Scottish Lochs: No.1 Comprehensive Guide
Written by: Caitlin
Published: 7th July 2020
Scotland is home to some of the most stunning scenery in the world, and there are no views quite so striking as those scenes panning out over some of the most famous Scottish lochs. From Loch Ness to Loch Lomond and all the lesser known in between, no trip to Scotland is complete without a visit to one of these beauty spots.
Loch is the Scottish Gaelic word for a body of water, either completely or almost completely surrounded by land.
Many people ask, isn’t a loch basically the same as a lake? Well in a word, yes it is, except for when it is a fjord. A fjord is formed when a glacier retreats, carving a U-shaped valley, and the sea fills the resulting valley floor, forming a narrow, steep sided inlet. Both fjords and freshwater lakes are classified as Scottish lochs.
In this article we will be looking at and telling you a bit more about 10 of our favourite Scottish Lochs.
How many Scottish Lochs are there?
There are over 31,000 freshwater Scottish lochs, including lochans, although only around 350 are of a notable size. A lochan is the word for a small loch, although there is no clear definition for the size at which a lochan becomes a loch. Scottish lochs can be found throughout the country, but they are most numerous within the Scottish Highlands.
There are also a few reservoirs that have made the list of Scottish Lochs, not usually would a reservoir classify as a loch, but only in some instances where they are modifications of pre-existing lochs.
The Lake of Menteith is the only natural body of freshwater called a lake in Scotland, and there are one or two other man-made lakes. Numerous lochs are called ‘water’, particularly in the Northern Isles, e.g. Roer Water in Shetland, although these should not be confused with similarly named rivers.
The closest estimate we can find suggests that the number of Scottish lochs and lochans is 31,460. And more than 7,500 of these are in the Western Isles alone.
But why are there so many Scottish Lochs?
The main reason for Scotland’s watery landscapes is the colossal sheets of ice that used to spawn massive glaciers. These rolled across the land in the last ice age, gouging out spectacular U shaped valleys and leaving a staggeringly beautiful landscape.
The many small Scottish lochs and lochans are found mainly in the western and northern Highlands, and in corries and in moraines – e.g. lochs in kettle holes.
The larger lochs are often found in U-shaped valleys. These loch basins were formed by glaciation, which shaped the Scottish landscape. Many lochans and pools have formed in peaty areas.
Famous Scottish Lochs
Perhaps the most famous of all the Scottish Lochs, Loch Ness is located in the Scottish Highlands and has long been a massive tourist attraction, ever since the first alleged photo of the Loch Ness monster emerged back in 1933.
Loch Ness is the second largest of all the Scottish lochs by surface area at 56 km2, but due to its great depth, it is the largest by volume in the whole of the British Isles.
The Loch Ness is located south of Inverness along the east coast of Scotland, 180 miles from Glasgow and 170 miles from Edinburgh, to the north of Fort William.
A wide variety of animals and birds can be spotted in the area around Loch Ness, despite the fact that the water is bitterly cold all year round – only around 5°C.
The Loch Ness Monster
Legend has it that a serpentine beast, the Loch Ness Monster, lurks beneath the surface of the Loch Ness. Affectionately nicknamed ‘Nessie’, scientists are baffled by her potential existence, and there have been over 1000 sometimes unexplainable eye-witness accounts and sightings.
Despite years of searching uncovering no tangible evidence, the Loch Ness Monster is still a massive tourist attraction. It was estimated in the early 21st century that she contributed nearly £40 million annually to Scotland’s economy by the way of monster merchandise and tours for fans.
After Loch Ness, Loch Lomond in southern Scotland seems to be the next most widely known of the Scottish Lochs. Based on surface area, Loch Lomond is the largest Scottish Loch, at a whopping 27.5 square miles. It is also the largest inland stretch of water in all of Great Britain, and part of the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park.
The loch has a maximum depth of about 153 metres (502 ft) in the deeper northern portion, although the southern part of the loch rarely exceeds 30 metres (98 ft) in depth.
As well as for it’s sheer size, loch Lomond is well known for it’s picturesque scenery. The surrounding highlands area is home to various wildlife, including red deer, and there is vast oak woodlands. There are various trails surrounding the loch, including footpaths and cycle trails across Ben Lomond mountain and the smaller Conic Hill. Within the National Park you’ll be spoiled for things to do!
Anyone who has visited before will highly recommend taking a loch cruise to see Loch Lomond from its best angle, and their is also a gorgeous golf course to try out if that’s your thing. The nearby ancient Luss village is a stunning place to visit with its fairy-tale like stone cottages, and there are numerous campsites around.
Largest Scottish Lochs
Loch Lomond in southern Scotland, is the largest loch by surface area spreading out to 27.5 square miles
Because of its depth, Loch Ness is the largest loch by volume of water, with a volume of 7.4 km³.
On the other hand, Scotland’s deepest loch is Loch Morar (1077 feet).
The longest sea loch is Loch Fyne in Argyll (approximately 44 miles long).
The longest inland loch is Loch Awe, Argyll (approximately 25 miles long).
Having already had a look at the famous Ness and Lomond, let’s dive in to the deepest of the Scottish Lochs, Loch Morar (although perhaps not literally- brrrr!).
