Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kayak in the Rocky Mountains of Canada

When you think "Rocky Mountains of Canada", I would bet a fair chunk of my monthly income that you are picturing towering, majestic, snow-capped mountains, or deep-green, spindly pine trees flanked by peaks and valleys.  You might even think about the turquoise green-blue waters, icy cold as they rush from their glacial parents towards the Pacific Ocean.

You probably don't think: wetlands.

I never did either.  But a recent trip to the Panorama area in the British Columbia portion of the Rockies led me to some of the most picturesque wetlands I had ever seen.

Majestic mountains frame this amazing wetland

I grew up in Alberta (and I still live there), where wetlands are as common as dirt roads. I drive past about three wetland areas on my way to work each morning.  I've taken students pond-dipping to examine water beetles and tadpoles.  Ducks Unlimited, a conservation group in our area, ensures that our wetlands will remain for years and years to come. Wetlands are really no big deal to me.

However, kayaking in the middle of a pristine wetland ecosystem in the middle of a Rocky Mountain valley is a totally different experience.  Especially since I'd never even been in a kayak before.

Excited to be kayaking for the first time

My husband and I were in Invermere, B.C. over the summer for a family vacation.  My sister-in-law, Nancy, really wanted to go out on the water and so Joey and I agreed to go with her.  We made our way down to the marina on the edge of Windermere Lake, and found Columbia River Outfitters next to Pete's Marina.  Pete's Marina rents boats and jet skis for those who want to do some water sports out on the giant lake.  Columbia River Outfitters rents canoes and kayaks for those who want to paddle through the wetlands or head down the Columbia River towards Radium.  We decided to try kayaking, since Nancy knew what she was doing, and I'd never tried it before (I will try most anything at least once - within reason!)

Outside Columbia River Outfitters, preparing to kayak

There were three levels of kayak packages: the nice and easy 'kayak through the wetlands', the 'guided tour down the Columbia River', and the 'unguided voyage down the Columbia River'.  Due to time constraints and my inexperience, we opted for the wetlands package.  The cost was not too bad - $40 for a single kayak for Nancy (plus tax), and $50 for a double kayak for Joey and I. This covered two hours - plenty of time to explore a wetland.

So peaceful and serene on the Columbia River Wetlands

After a brief (very brief - to the point that I was nervous going out on the water) lesson on how to navigate a kayak, we headed out.  I was delighted to find that a kayak maneuvers much easier than a canoe, and by the end of the trip, I had decided to go out and buy my own darn kayak. I LOVED it!  This could be my newest hobby.

There is no color alteration here - this is what true beauty is!

The wetlands themselves were spectacular. We saw a crane, two bald eagles, many ducks, and lots of fish (I don't know my fish very well, but I suspect they were rainbow trout due to their shiny appearance - someone correct me if I'm wrong).  The wetlands were expansive, with pathways in and out of the reeds, and it felt like we were exploring an unknown land.  The mountains provided a lovely backdrop, framing the wetlands on both sides and fading off into the distance.

Looking like kayak pros!

Two hours was a perfect amount of time, and other than Nancy almost getting sucked down the river by the increasing current at the river mouth, it was very peaceful.  What an unexpected journey in the mountains - I highly recommend it!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

DTWH Featured in "TrekWorld"!

Another exciting announcement for Down the Wrabbit Hole!  My Loch Ness post has been featured in the online magazine "TrekWorld" - please go check it out and "like" it, "tweet" it, "stumble" it - whatever you have to do!  I have been invited to contribute to the magazine in the future  as well, so keep your eyes peeled for more articles and announcements. 

My article featured in "TrekWorld" - A Loch Ness Monster and Castle Quest

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Soak in a True Natural Hot Spring in the Canadian Rockies

True, natural hot springs are hard to come by.  However, they do exist, if only you know where to look or who to ask.  That's how I have been able to soak in a few quite natural hot springs in Canada.

