Top Tips for Responsible Wildlife Spotting at Loch Ness

Top Tips for Responsible Wildlife Spotting at Loch Ness

Seek Local Knowledge, Shun the Gadgets

You know, the best piece of travel advice I’ve ever been given was to ‘seek local knowledge’. Throw away the guidebooks, stop looking at your iPad/smartphone and all the techie gadgets we carry, and instead, speak to someone face-to-face who knows the place, has up-to-the-minute advice, top tips, and can tell a great yarn.

There’s no better person than the local crofter and tour guide, James Tait of Island Trails, to accompany you on a Loch Ness voyage of discovery. He’s worth every penny (and more) for his exceptionally interesting bespoke tours. I was booked, with 3 other ladies, on the North Mainland Tour, and we all got on incredibly well. There was lots of laughter throughout the day, and James was the perfect host.

I loved using old school maps to navigate our way around the area – so much more fun than a Sat Nav. Come on then, all aboard James’s uber comfy Berlingo, and let me share some of the highlights we experienced during a magical day up north, including a story about Geirhilda, daughter of Flokie of the Ravens…

Uncover Shetland’s Folklore Gems

The best part about seeking local knowledge is the fascinating stories you uncover. Take, for instance, the tale of Geirhilda, a Scandinavian girl whose father was the famous Norseman Flokie Vilgerdarson, also known as Flokie of the Ravens.

Geirhilda was very much in love, but her father disapproved of her man. One day, after meeting with her lover, Geirhilda returned across the Loch of Girlsta, but sadly, she drowned. She was buried on a holm (island) in Girlsta Loch, which was named after her.

By the way, Floki of the Ravens sailed to Iceland, and the story of the three ravens and the part they played in the discovery of the island is not to be missed. James will share the fascinating details when you meet him!

Explore the Geological Wonders of Northmavine

Back in the Berlingo, we headed to the incredible Mavis Grind, where the Atlantic and North Sea meet – a narrow gateway to beautiful Northmavine. In the old days, boats were hauled across this narrow isthmus as a shortcut between fishing grounds.

This location is a significant area for Geopark Shetland, home to Eshaness Lighthouse perched on the rim of volcanic cliffs. There’s an incredibly easy circular walk – a truly wonderful and explosive volcano trail to be discovered, which is a highlight of any trip to Shetland.

As we ambled along the cliffs, James taught us about the fascinating geology of the area. We were all stunned by the ignimbrite boulders thrown up during violent storms and the beauty of Calder’s Geo – an inlet gouged out by the sea. The sight of Fulmars floating on air currents above the raging sea below was breathtaking. This stunning wild landscape will definitely blow you away!

Step Back in Time at Tangwick Haa Museum

We stopped awhile at the fascinating Tangwick Haa Museum, built in the late 17th century for the first Cheynes of Tangwick. I loved the Laird’s room, which is furnished as a traditional sitting room from the 19th century using many locally sourced exhibits.

The gift shop is superb – look out for delicious locally made Rhubarb jam for sale (didn’t last long back home!) and don’t forget to meander in the garden, too – an idyllic place for a picnic. Did you know that ‘Haa’ means the house of the laird?

Uncover Shetland’s Medical Pioneers

All aboard the Berlingo again, and we’re off to hear about John Williamson, better known as Johnnie Notions – an uneducated man, but a man who could turn his hand to virtually anything, including his pioneering method of inoculating against smallpox in the 18th century.

James will tell you how Johnnie made the vaccine involving peat smoke, camphor, cabbage leaves, and a small knife made by his own hands. Johnnie saved over 3,000 lives – a true local hero! Top tip: If you’re on a budget, Johnnie Notions’ camping böd (where he used to live) is an excellent place to stay.

Indulge in Shetland Hospitality

We were famished after all this touring and talking, and where better to stop than Braewick Cafe, Northmavine? Soup, cake, and a good old natter about life in Shetland – past and present, and a spine-tingling story of love and fate was shared by James.

We heard how Robert Nicolson and Elizabeth Anderson met – a love story set across the islands of Unst and Fetlar – involving a daring rescue mission, a Sea Eagle, and a baby girl found in a nest. Want to hear this story? You know the drill – book a trip with James and find out more!

Discover Shetland’s Haaf Fishing History

We visited the sheltered Stennes, location of a thriving Haaf fishing station and community from the 1800s. James told us the sad tale of a wicked laird and a poor woman who had lost her husband at sea and received meagre compensation, only for the laird to demand money from her – for the loss of the boat and tackle, to which she replied, ‘your loss can be made up, my loss can never’.

A local hero – a lawyer, represented her for free and successfully set about the laird. The large roofless house in the foreground is the böd – the merchant’s trading base and accommodation in the summer haaf fishing season. The merchant, often working in league with the laird, always had the best digs!

Uncover Shetland’s Wartime Tales

We carried on to Sullom Voe (now home to an oil terminal) and learned about how North Sea oil changed Shetland life and the heroic John Cruickshank, a Flying Officer based at Sullom, who won a Victoria Cross for attacking and sinking a German U-boat.

His incredible bravery is astounding – when the depth charges failed to drop from his Catalina Flying boat, he returned a second time without hesitation and was met with intense fire. The U-boat was sunk, and it took over five hours to return back to base. He was so badly injured he had to have a blood transfusion before he left his plane.

We also learned about the Shetland story behind the World War II song ‘run rabbit, run rabbit, run! run! run!’ – a German attack on the RAF Flying boat base at Sullom Voe in 1939, where the Germans missed the boats, and in defiance, a photo was taken of a local with a dead rabbit – the only casualty!

Immerse Yourself in Shetland Traditions

The impromptu visit to Sunday Teas at Hillswick Hall (a Shetland tradition and an absolute must-do) was a fantastic highlight of the day, and everyone enjoyed the group playing traditional Shetland fiddle music as we savored our delicious homebakes. A real treat.

We also viewed the house where reclusive Magnus Bain (played by Emmy-winner Brian Cox) lived – chief suspect in the BBC crime thriller Shetland – penned by one-time resident of Fair Isle, award-winning author Ann Cleeves (don’t miss the Shetland Noir Festival in November).

Embrace the Solitude of the Highlands

What I especially loved about the tour was that it was very customer-focused, and if there’s something in particular you want to see or do in the area, James will make it happen. He didn’t rush us around, he took time sharing his extensive knowledge of the islands, and he’s great fun to be with. What more can you ask for?

Book a guided tour or walk with James and experience the real Shetland. Each tour is tailored for you, and this makes it a very special experience and not to be missed. If there’s a large group, James will hire a minivan.

So, my friends, if you’re seeking an unforgettable adventure in the Scottish Highlands, head to Loch Ness Shores and let the local experts guide you on a journey of discovery. Throw away the gadgets, embrace the solitude, and uncover the hidden gems that make this region truly special. Happy touring!

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