You can’t hear the words Loch Ness without thinking of its monster, which is why I found myself on its shores early one sunny Saturday morning.
But it wasn’t just the allure of spotting the iconic beast that dragged me out of bed – the promise of another slap-up meal at the Lovat Loch Ness Hotel in Fort Augustus had me awake, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, thinking of tucking into breakfast.
The hotel’s history is almost as long as Nessie’s, as it stands on the site of the Kilwhimen Barracks, one of four Hanoverian forts built after the 1715 Jacobite uprising.
The first recorded date of the fort site becoming a hotel was in 1869 when it was known as The Inn but it was the heyday of rail travel that put the hotel, at the time known as The Lovat Arms and Station Hotel, on the map. After the closure of the railway from Fort Augustus to Spean Bridge, it simply became The Lovat Arms Hotel. Current owners, Caroline Gregory and Sean Kelly (also the head chef) have modernised the original building to offer guests a welcome, eco-conscious, four-star retreat with an award-winning restaurant.
The Lovat’s 28 rooms are individually decorated, with some offering a traditional British countryside feel and others modern Scandinavian-inspired interiors. Newly refurbished rooms are equipped with Nespresso machines, minibar, mini safe, luxurious super king size beds and Egyptian cotton sheets. Our garden room – one of seven located in a row outside of the main building – was a pet friendly abode, decorated in cream, green and purple colours with a king bed, modern en suite and enclosed fenced garden, ideal for letting dogs – or, in our case, one very excited Cockapoo – run around.
After a breakfast of smoked Scottish salmon and scrambled eggs, we decided to make the most of the sunny weather and take the dog on a walk along part of the Great Glen Way. Thanks to its long history, the Lovat Loch Ness has been a welcome stop-off for hikers and cyclists tackling the long-distance path since it opened in 2002.
This 79-mile route follows the Great Glen, running from Fort William, in the shadow of Ben Nevis, in the southwest to Inverness in the northeast, and is designated as one of Scotland’s Great Trails by Scottish Natural Heritage. It also follows sections of Thomas Telford’s historic Caledonian Canal, so can be accessed by boat.
The part of the path near the hotel offers walkers the choice of the high or low roads and we opted for the high road with its wonderful views of the famous Loch. With a steep incline, punctuated by streams and small ponds, the route to the top was challenging but not too difficult making it ideal for novice walkers or hikers, and loads of fun for young dogs. After taking a lot of pictures and enjoying the views, we traced our footsteps back to the car and decided to drive to another famous Scottish landmark – Eilean Donan Castle. About an hour from the hotel and on the road to Skye, this was another great spot for pictures and a cup of tea and some cake. We were careful not to overindulge as a much anticipated dinner awaited on our return to the Lovat.
The 40-cover restaurant is led by Sean and offers guests a dining experience based on local, seasonal and often foraged ingredients. Having worked across the globe in some of the finest Michelin star restaurants, Sean brings distinctive flair to the menu in the Lovat Brasserie.
After an energetic day, we were looking forward to dinner from the a la carte menu which included dishes such as duck liver parfait with apple, hazelnut crumb and linseed crispbread; wild halibut with Glencoe mussels, celeriac tagliatelle and white asparagus; and whisky, honey, oatmeal parfait with poached rhubarb.
Before more Nessie spotting the next day, on one of the many loch tours, we headed out with Sean on a foraging trip. When not creating in the kitchen, Sean makes the most of the stunning surroundings and reaps the rewards of the natural larder, the finds of which often making their way onto his menus. For guests’ keen to find out more about the ingredients used in their dinner, they can accompany Sean to the nearby woodland for an informal but informed foraging walk. When we ventured out, wild garlic was in abundance and we were lucky to see some of the last scarlet elf cup mushrooms.
Although we had fabulous weather, it’s easy to see how enjoyable a stay at the Lovat Loch Ness would be no matter the season, thanks to its beautiful location, lovely food and easy elegance. And while we never saw Nessie, we will definitely be back.
P.S. Loch Ness was once watched over by the Bona Lighthouse, Scotland’s smallest manned lighthouse. The lighthouse keeper kept a lantern in his window to guide ships from Loch Ness into Loch Dochfour.
Factfile: Deluxe rooms at The Lovat, Fort Augustus, start at £130 per night including breakfast. See thelovat.com or call 01456 490000