I briefly mentioned our trips to Loch Ness and Hermaness in, “Top Picks of Scotland” but that was only a glimpse at our adventure looking for Nessie. Without further ado, here are the highlights of our last couple of weeks in Scotland!
Our last days in Unst were busy at the hotel. During the day we helped with renovating The Hilltop bar on Yell or cleaning in the hotel, with the occasional evening of a casual drink (or two, three, four…) in Springers bar. One of my favourite things we saw with the last of our time on Unst will delight the nature lovers out there, the Hermaness Nature Reserve!
The hike is a bit tough and swampy at times, but it’s so worth it. You can walk along feet-tingling cliffs overlooking the North Sea and even see the lighthouse on Muckle Flugga (where you can actually stay the night if you want!). The real highlight though are the incredible bird colonies that nest along the cliff faces. At this time of year only the gannets have begun to arrive, but later this spring and summer the reserve will see thousands of fulmars, gulls, shags, puffins and kittiwakes. It’s an absolutely awe-inspiring sight, and this early in the season the smell hasn’t had a chance to get too bad either.
Eventually, it came time for us to bid our home on Unst farewell and carry on our journey. We may or may not have been pretty hung over the day of our leaving, who can say, but for whatever reason the journey south to Lerwick was pretty brutal.
Throughout our stay on Unst we had marvelled at what people had left behind through the ages (castles, longhouses, standing stones), and we saved the best for last. Jarlshof represents 4000 years of human history, settled first in the Bronze Age with small oval houses (though pottery dating to the Neolithic era has been found) it has changed hands again and again up to the most recent occupation in the 17th century by the 2nd Earl of Orkey, Patrick Stewart who owned the fortified house (now a ruin) which is the most prominent feature on the site.
After spending the afternoon at Jarlshof and in Lerwick, we hopped aboard our ferry bound for the Scottish mainland. To our delight, we had the smoothest ride from Lerwick to Aberdeen that the ferry has probably ever seen. We hit the ground running when we docked in Aberdeen, we had buses to catch, places to be… And a sea monster to find.
We got out in Drumnadrochit filled with nervous excitement. It was an adorable little town, and home to the two main Loch Ness exhibitions (museums? Galleries? Testaments to all things Nessie?), The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition and Nessieland. While we didn’t go inside either of these very scientific looking establishments, we did take some time to assess our adversary.
Hiking up along the highway, we were surprised to stumble across the beautiful ruin of Urquhart castle, once one of Scotland’s largest castles and fairly overshadowed by the local monster hype.
We decided that the shoreline between the castle and Drumnadrochit would be the perfect spot to set up for the night. We set up our tent, built a small fire, and waited for night to fall… And the monster to emerge!
We felt brave enough to test out the water, but it was freezing cold so no swimming for us. At least we had a nice camp fire to keep us warm. Despite our pleading, bribery, and general good-naturedness, Nessie wouldn’t get too close. She gave us tantalizing glimpses and whispered to us in our tent that night, but kept her distance.
Maybe that’s for the best in the end. Loch Ness gives you an eerie feeling, its misty waters invites your imagination to run wild. If she lets you in on her secret, why would you hang around any more? But if she holds on to her mystery, there is a good chance you’ll be back to visit her again.