For years I have been visiting the hot springs of Canada’s Rocky Mountains: the Banff Upper and Lower hot springs, the Jasper Miette hot springs in Alberta, and the Radium and Fairmont hot springs in British Columbia specifically.  I know exactly why they are so popular.  They are relaxing, toasty warm, therapeutic, and they have the best view of any pool I’ve ever been to.  

hot springs, radium, british columbia, rocky mountains
Radium Hot Springs in British Columbia, Canada

However, these hot springs are more like giant hot pools, and I also find them to be overly commercialized.  They are literally large, heated swimming pools with ladders, railings, benches, cement pads, lifeguards, and sometimes even diving boards.  The pools, due to their extreme popularity, are also usually crowded, and it can be hard to find a place to sit and relax, at least during the busy seasons.  (For those of you who don’t know about Canada’s only two seasons, we have summer and winter.  Mostly winter.  Spring and fall really just pop in to say hello.  Summer is always busy in the mountains, and in winter, you can find large crowds during the fall break in November and during the holidays over Christmas and New Years.)

Many people I know have had the pleasure of hiking through the Rocky Mountains until they found a real, natural hot spring.  They would brag about soaking in the heated waters, surrounded by towering pines, without company or a care in the world.  It sounded heavenly.  I wanted to do that. 

Ironically, however, the main thing that ruins a true, natural hot spring is when too many people know about it, and so a lot of people tend to keep their locations a secret.  I try to wrangle information about how to find such a hot spring from others, and at the most they’ll say something mysterious like, “It’s just outside of Nakusp, on a mountain side.”  Thanks buddy.  That truly helps.  But to be honest, they know I write a travel blog and they don’t want me posting the GPS coordinates of their secret get-away.  I get that.  But I promise, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die, I won’t post the location of your precious hot spring.  I just want to sit in it.

British Columbia hot springs, Fairmont hot springs
My dream - to soak in a natural hot spring (here at Fairmont, B.C.)

Finally, a local in Radium, British Columbia, told me about a fairly popular hot spring in nearby Fairmont.  She didn’t think it would be an issue to write about it, since it was quite well-known and usually pretty busy.  This hot spring was just a short (really short, as it turned out) hike from the commercialized Fairmont Hot Springs Resort.  My husband and I decided to find it and swim in it.  Since we found out about it at the end of our family vacation last summer, we had to wait until this summer to go on our excursion. 

A month before we left for B.C., a giant mudslide hit Fairmont, nearly wiping out the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and damaging the area around the natural hot spring.  What would happen to the hot spring?  Would we be able to find it?

British Columbia hot springs, Rocky Mountains
The source of the Fairmont hot spring

We left our car in the parking lot of the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and hiked uphill.  From the parking lot itself, you can see an old building structure - the remains of the original early-1900s hot spring hut where pioneers of the area came to soak and relax.  Atop the hill, a giant crack in the ground revealed the source of the hot spring, with hot water bubbling out, releasing a *lovely* sulfuric fume and inviting all sorts of green algae to come co-exist with it.  I didn’t care, though - the water was steaming hot, and some nice person had dug a little pond and placed a bench above it, so you could dangle your feet in the water and enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the Rockies. 

Fairmont natural hot springs, Rocky Mountains
Dipping my foot in the Fairmont hot spring source - super caliente!

However, there was no swimming pond or waterfall, which is what we’d been told to look for by the locals.  We hiked downhill, past the resort, and into the RV area.  Evidence of the mudslide was there for all to see, with the creek and path to the natural springs roped off. 

What I’d like to say I did was shrug my shoulders sadly, turn around, and obey the rule of “don’t go past the roped-off area”.  I realize the area was closed for my own safety and probably for the purpose of reclaiming the damaged land.  However, I had waited so, so long to see a natural hot spring, and the marked off area was basically all fixed up at this point, and I am a stubborn little thing - so I crept under the rope and began to pick my way down the hill towards the springs.  The path was relatively clear, the area safe, and the springs oh-so-tempting.  I had to do it.

It was worth it, I must say.  When we rounded a corner, there was the waterfall with the springs glistening below.  The sunlight streamed down onto the water like a Hollywood movie.  The pools cascaded one into the other, like a series of infinity pools carved by nature, with a vibrant blue color that made me long to jump in.  It was a piece of paradise with a mountain vista.  We excitedly crossed the stream, shed our clothes (hey, we had bathing suits on underneath - its not THAT kind of hot pool!), and slid happily into the water.

Fairmont hot springs waterfall, British Columbia hot springs
We found it! The real, natural hot spring at Fairmont - so beautiful!

I was a bit surprised by the temperature of the water, which was lukewarm at best, but after I thought about it, it made sense.  We had visited the source of the spring way up top on the hill, and the water had run down that hill, open to the mountain air, for quite some time.  It had sailed through the air via the beautiful waterfall before pooling in the spring that I was sitting in.  Really, it was a miracle that it was still lukewarm.  And compared to other bodies of water in the mountains, which are typically created from glacial run-off, warm was a fantastic change from ice-cold.  

