We recently nipped up to Loch Ness with the sole objective of looking for Nessie. I’ve never seen my kid more excited about a weekend break in Scotland before, talk about a way to get a child involved.
I’d looked at different cruises, of differing durations, with different departure points, involving different activities and hit upon Jacobite Cruises ‘Freedom’ tour which on paper sounded about right for a young family.
The reasons I went for this tour may well apply to you too. Firstly it was relatively close to our accommodation in central Inverness, secondly the outward sail was thirty minutes (not too long for impatient youngsters), we’d be dropped off at Urquhart Castle for an hour (entry to the castle was included in the price and an hour sounded an ideal duration to spend on site), then a return thirty minute sail back to harbour. The catamaran had sonar (hey, we were taking this Nessie hunt seriously) and a small onboard cafe and toilets. Most of my requirements seemed to be ticked.
The night before we’d stayed at the rather fabulous self-catering Highland Apartments in the heart of Inverness and our cruise, departing at the civilised hour of 11.00am, was a fifteen minute drive down the west coast of the loch.
Arriving at Clansman Harbour a giant Nessie statue greeted the boys who instantly clambered on its back despite signs to contrary. We dragged them off much as they fought us tooth and claw. I’d like to find any child that doesn’t instinctively climb on the statue’s back. Collecting our tickets from the office the boys were given little blue Nessie bags with activity kits inside which was a lovely surprise. They helped pass the time waiting for the catamaran to arrive as we were admittedly really early as I was anxious about missing the boat.
As the Jacobite Warrior docked passengers could choose between outdoor or indoor seating. Inside we got a booth to ourselves and the tots’ eyes were glued to the water looking for the terrifying Nessie. I’d forgotten how staggering the scenery of Loch Ness is, but I never thought the little ones would have their faces pressed to the window for most of the journey too – that’s the magic of Nessie hunting. Us adults grabbed a coffee from the bar – caffeine fix sorted – and we gave the boys some crumpled Mini Cheddars that had got crushed in our rucksack for ‘snack time’.
Mr Tot Snr went out to the bow of the ship and clung onto the railing for dear life as the wind blew the cheeks off him. He continued his search for the monster and saw the castle come into view. Sitting on a promontory of Loch Ness the ruined Urquhart Castle is an impressive, ominous sight.
As we disembarked our tribe headed straight for the castle’s Grant Tower. Though Urquhart Castle is rich in military and social history involving clan feuds and Jacobite intrigue, we admittedly just climbed the tower to look for the monster. A rather ostentatious vantage point I grant you. Once at the top the views of the loch go on for miles. It was at this point that Mr Tot Snr admitted that he’d probably never see Nessie – he’d been looking for 45 minutes solid which in preschooler years is FOREVER! I thought the tears would start, and I’d ruin my kid’s life pursuing a random monster, but children can surprise you. Mr Tot Snr still believed in Nessie but somehow got his head round the fact he wouldn’t actually see her (a bit like a certain festive bearded chap perhaps?).
We wandered up to the castle’s modern visitor centre which has a cafe, shop and toilets. The route to which passes a gigantic trebuchet (stone throwing machine) which the tots loved and probably would have put into action given half the chance.
We sailed back in the sunshine, weary and sleepy from the loch air, arriving back at harbour just after 1pm. We went on to grab a casual lunch at the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition Cobb’s Cafe, just five minutes drive away. I think the Jacobite Cruise was a great trip for all ages, but the timeframe worked really well for mini tourists. We didn’t see Nessie but we had fun trying.
To read my article about Nessie Hunting in The Telegraph click here.
THE LOWDOWN – We drove just over two hours from Aberdeen to Inverness, staying at the Highland Apartments by Mansley. Inverness is well served by rail and bus, and has its own airport. Other cruises depart closer to the city but the Freedom tour fits our needs the most closely. For prices and tours click here, children under 5 were free.
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