Magical Scottish lochs: Watery wonderlands of nature and myth

Not to forget the hundreds of fjord-like sea lochs. Which means we are spoiled for choice – or stumped – when it comes to picking a favourite.

While the five largest (Awe, Lomond, Morar, Ness and Shiel) have graced many a calendar page and souvenir shortbread tin, here we shine a spotlight on some other joyfully scenic, wildlife-rich and history-packed lochs well worth a visit.

HeraldScotland: Loch Coruisk and the Cuillins of SkyeLoch Coruisk and the Cuillins of Skye (Image: free)

Loch Coruisk, Skye

The rocky peaks and spires of the Black Cuillin mountains form a horseshoe around this stunning freshwater gem. Loch Coruisk, which means “cauldron of waters”, has an otherworldly feel to it – something Sir Walter Scott and Alfred, Lord Tennyson have both mentioned in their writing.

With no road access, you have two options: travel by foot or by boat. Hike from Sligachan (eight miles/13km) or from Kilmarie (six miles/10km). The latter, although shorter, is via the infamous ledge of rock dubbed the “bad step”. Both routes have hilly and boggy terrain to navigate.

The slightly less arduous alternative is to travel by boat from Elgol with plenty of wildlife-spotting opportunities en route, including a colony of harbour seals. As for Loch Coruisk itself? It is reputed to be home to a kelpie, a mythical shape-shifting creature able to assume horse and human form.

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Linlithgow Loch, West Lothian

The largest natural freshwater loch in West Lothian and designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, it sits like a glittering jewel beside Linlithgow Palace, birthplace of James V and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Linlithgow Loch is a “kettle hole”, formed by retreating glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. Today, it is popular for birdwatching. You can spot mallards, great crested grebes, coots, moorhens, tufted ducks and mute swans, as well as pochard, greylag geese and goldeneye in the winter months.

Walkers can meander around the Linlithgow Loch Circular, a 2.4-mile (4km) loop trail with views of two islets, Cormorant Island and the Rickle. These are the remains of ancient crannogs – timber roundhouses supported on pilings or stilts – built some 2,500 years ago.


HeraldScotland: Sunrise over Linlithgow Palace, with Linlithgow Loch in the foregroundSunrise over Linlithgow Palace, with Linlithgow Loch in the foreground (Image: free)

The Fairy Lochs, near Badachro, Wester Ross

The route around the North Coast 500 has an abundance of majestic lochs – Maree, Ewe and Broom to name but a few – but the Fairy Lochs in Wester Ross are irrevocably linked to a tragic and oft-forgotten story.

A walking route, which begins and ends near the Shieldaig Lodge, leads to this small group of lochans, and the crash site of a Second World War B-24 Liberator.

The plane had taken off from Prestwick in Ayrshire and was returning to the US, via Iceland, on June 13, 1945, when it struck the summit of Slioch. An attempted crash landing saw the aircraft collide with rocks, scattering wreckage across a wide area in and around the Fairy Lochs.

Today, pieces of the fuselage can still be seen in the bogs, with a propeller and an engine visible in the water. The crash site – where all 15 crew and passengers perished – is classed as a war grave and a memorial plaque has been erected.

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Loch Freuchie, Perthshire

This photogenic freshwater loch in Glen Quaich gets a name-check in the journal notes of Robert Burns’s 1787 Tour of the Highlands, the Bard passing along the route as he journeyed north with his friend William Nicol.

Loch Freuchie, located 12 miles from Crieff, means “the heatherly loch”. Also known as Fraoch, it can be explored on a circular walk of around eight miles (13km). There is a crannog close to the southwest shore, which has been planted with conifers.

If you want to get out on the water, Paddle Surf Scotland runs twice-daily stand-up paddleboard lessons for beginners and intermediate level on Loch Freuchie and the River Quaich.

The nearby hamlet of Amulree is where several clans gathered and were sworn in for the 1715 Jacobite rising. Be sure to visit the pretty 18th-century Amulree and Strathbraan Church – the surrounding graveyard has many interesting headstones.

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An Lochan Uaine, Glenmore Forest Park, near Aviemore

The spellbinding emerald waters of An Lochan Uaine, which translates as “the green lochan”, are a sight to behold. The distinctive colour is credited to algae generated by decomposing wood that lines the lochan’s floor – or sometimes a fluke of the light reflecting off the trees around its edges.