British Columbia hot springs, Rocky Mountains
Such a gorgeous place!

I cannot begin to describe just how amazing this hot spring was.  The ‘infinity’ pool style reminded me of Turkey’s Pamukkale, only with a much different view.  You could see across the valley, the expanse of the Panorama mountain range peeking through the trees.  The roar of the waterfall took away any type of human noise that might have drifted up from the town of Fairmont far below.  Because of the cautionary ropes, we were alone save for two other adventurous hikers.  (Not that I recommend the rule-breaking, but hey....) The water was extraordinarily clear, and the grotto where the pool was situated prevented any sort of wind or breeze from blowing in and giving you a chill.

British Columbia hot springs
Joey soaking in hot springs paradise!

We stayed for awhile, enjoying the view and the waters, but decided to leave as the sun was showing signs of setting.  I didn’t want to be hiking in the mountains at dusk, cold and wet, in an area that was supposed to be off-limits.  Besides, the sediment from the springs made the rocks in the pool really slimy, so there was nowhere to sit and lounge.  It was time to go.  However, I was content, calm, full of inner peace, and extremely happy that I was able to check this item off my bucket list in such an amazing fashion.

For an update on the Fairmont natural hot springs, click here.  They are not what they used to be!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

DTWH is a Contributor to "Yuppee Magazine"

I am excited to announce that I have signed up to be a contributor to London-based "Yuppee Magazine", a lifestyle magazine featuring stories about travel, fashion, music, and other such lifestyle-related topics.  While I will be primarily contributing to the travel section, I am not going to limit myself to just one category.  This month, I have three articles published in Yuppee, and I'd like to share them with my blog readers!  I hope you like them, and if you have any suggestions or things you'd like me to write about, please feel free to drop me a line either here, on my Facebook fan page, or on Twitter (@thewrabbithole).

Where to find my articles on

Without further ado, my article links:

Top 5 Things to do in Panorama in the Summer
A Spa with a View: Luxury in the Rocky Mountains
A Dream within a Dream: The Music of Soley

My two travel articles on

Friday, August 17, 2012

Backyard Bucket List: Explore Alberta's EM-TE Town

I have lived in Alberta my whole life, all "28-and-holding" years. It shames me to admit that I have only visited a handful of the major sights in my own province, despite being obsessed with experiencing literally everything an area has to offer when I travel. This summer I vowed to do more "backyard" exploring, and have even had the chance to discover some places I never even knew existed. EM-TE Town is one of those places.

EM-TE Town welcome sign old west ghost town Alberta
Welcome to EM-TE Town, Alberta!

The discovery was made when a colleague of mine and I were trying to plan a year-end adventure with our Grade 9 class, as a way for them to reminisce and and build more memories together before they left for the summer, and then for high school, where it was more than likely they'd go down separate paths. Bryan, my teacher colleague, came across a place near the small town of Alder Flats called "EM-TE Town".  After reading the website, we decided it was perfect.

abandoned bank EM-TE Town Alberta camping
The EM-TE Town bank.

EM-TE Town is a campground, with areas reserved for tents and RVs, and also with cabins and giant teepees available to rent. There is also an old motel available for quick stays.  The twist on this particular campground experience is that in the center of the establishment is a replica 'Western Frontier Town', complete with horseback riding and hay wagon rides.

The town has a bank, a sheriff's office with prison, a general store, a blacksmith shop, an old school house, and much more. Each building has rooms replete with antique furniture, genuine artifacts, old papers, black and white pictures hanging on the walls, and everything needed to complete a realistic scene. It is like an old west museum, except for the fact that you can go inside the rooms, touch and pick up the items, take photos, and enjoy the interactive experience.

Old West ghost town Alberta EM-TE Town
EM-TE Town in all its glory.

The kids particularly enjoyed the model ''wealthy" home, which had a lavishly decorated kitchen table, and a cozy living room.

inside Old West log cabin EM-TE Town Alberta
The kitchen of the wealthy 'showhome' at EM-TE Town

As a class, we rented two cabins, as our group was very small, and we split the girls and boys. (Naturally, I supervised the girls and Bryan supervised the boys.) The cabins were relatively big, furnished with beds, couches, a stove, a table, some shelving, and a wash counter. There was no running water or electricity. EM-TE town gave us some lanterns so we'd have light in the evenings. Otherwise, we were 'roughing it' - or at least as 'rough' as a group of 15-years-olds could get (there were a lot of cell phones and Angry Bird games going on deep into the night...)

cabin rental EM-TE Town Alberta camping
An EM-TE Town cabin - so cute!

