Welcome to Drumnadrochit
The best way to get an overall impression of Drumnadrochit is to climb the hill to the east of the town. From this vantage point you will see a green horizon of rolling hills resting on the eastern side of the mighty Loch Ness with Urquhart Bay gouged out of the farmland on the near side where Glen Urquhart finally leads the River Enrick into the loch. Nestled amongst the trees at the head of the bay lie the delightful cottages, bars, shops and Victorian mansions of Drumnadrochit. From here it is impossible to tell that this village, just fifteen miles south of Inverness, is the centre of the Loch Ness Monster Industry. In many ways it is a pity that this is so as the village has more character than one might expect from such a claim to fame.
Drumnadrochit Village Green
To put this landscape in perspective and get a first glimpse of that character, try following Glen Urquhart around five miles west along the River Enrick on the A831 following the signs for Corrimony. Here the spectacular remains of Corrimony Cairn and encircling standing stones lie in open farmland. This large Neolithic site (77 feet across) was built to accommodate the remains of the men who lived in this Glen around 5000 years ago, before the Egyptian pyramids had even been conceived.
It is unclear as to whether the rocky promontory where Urquhart Castle now sits, across Strone Point from Drumnadrochit overlooking Urquhart Bay, has been settled for nearly as long. The easily defended position which it occupies and the fact that it guarded over the major thoroughfare through the Highlands may suggest forts have been built here since earliest times. Certainly there is evidence the site was fortified from the Iron Age, which in Scotland began around 700 BC. Remains from Pictish times have also been found at the site. This being the case it is possible that the site was visited by St Columba in 565 AD on his journey to Inverness to convert King Brude of the Picts. It was on this journey that St Columba made the first sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. The first written records of a castle begin to appear in the 13th century.
The 13th century was a troubled time in Scotland. In 1228 the men of Moray rebelled against the authority of King Alexander II. Alexander crushed the rebellion and installed his son-in-law, Alan Durward, as guardian of Urquhart in an attempt to contain future revolt in the area. Under Durward’s lordship the first stage in the building of today’s castle was begun. However, the next threat to the Scottish monarchy would come not from the Highlands but from England. Starting at the end of the 14th century Urquhart castle would change hands again and again as Scotland fought for its independence. Conflict returned in the 16th century when the castle was the site of squabbles between the Lords of the Isles and the Scottish Monarchy and again with the Jacobite rebellions in the 17th century. When, in 1689, government troops blew up much of the castle to ensure that the Jacobites would not reclaim it, they ensured that it would become the (albeit spectacular) ruin we see today.
In some ways the end of the castle may have benefited the town of Drumnadrochit. The site of Urquhart Castle became a quarry, the old stones being used by local farmers to build enclosures and houses. This underlies one of the main reasons for the village’s early existence: agriculture. However, Drumnadrochit also achieved early fame for its pottery. The nearby Loch Ness Clay Works at Bunlait welcomes visitors all year and offers for sale all kinds of artistic and domestic pottery fashioned by the two resident potters.
The final stage of Drumnadrochit’s development began with the completion of the Caledonian Canal, designed by Thomas Telford and opened in 1822, which connected all the lochs of the Great Glen, making it possible to sail 60 miles from coast to coast through the heart of the Scottish Highlands. For the first time the area was opened up to large numbers of visitors as the Victorian era brought the dawning of the age of tourism. This era also saw the construction of some of the town’s finest buildings, such as Drumnadrochit Hotel. It was the landlady here whose sighting of the Loch Ness Monster spurred much of the modern interest in the phenomenon. Today the building holds one of two exhibitions in the village devoted to the loch and its monster.
With so many newcomers arriving in Drumnadrochit perhaps it is not surprising that the locals have come to take great pride in their village. This pride takes a number of forms. First, the tremendous hospitality apparent in the shops, pubs and restaurants which have a reputation for serving some of the finest food in Scotland. And second, the care which has been taken in presenting the village. This is especially evident on the village green where flowers and small hedges have been arranged to form a miniature Urquhart Castle. Deservingly Drumnadrochit won the 2003 Small Village Britain in Bloom competition.