According to legend, though, the enchanting shade came about when pixies washed their clothes here. Keep your eyes peeled for glimmers of magic as you enjoy the 45-minute walk through the ancient Caledonian pines of Glenmore Forest Park.

There are beaches, benches and stone steps to pause and enjoy the views. Word to the wise: if you fancy a paddle, be advised that there have been reports of leeches and the water is likely colder than the inviting hue suggests.

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Loch Fyne, Argyll

The west coast of Scotland is blessed with spectacular sea lochs, the longest of which is Loch Fyne. Running 40 miles from the Sound of Bute to Achadunan along the Cowal peninsula, it attracts culinary lovers in their droves thanks to a rich larder of delights.

A must on any foodie road trip itinerary is Loch Fyne Oysters where you can tuck into locally caught lobster, crab, scallops, langoustines and, of course, those world-famous oysters.

Fyne Ales is a family-owned brewery on a working farm offering tours and tastings (it is also wonderfully dog-friendly).

Ardkinglas Woodland Garden has a collection of champion trees and the chance to explore the Gruffalo Trail, while history buffs will love Inveraray Jail, Auchindrain Township and Inveraray Castle (reopening March 30).


HeraldScotland: Loch Trool in Galloway Forest ParkLoch Trool in Galloway Forest Park (Image: free)

Loch Trool, Galloway

It was here that Robert the Bruce fought and won the 1307 Battle of Glen Trool, defeating a 1,500-strong English army led by Aymer de Valence.

The Scots numbered only 300 but ambushed the enemy by rolling boulders down the steep slopes of Loch Trool. Bruce’s Stone, erected in commemoration, sits atop a hill on the north side, overlooking the loch and battle site.

There is a circular lochside and forest walk (5.5miles/9km) with a smattering of waterfalls and burns. Loch Trool is a big draw for stargazers too, part of the internationally renowned Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park. Free from the ravages of light pollution, more than 7,000 stars are visible to the naked eye.

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Loch Kinord and Loch Davan, Aberdeenshire

Part of the mosaic of wetlands, woods and moors that make up Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve, Loch Kinord (also variously called Loch Ceander and Loch Cannor) can be found north of the River Dee, around five miles (8km) east of Ballater.

It may be smaller than many of the great lochs – only around a mile (1.6km) in length – but its shallow depth makes it an ideal habitat for aquatic plants, such as water lobelia, quillwort and shoreweed. In the summer, water lilies bloom here.

Among the regular residents of Loch Kinord and its near neighbour Loch Davan are pike, otters, migrating geese and wintering wildfowl, including whooper swans and cormorants. The area can be explored on a pleasurable circular walk.


Lochs of Harray and Stenness, Orkney

The Loch of Harray is the largest on mainland Orkney and lies immediately north of the Loch of Stenness, the two separated by only a slender strip of land.

They are situated within the UNESCO Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, close to the Ring of Brodgar, Standing Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe Chambered Cairn, as well as being only a short distance from the historic Skara Brae settlement.

Both lochs provide fascinating nature habitats. The Loch of Stenness is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation. Partly salty because of its connection to the sea, it supports a raft of wildlife suited to brackish conditions.

The Loch of Harray, also a SSSI, has a large number of pondweed species, including a rare caddis fly and is the only known site in Scotland for a type of nerite snail.

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Lake of Menteith, Stirlingshire

It would be remiss not to mention this perennial pub quiz favourite: what is Scotland’s only lake? Interestingly, the Lake of Menteith was known as “Loch of Menteith” until the 19th century.

It has been posited that a series of mentions as “the lake of Menteith” in guidebooks and geography tomes, as well as in the prose of Sir Walter Scott, may have contributed to the name change.

The largest island, Inchmahome, has an ancient priory (currently closed for masonry inspections) which was visited by Robert the Bruce on three occasions and also acted as a sanctuary for a four-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots.

Fun fact: The Lake of Menteith is technically Scotland’s only “natural” lake. There is also the artificial reservoir, Pressmennan Lake in East Lothian, the man-made Lake of the Hirsel in the Scottish Borders and Lake Louise within the grounds of Skibo Castle, Sutherland.

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