Activities at EM-TE town included a volleyball net and football field set up in a large, green common area, a pool table in the ole saloon (which they allowed our kids to use as long as they were behaving), and some hiking trails. We had a great time exploring the old town, playing pool, and participating in some semi-tackle football (since I'm so short, I was a favorite for being pushed to the ground!)

Old West teepee EM-TE Town Alberta camping
One of the teepees available for rental at EM-TE Town
All of this was relatively inexpensive as well. If you wanted to go and check out the frontier town just for the day, the cost is $7.00 for adults, and $4.00 for children.  The campsites range from $20.00 for tents, to $40 for an RV unit with power ($24 for no power).  The cabins, which we rented, range from $90 to $125, depending the size of cabin you need.  For more info, visit the EM-TE Town website.

EM-TE Town was a bit out of the way in regards to driving distance.  We left from our little rural school, and the drive was fairly straightforward.  On the website in the "Contact Us" section there are driving directions and a map.  Here are the written directions, taken right from the EM-TE Town site:

From Hwy #22 (between Drayton Valley and Rocky Mountain House) Go west on Hwy #13 to Alder Flats.

Go past the school and turn left at the car wash/bottle depot. Go south 2 miles (3km) to stop sign. Turn right and go west 2 miles (3km) to the end of the road.

map to EM-TE Town Alberta camping
Map to EM-TE Town, Alberta, Canada

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Canoe Across the Turquoise Waters of Moraine Lake

canadian rocky mountains, canoeing

Close your eyes and picture a lake with the bluest, clearest waters you can imagine.  Then add a stunning mountain range framing this lake, capped with pure white glaciers and carpeted with lush, green trees.  In your mind’s eye, slice through this lake in a bright yellow canoe, silent and calm, leaving a slight ripple as you glide across its blue waters.  

There.You have just visualized my Sunday afternoon at Moraine Lake. It was a little piece of heaven.

Moraine Lake is a glacially-fed lake 14 kilometers from the village of Lake Louise in the Alberta Rockies.  It is sometimes overshadowed by the larger and very picturesque Lake Louise (for which the village was named), but should never be ignored.  Yes, it is smaller and yes, it is a bit more remote, but its beauty more than makes up for these two truths.

Trans-Canada Highway 1 drive, driving through the mountains
Roadside stop as we drive through the Albertan Rocky Mountains
I have wanted to see Moraine Lake for a very long time, and not just its image which is stamped on the Canadian $20 bill.  Set inside the gorgeous “Valley of the Ten Peaks” mountain range in the Rockies, Moraine Lake is famous for its bright turquoise-blue color.  It did not disappoint!

My husband and I decided to stop for a visit to Moraine Lake on the way up to our family vacation in Invermere, British Columbia.  We were driving up the TransCanada Highway #1 anyway, and Lake Louise was only another short jaunt past our turn-off to B.C.  Before we even drove into Lake Louise, we saw signs clearly marking the way to Moraine Lake, which made it extremely easy to find.  It is about a 2.5 hour drive from Calgary, depending on traffic. 

20 dollar bill view, Banff National Park, Valley of the Ten Peaks
The "20 Dollar View" of Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks

As we approached Moraine Lake, cars began to appear parked on the side of the road.  We’d been warned that during the summer months, Moraine Lake could be very tourist-laden and that it would be better to visit either before 11 a.m. or after 5 p.m., but since that didn’t fit into our schedule, we had decided to risk it.  Judging from the cars jammed up along the side of the road, it was busy at 2 p.m. for sure!  I insisted that we find a spot and just park, and then walk down to the lake, but my husband begged me to just try the parking lot first.  I was happy he did, as we lucked out and found a recently-vacated spot right away!  It would have been a long walk otherwise!   Remember to buy a Banff National Park day pass as well, to avoid a heavy ticket if you are caught parking without a pass.

Moraine Lake Alberta Canada, Banff National Park
A calm spot on the lake shows a beautiful reflection!

