All travel is by definition quixotic — the most seasoned globetrotters can be led on wild goose chases, deceived, and/or just plain make huge mistakes all by themselves about what’s around that next corner. Trekking up to the Scottish highlands to look for “Nessie,” aka, the Loch Ness “monster,” allegedly “sighted” — perhaps even several times — a half-century ago in the Highlands’ breathtakingly gorgeous 23-mile-long freshwater lake just south of Inverness, is an epic, decades-long wild goose chase.
Counterintuitive as it might seem — what with everybody from Mary Queen of Scots to Robert the Bruce and James II studding the history of the place, not to mention Lady Macbeth, who had special visions of her own — suffice it to say that there’s more than a dollop of Don Quixote tangled up in the mists of the Highlands.
First the “news,” such as it is: On August 5 the Loch Ness Centre announced its spanking-new, unprecedented two-day “search” of the Loch, to take place on August 26-27, by boat, with much-ballyhooed ‘drones’ and other advanced tech. As P.T. Barnum would have put it at the entrance to the tent holding Jo-Jo The Dog-Faced Boy, “Step right up, Ladies and Gentlemen! Right this way!”
Put bluntly, for those travelers who consider going, the new hunt for Nessie is what we might call ‘Don Quixote Lite,’ with touristic value unimagined by Cervantes. The Loch Ness Centre has just completed a thorough and presumably somewhat expensive renovation. After very much not finding the beast on your three-hour cruise with the drones and the sonar, you’ll return to the Centre for a round of talks with “Nessie” experts and a soothing glass of sparkling wine, all very jolly. Put more diplomatically, the value in the afternoon is in having an engaging boat ride, punctuated by some colorful local history involving a mythical creature imagined somewhat like a finned brontosaurus with a smidgen of a Chinese New Year’s dragon puppet thrown in — minus the people carrying it on sticks.
There are many worse ways to spend an afternoon in the remote reaches of the Scottish Highlands? Such as getting caught out on the moors in one of the blistering westerly storms.
But to make sure you feel like you get the bang for your buck for having made the trek to the Loch, you might want to make sure you hire a car and a dependable local driver to get you back to Inverness for the night, where you can, after downing one — or several — drams of the very finest single-malt Glenmorangie you can find in that lovely town, you can hit the River House restaurant for their excellently roasted fresh hake, and drop by the Fig and Thistle for a nightcap as you ponder why the sturdy Highland Scots might have staged the afternoon of proto-Pleiosaur myth-propagation.
Think of it this way: Great Britain doesn’t have a space program, as such, nor an “Area 51,” thus there’s far less fertile ground for the UK’s throngs of wannabe UFO-believer-types to park their unsolved-mysteries-of-the-earth desires. In the Scottish Highlands, however, there are a lot of unplumbed, very deep lakes, and a very great deal of foreboding, bad weather blowing in off the Atlantic and the North Sea, and that makes an excellent natural ecosystem for the high levels of dark myth born from the bloody medieval history of the country.
Bingo! All that’s missing from that picture is the dragon, and, fortunately for the Loch Ness Centre, “Nessie” and her many boosters down the years supplied that bit of the narrative a few decades back.