The depth of Loch Morar at it’s deepest, is approximately 310m. It is the deepest body of water in the whole of the British Isles and was created around 10,000 years ago by glacial actions, one of the finest remaining achievements of the Ice Age!
Loch Morar is another freshwater loch, and it is located in Lochaber, in the Highlands. This is the same region as Highland Title’s Mountainview Nature Reserve, so why not kill two birds with one stone and pay a visit to two beautiful places in one trip.
If you enjoy walking, many will tell you that Loch Morar is a walker’s paradise! This Scottish lochs surrounding hills offer magnificent views which stretch all the way to Ben Nevis in the east and out to the Hebrides in the west. If you enjoy wildlife spotting, you should keep an eye out for otters, red deer, sea eagles and many more wonderful creatures in the area.
Morag is the legendary mythical creature that is said to live in the depths of Loch Morar, and although lesser known than her cousin Nessie, she still has a keen following of would be spotters.
Sightings, which are thought to date from as far back as 1887, paint a conflicting view of Morag. On the one hand, she is presented as a mermaid-like character with flowing hair, while another description paints her as a grim reaper whose sighting was viewed as a death omen.
One of the best known more recent sightings painted Morag as more of a Nessie like creature, after Duncan McDonell and William Simpson claimed to have accidentally struck the creature with their boat, prompting it to attack them. They described it as being brown, 25–30 feet long, with rough skin, three dorsal humps and a head a foot wide, held out of the water.
Of the 34 supposed sighting, at least 16 have included multiple witnesses, so they are difficult to ignore.
Whilst it may not be the widest or deepest, Loch Awe makes this list purely for it’s length alone- around 25 miles- making it the longest inland freshwater loch of all the Scottish Lochs.
Loch Awe is located within Argyll and Bute, in the Scottish Highlands. It has also given its name to a village on its banks, variously known as Loch Awe, or Lochawe. There are islands within the loch such as Innis Chonnell and Inishail.
Loch Awe is renowned for its trout fishing. Salmon pass through the loch, coming past the barrage in the River Awe and continuing into the River Orchy.
Loch Awe contains several ruined castles on islands, and at the northern end has one of the most photographed castles in Scotland, Kilchurn Castle, which in summer may be visited by a short boat trip or by a half mile walk from a small car park just after the bridge over the River Orchy.
Many travel here, not just to attempt to walk the almost marathon distance of the banks of one of the biggest Scottish Lochs, but also for Ben Cruachan, as the 1126m mountain is popular for hiking and climbing.
Loveliest Scottish Lochs
Lochs of Harray and Stenness
You can find these adjacent Scottish lochs in Brodgar, Orkney. Orkney is made up of over 70 islands- of which, only 16 are inhabited. The principal island is now simply referred to as ‘the Mainland’.
These Scottish Lochs are so distinctive because they are only separated at their narrowest point by a slender causeway. The Loch of Harray is the largest loch of Mainland Orkney, Scotland and is named for the parish of Harray. It lies immediately north of the Loch of Stenness.
The Loch of Stenness is slightly smaller in area and volume than the Loch of Harray, but it is the deepest loch on mainland Orkney.
The lochs are connected at the Bridge of Brodgar. The two lochs together cover an area of 19.3 square kilometres (7.5 square miles) making the two combined the ninth largest loch in Scotland by area.
Because of their brackish composition, these Scottish lochs have been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest as well as a Special Area of Conservation. The varying salt content supports a whole host of wildlife suited to marine and freshwater conditions, including various types of worms, snails, mussels and algae.
These Scottish lochs are close to the World Heritage Neolithic sites of the Stones of Stenness and Ring of Brodgar.
If you were to look at the top of Scotland, in a straight line from Northeast to Southwest, you would find a long groove in the earth, known as the Great Glen Fault. This was created by the pulling and twitching of tectonic plates, and some of the gap is filled by Loch Linnhe, the only sea loch along the fault, which is approximately 30 miles long.
The name Linnhe is derived from the Gaelic word ‘linne’, meaning ‘pool’. The part of Loch Linnhe upstream of Corran is known in Gaelic as ‘An Linne Dhubh’ which translate to ‘the black pool’, and downstream is known as ‘An Linne Sheileach’ which means ‘the salty pool’.
Surrounding Loch Linnhe you will find Ben Nevis and Glen Coe, two fantastic mountain climbing locations if thats the kind of thing you like to do. At it’s southwest end the loch spills into the Firth of Lorne. At it’s north-eastern end, Loch Linnhe feeds into Loch Eil and is crowned by Fort William.
There is a tidal islet off Loch Linnhe, known as Loch Laich, and this is where you can find Castle Stalker. It is a four storey tower house, which is only accessible from the shore at low tide. The view from the castle here is simply incomparable, and it is also a fun journey to make.
The waters of Loch Linnhe are used by all kinds of water sport enthusiasts and also for open water swimming- although you probably want to bring your wet-suit! Fishing for the many species of fish found here, including Pollock, mackerel, and conger eel, is also popular.
