from Drumnadrochit would have been around 22 miles, so a shuttle would pick us up tomorrow and drop us off about halfway. Then we would hike back to Drumnadrochit. The next day would be a free day to explore the town, and then the shuttle would drop us at the same point the following day and we’d complete the hike by walking back to Inverness. There was nowhere to stay between here and Inverness. Some hikers set up camp, but have you ever discussed camping with Daisy? Nope.
Anyway, back to the hotel . . . It was dark, musty, dirty, and the lock on our door didn’t work. We left two questionable guys to fix it and left for a delightful dinner at the Loch Ness Inn Restaurant. I admit to drinking a bit too much wine, but then, perhaps that giant glass kept me from overreacting when, shortly after getting into bed, Daisy turned the light on and began stripping her bed. “My skin is crawling,” was her response.
In the morning she emailed Absolute Escapes, the company that had booked all our accommodations and arranged luggage transport (we only had to carry our day packs). Within 40 minutes they had us transferred for the next two nights to another place. The receptionist/server/cook at the Benleva Hotel (do NOT stay here!) was speaking to Absolute Escapes as we tried to turn in the key (that lock still didn’t work properly and someone tried to get in our room in the middle of the night). Ending the call, she asked us how they could improve. Where to start? Burn it down and build a new hotel? Or simply don hazmat suits and clean for a month? Instead, I explained our concerns as nicely as possible, because our luggage was hostage until the service picked it up. Looking down and to the side, she said, “What’s a bedbug?”
What, indeed. We saw the shuttle waiting outside and left as quickly as possible, waving goodbye to our bags that sat unattended near the door.
The hike back to town was downhill, and as we passed a couple exhausted hikers going the other way, we realized we’d made a good choice not to attempt 22 miles straight on into Inverness. Uphill. One athletic guy with a gigantic pack, puffing up the hill as we were casually going down, asked us if the trail got easier. Daisy told him she thought it did. After he’d gone, I asked her if we could have done what he was doing. Daisy didn’t answer, but I know the answer. Yes, we would have done it. I’ve seen that look of determination on her face since she was a kid. I secretly smiled about the extra money I’d thrown into my pack at the last minute, in anticipation of hiring a taxi because we couldn’t do the hike. I realized I wouldn’t need it.
The hillsides were covered in carpets of bright green shamrocks. We stopped quite a few times to search for lucky 4-leaf clovers. We didn’t find any, but then, we didn’t need any.
Returning, we had an excellent pizza at “The Italian Job,” a restaurant loudly run by several friendly Italians. That evening we sank into big, soft, fluffy, clean beds at the Balmridge B&B. Our bright and spotlessly clean room was a welcome relief, and we thanked the wonderful owners Jane and James for taking us in.
Our day in Drumnadrochit was loads of fun—cafes, the Nessie Exhibition Center, and a “monster adventure” called Nessyland. You’ve got to watch Daisy’s hysterically funny video on this hot mess called Nessyland. But the 4 pounds each was well worth the price of the laughs it gave us. Honestly, Nessyland is now the Gold Standard of silly tourist traps. There were Nessie eggs. Really. Eggs. And it looked as though one had hatched.
In the afternoon we decided to be lazy, and we took a bus to Urquhart Castle, rather than walking.
Daisy recorded a video at the castle, so check it out. The day was filled with Nessie hunting, laughter, nice weather, and good food. We happily ended the day at the Balmridge House in our “fluffy cloud beds.” This magical B&B sits at the end of a quiet residential road, with stunning views of the Loch. We already miss Jane and James and highly recommend this darling place!
The shuttle driver dropped us back at Abriachan where we’d hiked backward from the day before. Our last day was not difficult, but it was a tiny bit sad. We reminisced all day about our adventures and our accomplishment, even though we failed to see Nessie. Shouldn’t there have been confetti and a band when we returned to Inverness? Instead, I bought Daisy ice cream at a food truck near a park. We left our sticks by a Great Glen Way marker, on the outskirts of Inverness. Perhaps another hiker will find and use them. We wrote our email addresses on them. Bye, Sticky!
We made it back to Inverness in time for dinner at a superb Indian restaurant called “Tiger on the Wall” along the River Ness, and we high-fived each other. I was a bit angry that we ended up at the same hotel we’d started off from—the Glen Mhor Hotel—in the same dirty room with the same beds that had sinkholes in the middle. Daisy offered to take the worst of the two. Mostly, it was the rude receptionists that took us aback. In a country full of warm and friendly people, where did they find these women? Hey, Glen Mhor, read my TripAdvisor review!
We spent the day sightseeing in Inverness (you must check out the Leaky Bookstore), having drinks, visiting a battlefield where we saw more “heiland coo,” and enjoying ourselves. That evening we took the overnight train—the Caledonian Sleeper—to London. Watch my blog for a story about the heat wave in London and climate change.
A Few Weeks Later
Back home in Arizona, as I was unpacking, I found the extra $100 I’d put in my bag for a taxi. I thought it only fitting that I send it to Daisy. I miss her already.