It was quite busy at the lake, but not so busy that it was uncomfortable or unenjoyable.  People milled about, marveling at the color of the lake, the view of the “Valley of the Ten Peaks”, and the giant rock pile just asking to be hiked.  A trail wraps all around Moraine Lake, and there are several different hikes with varying degrees of difficulty to suit any outdoorsman.  But what caught Joey and I was the lake’s water, and the brightly-colored canoes slicing through it.

Moraine Lake Alberta Canada, Banff National Park
The view from my canoe!

We rented a canoe for one hour, which cost us $47.15 ($45.00 plus GST).  You can bring your own canoe to the lake as well, if you are not into spending nearly $50 for an hour of paddling.  We decided it was worth it, so we paid (they took credit and debit cards, so you don't have to worry about having cash on hand), and off we went. After I got used to the rocking motion of the canoe every time Joey or I slightly shifted our weight, I really enjoyed myself!   

Moraine Lake Alberta Canada, Banff National Park
 Look at the color of that water - this is NOT photoshopped, folks!

I couldn’t get over the color of the water, or how clean and clear it was.  The scenery all around me was majestic and so peaceful - it was a lovely way to spend an hour.  We saw a group of little baby loons swimming with their momma, and came across a rushing waterfall where glacial run-off fed into the lake. 

Moraine Lake Alberta Canada, Banff National Park
Stones on the lake bed show clearly through the pristine waters of Moraine Lake

When our canoe journey was over, and the boat successfully returned, it was time for us to leave.  There were about ten different hikes that I wanted to go on, the first being the easy loop around the lake, but due to our family vacation, we had to leave.  Since Moraine Lake is only about four hours from my house, I foresee us visiting it again quite soon!

Moraine Lake Alberta Canada, Banff National Park
We truly enjoyed our canoe ride

Friday, August 10, 2012

My First Guest Post

Please check out my very first ever guest post at the wonderful site We Said Go Travel.   I want to thank Lisa for inviting me to write an article: it was an exciting experience and I don't care how nerdy that makes me!  Be sure to comment, and perhaps they'll invite me to write another!  :)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Go on a Glasgow Walk-About in Scotland

The great thing about Glasgow is that if there's a nuclear attack it'll look exactly the same afterwards. 
Billy Connolly 

This is a direct quote from Billy Connolly, one of my favorite Scottish actors, a truly funny man, and a native of Glasgow, Scotland.  His sentiments, which strongly insinuate that Glasgow is a bleak, ugly, grey city, were shared by many people that we talked to.  Several people, some even from Scotland, raised their eyebrows when we informed them we’d planned two days in Glasgow during our tour of Scotland.  

“Whatever for?  There’s nothing IN Glasgow!” they’d yelp at us in astonishment.

I couldn’t understand.  Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland: shouldn’t it have a million things to do and see, all with great levels of importance?  Wouldn’t it be a logical spot to visit when touring all things Scottish?  What did Billy Connelly mean: that it was ugly?

Glasgow - not an ugly city but very old school!

We worried that two days in Glasgow might be two too many.  

We arrived in the evening after a long drive from Drumnadrochit and Loch Ness.  I cheered Joey on proudly as he manoeuvred the rental car through the busy thoroughfares and narrow streets of the big city. We found our hotel relatively easily, thanks to our trusty TomTom.  Belgrave Hotel in Glasgow’s West End didn’t look like a hotel, but more like any other townhouse in a row of about six.  Had it not been for the sign above the door, I would have seriously thought we’d been scammed by the online registration.   

Joey outside our cute little hotel

Inside, however, it was cute and fitting for me, since it used to be an old charter school for girls.  I loved the crazy, twisting staircase, except for the one time when I had to haul my suitcase up to the third floor.  The lovely lady at the registration desk assisted me with that, however - she was oh-so-friendly!

The dining area in the Belgrave Hotel

Don't fall down these suckers!

The next day, Joey and I set out on foot, determined to find beauty and joy in the city of Glasgow, despite what all the naysayers had told us.  I am usually pretty good at finding fun stuff to do, no matter where I am, and was doubtful that there was “nothing” in Glasgow, as we’d been told.  

One block away from our hotel, we found something fun to do.  Easy peasy!

The Oran Mor, where "A Play, a Pie & a Pint" is held.

Part church, part pub, part theatre, this old building was hosting “A Play, a Pie & a Pint” luncheon in the basement under the pub.  It was such an unusual architectural and event combination that we just had to try it!  We had some time to kill before the play began, so we headed upstairs to the pub-inside-a-church and drank a pint of Tennants each.  Folks, this is the first time I had ever drank beer in a church, and it felt just a little naughty!  Hee hee.