Whilst not the most imaginatively named of all the Scottish Lochs, Loch Lochy is certainly one of the prettiest. It is located 16 km southwest of Loch Ness along the Great Glen, and is over 15 km long with an average width of about 1 km.
Loch Lochy is situated in a particularly picturesque area of Lochaber with high mountains and is traditionally known as a good area for fishing for wild Brown Trout.
Folklore tales mention a supernatural being called the River Horse which was said to emerge from the lake and assume a horse’s shape before feeding on the loch’s banks. The River Horse was also known as the Lord of the Lake and the Water King and would overturn boats and ‘entice mares from their pastures’.
At Loch Lochy’s north-eastern end, near Laggan Locks the canal passes the site of a clan battle: the Macdonalds, MacDonnells and Camerons against the Frasers and a small number of Grants. This Battle is known as the Battle of the Shirts and took place in the summer of 1544.
Other Scottish Lochs of Interest
Loch Maree is located in Wester Ross in the Northwest Highlands of Scotland. It is the fourth largest freshwater loch in the whole of Scotland and it is the largest north of Loch Ness- approximately 21.7 km long and with a maximum width of 4 km.
The area is well know for it’s beautiful scenery with its scattered islands, in fact the Loch Maree has more than 60 islands. There are oakwoods and mountains on one side and Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve on the other.
Of these 60 islands, 5 are wooded areas, and the largest island, Eilean Sùbhainn, is so large it contains another Loch of it’s own, which contains an island of it’s own!
Another of the Loch Maree’s islands, Isle Maree, holds the remains of a chapel which is believed to date back as far as the 8th century. These remains were still visible in 1861 but no traces now remain, although the burial ground associated with the chapel is still visible.
As well as this, there is an abundance of rare wildlife and plants surrounding the Loch Maree, so if you decide to pay a visit, keep you eyes peeled for sea eagles, golden eagles, black-throated divers, red deer, dragonflies and butterflies in the vicinity.
In fact, the loch is the site of one of the largest breeding concentrations of black-throated diver in Great Britain.
The islands of Loch Maree are the location of some of the best native Caledonian pinewood trees in Scotland, and are particularly noted for their dragonflies, with as many as 12 species having been recorded. The waters, islands and shoreline of Loch Maree are protected by several overlapping conservation designations.
Due to its remote location there is now little industry surrounding Loch Maree, however the area was formerly a centre for ironworking.
According to legend, the murky depths of the Loch Maree is home to the ‘Much-sheilche’, a supposedly eel like creature who’s name loosely translated from Gaelic means ‘turtle-pig’.
Loch Tay is a large freshwater loch stretching 15 miles between Killin and Kenmore, in the central highlands of Scotland. The landscape is stunning, with Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve on the north shore, while the southern route along the loch is narrow and winding but has beautiful views.
It is a long, narrow loch of around 14.55 miles long, with ana average width of around 1 to 1.5 miles. It is the sixth-largest of all the Scottish Lochs by area and is over 150 metres deep at its deepest.
The loch is a popular spot for salmon fishing, but the biggest draw for visitors to the Loch Tay has to be the crannogs. In the Iron Age, some of the Celtic people of the area lived on defensible, artificial islands in the middle of the loch, which are called crannogs. Crannogs can also be found elsewhere in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.
They were used because they provided excellent protection from neighbours, who may have been unruly or rivals, but also from the more dangerous wild animals such as wolves, bears, boars, and lynxes that used to be common in the British Isles.
Any visitor to one of these easily defensible island dwelling throughout history would have been wise to approach with extreme caution!
These crannogs are thought to have originated before 2000 BC, although they continued to be built and used as dwellings and refuges right into the Middle Ages.
More than 20 crannogs, most of which are now submerged, have been identified in Loch Tay. But you can still experience the feel of them, as an example has been reconstructed on the south side of the loch at the Scottish Crannog Centre.
Loch Ericht is one of the most notable Scottish Lochs because of the way it has been utilised by man. The loch is part of a hydro-electric scheme and is dammed at both ends in order to produce energy.
It is another freshwater loch, situated on the border between Perth and Kinross and the Highlands. Surrounding Loch Ericht are a number of Munros, including Ben Alder and Geal-Chàrn.
Water flows into the northern end of Loch Ericht via the Cuaich Aqueduct. The southern end is linked to a hydro-electric power station at Loch Rannoch by the 4-mile long River Ericht. The northern dam protects the village of Dalwhinnie from flooding.
Dalwhinnie is a popular place with tourist, probably in part due to it’s world renown distillery on the shore.
Traditional hunting areas border the loch, the main one being Ben Alder Forest, and the loch itself is popular for all kinds of water sports- although it is a well known wind tunnel so if visiting, bring appropriate clothes!
If you are heading South along the Loch Ericht, the most popular stopping off point is at Alder Bay. Few who visit here will be aware of it’s fantastic history though. Bonnie Prince Charlie is said to have spent a couple of nights hidden in a cave there as he made his way to the coast in order to escape Scotland for France.
For the wildlife lovers out there, there are array of local creatures to look out for, ranging from Red Deer to perhaps an Osprey or even an eagle, amongst many other birds of prey that patrol the skies above.