South Loch Ness

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South Loch Ness

The southern part of Loch Ness is dominated by the small town of Fort Augustus. Some 33 miles from Inverness and the same from Fort William, the village has been a natural staging post for many years. Although it now seems somewhat distant from the large towns in the region, at one time it was linked by rail to Fort William, by steamer to Inverness, and by General Wade's military roads over the surrounding hills to Glen Moriston and Strathspey.

A settlement has existed on this site for many hundreds of years, but it is only since the early 18th century that it has been known as Fort Augustus, renamed after the Duke of Cumberland. Previously it was known as Kilchumein, "the church of St Chumein". The attempts by the English to dampen the spirit of the insurgent Highlanders during the 18th century led to the construction of many forts throughout the area, including those at Inverness and Fort George, and traces of the original fortification can still be seen. On their foundations today, though, a more peaceful edifice has been raised. The Benedictine abbey and school were founded on the site in the last century, and still survey the entry to the canal and the River Oich.

With a population of 500, Fort Augustus is far larger than any of the outlying villages in the vicinity its size and importance can be attributed to its situation on both the trunk road between Inverness and Fort William, and on the Caledonian Canal as it enters Loch Ness. Commercial traffic on the canal now operates at a much lower level than in the past, but large crowds still gather to watch yachts, cruisers and larger sailing ships navigate the locks. The combination of nautical visitors, tourists and locals can lend Fort Augustus an air of bustling activity in the summer.

The eastern shore of Loch Ness leads up to the peaceful glens of Stratherrick and Strathnairn, but most traffic continues up the western shore towards Drumnadrochit. Just to the north of Fort Augustus can be seen the only island in Loch Ness, Cherry Island. This artificial island, or crannog, was created in ancient times when the ability to "raise the drawbridge" was defensively essential. Nowadays it merely signals a sheltered mooring in a calm bay.

Invermoriston, a few miles to the north of Fort Augustus, straddles the River Moriston as it tumbles into Loch Ness. One of the several rivers which feed the waters of the loch, it has a turbulent passage in its course from the high hills by Kintail, culminating in the falls under the bridges at Invermoriston. A much-restored bridge by Thomas Telford spans the river here, allowing access to the wild hillsides of the glen. This is the junction for the main road to Kyle of Lochalsh and the bridge to the Isle of Skye, and in season it is a merry honeypot of activity.

The southern waters of Loch Ness are not as deep or as wide as those in the central part of the loch, but they too harbour their share of mystery, with regular sightings of the "monster". It was in fact the water-bailiff from the village who filed the first newspaper report about a sighting of the monster in the 1930s, sparking the great debate which rages to this day. Cruisers operate from Fort Augustus, and visitors with a yen for monster-hunting can monitor the depths of the loch on sonar machines, alert for inexplicable (or at least unexplained) readings.

Many prefer the calm and quiet of the abbey to the excitement of the waters.

Still others enjoy the chance of a round of golf and a game of tennis, or take to the hills around the village. The military roads provide fine walking for the well-prepared, with impressive views and distances available from the centre of the village. For those with less time or younger children, the Forestry Commission have laid out forest walks by the River Oich, and part of the Great Glen cycleway runs through the village on its route from Fort William towards Inverness.