Enjoying a beer - inside a church!

The doors to the basement opened, and we carried our pints downstairs into the theatre auditorium.  Skinny tables were set in rows, with napkins and placemats marking each seat.   At the back of the auditorium, yet another bar was stocked full with liquors and beers, and a buffet table stood to one side, laden with steaming hot meat pies.  Yum yum!  We handed over our tickets, received our “pint and pie”, and prepared for the play portion.  

I highly recommend this as a way to pass the afternoon!

The play was quite funny, about two divorcees who end up getting back together while honeymooning at the same hotel with their new spouses.  It was entertaining, and fittingly immoral since we were already onto our second beer in a church basement.

The basement theatre at Oran Mor

Once the show was over, leaving us feeling much more bolstered and positive about this eclectic city of Glasgow, Joey and I started on what turned out to be a very, very long and rambling walk.  We meandered through the beautiful Kelvingrove Park, where I believe the entire population of Glasgow was out for a run (and where I nearly got to take a squirrel home with me).  

The University of Glasgow peeking through the trees of Kelvingrove Park

We shambled past the gorgeous University of Glasgow, with its gleaming gold ‘Harry Potter-esque’ gates and Hogwarts’ style architecture (everything in Glasgow actually reminded me of Harry Potter... not sure why.)  

Gates of the University of Glasgow

Am I at Hogwarts??

We ducked into the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, but didn’t have time to go through the gallery (or I would have been there ALL DAY - I love museums and don’t take them lightly!)  I did buy the coolest Salvador Dali melted clock, one that actually works, as a souvenir, even though I know it is not very “Scottish”.  Sometimes those are the best souvenirs, because they’re not tacky.

Finally, we made tracks all the way downtown on a quest to see the famous Glasgow Cathedral.  We figured we’d walked about 10 - 12 kilometers away from our hotel before finally realizing the Cathedral was much too far away to reach by foot.  The downtown business sector of Glasgow looked just like any other downtown area we’d ever been to, and we simply couldn’t go any further - our feet hurt, we were tired, and we wanted to find a pub, drink a beer, and relax.  Grudgingly, we turned around and headed back the way we’d come.  So no Glasgow Cathedral, but I’m sure it is really nice!

Typical church in the downtown area of Glasgow

The walk proved to us that Glasgow is NOT a city full of “nothing”: there are beautiful tourist sites, informative and interesting museums, lush parks, and entertaining things to do.  Our hotel was in the trendy West End, where all the university kids spend their time, and the stores and restaurants reflected that diverse and chic culture. Our first night we ate delicious dim sum, and the second night we ate at a fun British-style pub. 

Other things to see and do in Glasgow, things we never had the chance to visit, include the Botanical Gardens, the Tall Ship at Glasgow Harbour, the Waverly Paddle Steamer, the Glasgow Necropolis, the Science Center, and the Provands Lordship, just to list a few.  This isn’t even touching on the Glasgow night life, which we heard was super fun, but never had the chance to try out (we were powering out by this point in our trip...)

So, to all those people who doubt in Glasgow’s potential for a good time, to you I say, “Pffft!”  Glasgow is great - go see it.  Maybe Mr. Billy Connelly just didn’t get out of the house much.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Visit Loch Ness and Search for Nessie the Loch Ness Monster

Facts About Loch Ness, Scotland:
  1. There is more water in Loch Ness than all the other lakes in England, Scotland and Wales put together.
  2. Loch Ness never fully freezes: it is too large and too deep.
  3. Because warm water rises, and colder water sinks, in the middle of winter Loch Ness can be seen steaming like a hot tub as the warm water hits the surface.
  4. And of course, Loch Ness is infested with a giant, humped-back water monster, nicknamed “Nessie”.  Or is it?
When my husband and I ventured to Scotland this summer, I made it a priority to drive up north to Loch Ness as a part of our adventure.  I was determined to stand at the lake’s edge and search for this infamous creature, and see what there was to see.

