We are starting a well-known route around the top of Scotland called the North Coast 500. It starts in Inverness and follows 500 miles of coastal road in a grand loop to end back at the same place. As we round the bend close to Inverness, we take a mini detour to visit a lake.
This lake, or loch as it's known in Scottish, is the largest lake by volume in the British Isles. The Loch is called Ness.
You can probably guess why we're here. We're going monster hunting!
I've probably mentioned this before (once or six times). When I was a kid, I used to watch a show called, "In search of..." and one of the episodes was about the Loch Ness Monster. I've always wanted to go to Loch Ness and try to find the creature in the lake myself. And now we're here! A dream come true!!!
Loch Ness is not the largest lake in Scotland. At least by surface area. It is, however, the deepest. Which explains why it's the largest lake *by volume*. This makes it very easy for monsters to hide within its depths. It all makes so much sense. Despite reported sightings of the creature dating back to the 6th century, it wasn't until 1933 when a journalist published a first-handing sighting of a "pre-historic dragon with an animal in its mouth" that the popular media coined the term Loch Ness Monster.
Loch Ness is about 36 kms long. We slowly trundled down the road beside the loch, our eyes peeled on the surface, looking for any sign of a neck or a head or humps poking out of its blue waters. At its widest point the other side of the loch is only 2.5 kms away, so the chances of spotting "Nessie", the affectionate nickname of the Loch Ness Monster, was quite high.
Along the side of the road, there are lots of attractions and tours capitalizing on the popularity of Nessie
Still no sign of the Loch Ness monster. I was beginning to lose hope. It would be so disappointing to come all the way here and then leave empty-handed.
We popped into the Loch Ness Monster museum to get some tips on sightings.
This is probably the closest we're going to get to getting a photo with Nessie *sigh*
The museum had the most extensive collection of first-hand reports of sightings, including pictures and video. It also contained replicas of all the equipment used by monster-hunters, from simple diving equipment to high tech sonar and drones and submarines (!) sent deep into the depths of Loch Ness. And after all that time and money, still no conclusive evidence of a pre-historic creature frolicking in the murky depths of this Scottish lake.
I believe we can find the Loch Ness Monster.
I've perused through all the reputed pictures taken of the Loch Ness Monster and I've noticed that they all have one thing in common. They were all taken in poor conditions on very grainy film. It seemed like Nessie only liked to be photographed with high ISO settings and in black and white. Hmm...
We rode a bit further down the road where the museum had reported the most sightings of Nessie. Playing the odds, we stopped and pulled over and I fiddled with the settings on my high-tech DSLR camera...
It didn't take very long for Nessie to realize that the photography conditions were perfect for her to make an appearance!
Mission accomplished! Myth confirmed. The Loch Ness Monster actually exists!
Pleased with the success of our Loch Ness hunt, we rode further into the Scottish North
Even though it was still fairly early in the day, Gino and Fiona told us about a neat accommodation in Rogart which we wanted to check into early. Rogart is a tiny town a bit inland, about an hour and a half north of Loch Ness.
Behind Rogart train station are some old railway cars that have been converted into a hostel!
We got "First Class" tickets, which netted us our own private car
These are our sleeping quarters for the night. So cool!!!
The entrance to the main car for washrooms, showers and kitchen
Lots of neat little railway decorations all over the place
In the main car, there are also many rooms for more guests
Neda prepares our dinner in the kitchen car
Lounging around in the common area trying to get the blog up to date
It's such a neat place. We had so much fun exploring all the cars and hanging out in each section. We felt like little kids again! Well not really "again". I don't think we ever really grew up...
We've been passing so many sheep lately, we got a craving! Also, Neda used the national spice of the UK so we had curried lamb! Delicious!!!
Just by fluke, we've rented a roof over our heads and it starts raining! So glad we're not sleeping in a tent tonight!
Later in the evening, we heard the rumbling of a motorcycle and peeked outside to see a guy on a Harley and another guy in a car pull up. Dan and his cousin are from Stirling, which is somewhere between Edinburgh and Glasgow. They're exploring the area and are the only other guests at Rogart station this evening. They've brought beer with them and instantly they are our friends! :)
We spend the night drinking and talking in one of the lounge cars. Dan is planning to tour the US by motorcycle, so he rented this Harley to see what it would be like, because he said, "Don't they all ride Harleys in the USA?" That is true... they all do ride Harleys over there. LOL!
Since they're local guys, we get some more roads to add to our route around Scotland! I love chance encounters like these!
In the morning, Dan shows off his sweet rental: King of the Road!
Rogart Station is actually operational! The sleeper car is on an abandoned rail, but the main one still runs.
Dan and his cousin are on their way back south to Stirling, while we head further north. Another great day for riding!
Riding up the north-eastern coast of The 500
The towns and villages are fairly sparse up here, but we can see some neat buildings from the road
There is virtually no traffic this far north. And the weather is holding up for us, which is awesome!
More north-eastern coast scenery
And then, we're at John O'Groats! The very northern tip of Scotland!!!
These markers are so popular with overlanders, because they're always obsessed with getting to the extreme ends of the land. You can find so many pictures online of people in front of the Prudhoe Bay General Store in Deadhorse, Alaska. Also, the big wooden Bahia Lapataia sign in Ushuaia, Argentina. The globe at Nordkapp, Norway. And then this one, the John O'Groats cross-roads sign.
John O'Groats is one end of the End-To-Enders route. The other end is Land's End at the southern tip in Cornwall
We asked a guy to take a picture of us in front of this sign. He replied, "Sure, just hold my dog for a sec..." :)
There's a lot of marketing and merchandising around traveling from one end of the UK to the other end. There are completion certificates you can buy online, provided that you show adequate proof of the 823 mile journey. Hence all the pictures. There are also competitions to see who can travel the fastest end-to-end. So far the record is held by a Harrier jet which made the flight in 49 minutes. This is not a record we are interested in breaking...
This guy did the trip entirely on foot. He left Land's End over four months ago! His family greeted him at John O'Groats to congratulate him!
He was probably clean-shaven when he first started off... So was I when we left in 2012 and I haven't shaved since then either. Still working on my own epic beard...
The Inn, a hotel at John O'Groats. Every one takes pictures of these coloured buildings when they're up here.
There's some cool scenery just a couple of kms outside of John O'Groats
A short hiking trail leads to Duncansby Head
Birds make their home on the cliff walls at Duncansby Head
The Stacks of Duncanby - unusual because they're so pyramidal in shape
More traditional-looking stacks at Duncanby
Enjoying an unusually clear day at the very northern tip of Scotland!
Brave Neda dangling her feet hundreds of feet above the waters of the North Sea
We round the top of Scotland and head west along the northern coastline. We're now about 150 miles into The 500.
Back to camping just outside the town of Thurso
What will the next 350 miles bring?