I don’t know if you remember but we recently had a ball going on the hunt for Nessie with Jacobite Cruises, stylishly accommodated at the modern self-catering Highland Apartments in Inverness. We were having fun.
Loch Ness is synonymous with Nessie. It can be a bit of a gimmick, and whilst some people take the monster desperately seriously most of us don’t really expect to ever find her. It’s a bit of harmless fun.
After our fruitless search for Nessie on the water we visited the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, in some ways expecting tall tales of cute monsters, but to its credit this exhibition is not like that at all.
Loch Ness is a vast stretch of water, its Urquhart Castle has experienced conflict and violence at the heart of the Jacobite uprising, the loch’s a site of human experiment and endeavour, and it’s home to a wide array of wildlife and birds. Nessie is just one side of the Loch Ness coin. This centre takes Loch Ness seriously, and gives this site (Britain’s largest volume of freshwater) the respect it deserves.
In reception you discover the tale of Lloyd Scott MBE who holds the world record for the first underwater marathon. Yip, he spent twelve days underwater raising money for children with leukaemia. Visitors can see the suit he wore in what must have been an enduring and challenging experience.
Guests dine in Cobbs Cafe. Named after John Cobb who died on Loch Ness in 1952 attempting to break the world water speed record. He reached speeds of over 200mph. Another unexpected tale to emerge from the depths.
And then what of Nessie herself? This exhibition takes her seriously. I’m not saying that it claims there is definitely a monster living and breathing in the loch, but what it does do is chart on a timeline key eye-witness accounts, including film interviews and quotes. In historical detail the centre covers the key exploratory trips to find her, what and who was involved, in the same way you might chart a trip to the Antarctic. This is the history of the loch, from the man who slept in a mobile home for decades dedicating his life to the hunt, or to those who ventured out with sonar and science at their behest to find the monster.
The exhibition also covers what type of animal Nessie could be – from a pleisosaur type creature to a sea-serpent. The centre puts the hunt for Nessie in a clear historical context, from early claims of sightings to the present day – even Columba’s scribe speaks of a creature being spotted in the deep. Importantly it doesn’t judge the expeditions or eye-witnesses, it doesn’t suggest they are to be believed, equally it doesn’t dismiss their efforts or statements as nonsense. It’s neutral in the way that the historical gathering of information should be. If you believe it, great, if you think it’s hogwash that’s equally valid.
The presentation style of the information boards and films was a little dry and didn’t hold the attention of my very young children, but for adults and older kids who can read, sit quietly and listen to a film, and who actually want to learn more about what’s happening in that dark, atmospheric loch it’s an educational trip that gave me a lot of new found respect for the world famous Loch Ness.
On a lighter note the centre’s toy shop was stuffed with colourful Nessie gifts, tapping into the ‘fun’ side of Loch Ness. Its small garden is also really pleasant on a sunny day: we sat reading newly acquired Nessie books and playing with our new Nessie toys in the good weather. When the sun shines in Scotland a lochside garden is a pretty good place to frolic. I’m sure Nessie would agree.
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