The journey from Stirling to Loch Ness was relatively smooth until our TomTom GPS unit decided to take us off the main highway and down a narrow country road to our BnB on the east shore of Loch Ness.  There are two things about Scottish roads I noticed: they are all paved, no matter how small or tucked away they are, and they are hopelessly narrow.  A two-lane road is really a one lane, often with sheer drop-offs to the sides.  Every now and then, a ‘passing place’ pops up, enabling one car to move to the side so that other vehicles can slip past, thereby averting certain death.  We once nearly had a head-on collision, but the other vehicle must have panicked and the car stalled on them, which allowed us to creep past.  Joey was just a little tense by the time we reached our BnB!

Watch for falling sheep!

We settled into our room just as the sun was setting over the hills surrounding Loch Ness, and the fog was creeping in across the water.  It was silent, peaceful, and just a little mysterious.   I can honestly see why the ancient Druids felt the area was a spiritual place, or how the legends of a magical creature came to be.   My husband and I sat and stared out the window for about an hour, watching the dusk shift and the fog slide in.

Beautiful, peaceful Loch Ness

The next morning, we drove around the southern tip of Loch Ness to Castle Urquhart, a Historic Scotland site (remember that dang “Explorer’s Pass” I’ve been harping about - well, this was on it too!  Free entrance - save £7.40 per adult! No lines!).  This castle was Joey’s favorite - he loved how it towered over the lake, the fact that it was in sheer ruins, and how we were presented with our first view.  Let me explain.

Our first amazing view of Castle Urquhart!

Urquhart Castle has a nicely developed interpretive center.  The gift shop and cafeteria are first, so you can get that “milling around” feeling out of your system.  Then you walk into a dark theatre, and watch a video about the history of the castle, which explains how it was built, taken over, reclaimed, abandoned, reclaimed, taken over, reclaimed, and then blown up by its own possessors, who didn’t want the castle used as an enemy stronghold again.  The video was quite good, and very clearly explained the castle’s past with a twist of humor.  The video ends and turns off.  The screen rolls up.  The dark curtains open - and there lies Castle Urquhart, sprawled out atop a sheer drop overlooking Loch Ness.  It took our breaths away.

Joey standing in the remains of the dovecot at Urquhart Castle.

Gorgeous view of the Urquhart ruins from atop the standing tower.

We explored every available nook and cranny.  There is a replica trebuchet, which mimics what might have been used to attack the castle back during its many sieges.    

Me with the replica trebuchet, ready to win some battles!

Partial remnants of rooms and towers still stand, but ultimately, Castle Urquhart is a pile of rubble. 

Standing atop my royal tower!

Remnants of some ancient rooms and fireplaces.

Of all the castles we’d seen during our touring around Scotland, Urquhart was in the roughest shape.  Ironically, though, it still held all of its majesty and dignity.

Beautiful ruins of Urquhart - yes, I took lots of pictures!

Once we were done bumbling around Urquhart, we hopped in the car and drove to Drumnadrochit to visit the Loch Ness Interpretive Center.  We’d heard good things about it, and it was relatively inexpensive to visit at £6.95 per adult.  We decided we should go through it, seeing as we’d driven all the way up north specifically to learn about Loch Ness and the Loch Ness Monster.  

Looking for Nessie... I did not see her.

The Interpretive Center was very well done.  There was no roaming about randomly from placard to placard, reading about artifacts or people involved with the search for the monster.  The museum was all interactive, done with audio and video, and led you chronologically from room to room, explaining the story of “Nessie” and the search for proof of her existence.  It began all the way back to the break-up of Pangaea, when Scotland was actually a chunk of land down below the equator and quite tropical.  It led you through the earliest sightings of a strange, large fish, which then grew to stories about a humped monster.  It broke down all the theories using science, including echo-location, temperature of under-surface waves, and mirages.  I left the Interpretive Center no longer believing, or hoping to believe, in Nessie - but I felt much smarter for the experience.

Replica submarine that searched for Nessie.

Our last stop in Drumnadrochit was to have lunch in a quaint restaurant called Fiddler’s, which was a ‘whiskey bar’.  I wanted to know what that meant.  What it means is that every available shelf or wall space in the establishment is covered with bottles of whiskey; whiskeys from around the world, in every language and flavor.  I did not drink any whiskey, as I am not a fan, but it was an interesting decor idea.

Mmm, Fiddler's! I recommend you go there.

We then drove around the northern tip of Loch Ness, through Inverness, and back down through the Caingorns.  We stopped every now and then at a tourist locale, such as the Dunkeld Cathedral, and our journey for the day ended in Glasgow, which I will regale you with in my next post!

Beautiful and fragile Dunkeld Cathedral.