Loch Ness Hub

by Robin McKelvie

“Sometimes people forget just how remarkable our Loch Ness really is”, smiles Russell Fraser – a pioneer with the landmark Loch Ness Hub. “If you take all the water in all the lakes in England and Wales put together, it still wouldn’t fill Loch Ness. And then there is all that glorious scenery and heritage wrapped around our great community here in Drumnadrochit and beyond in and around the Great Glen.”

Drumnadrochit could scarcely be better set. This Highland village is tucked in the heart of that colossal geological fault line, the Great Glen, which ravages right through Scotland from coast to coast. From the North Sea right across to the Atlantic Ocean. On either flank of the Great Glen huge Highland massifs rise up and the glens of Urquhart and Affric (often dubbed Scotland’s most beautiful glen) turn the scenery up to eleven Drumnadrochit.

Passionate People

I must admit that even as a travel writer who writes about Scotland for a living I have been guilty of sometimes just whizzing by Drumnadrochit. That is a massive mistake as I realised when I heard more about the Loch Ness Hub, a one-stop visitor oasis for the whole area located in the village’s ample car park.

When this old Visit Scotland tourist information centre closed, few people gave it any hope of redemption. The determined local community, though, had other ideas. Lots of ideas. After a passionate meeting in the village hall, they pushed on with buying out a local transport company and ultimately bravely re-opening the old centre in summer 2021 as Covid still daunted.

Today the Loch Ness Hub is run as part of a community benefit society. Remarkably a share offer – with over 75% of investors from the local community – had raised a whopping £110,000 to set it all up. The main income for this community-minded venture is from baggage and people transfers for clients walking the area’s long-distance trails. Funds generated are then funnelled back into community projects through the Glen Urquhart Rural Association.

Walk, boats and bikes

There are plenty of trails to choose from. You can buy maps for the trails at the Hub, as well as trail guides and quality souvenirs, with the work of local artisans starring on the shelves. The Great Glen Way is well known, but have you heard about the South Loch Ness Trail, East Highland Way, Loch Ness 360° and the Affric Kintail Way? Look out, too, for the new local walking festival this year from March 24-27. Or pick up a guide to the Loch Ness Craft Trail.

The Loch Ness hub also sells tickets for boat trips on Loch Ness and also for Urquhart Castle. The latter is an innovative scheme that keeps the people who would otherwise probably continue on to Skye when they see the Urquhart Castle car park is full in the area. Fraser explains the logic: “We want to tie the community to the castle more, and initiatives like this help – next time you come to Urquhart Castle, just park here and pop in to say hi as well, we’re a friendly bunch!" It is this fresh, innovative thinking that really impresses me about the Loch Ness Hub.

The hub solves tourist problems before they even become issues, and inspires visitors to explore the local area in a more sustainable way. The Loch Ness Hub is a Community Transport Hub that promotes two-footed and two-wheeled transport. They even rent out e-bikes with e-bike trail maps. We are talking EV charging points and Motorhome Service Points, too. The list goes on and impressively on, as Fraser stresses: “There is the Scottish Water top-up tap, and a building that utilises solar panels, air source heat pumps and LED. We even have real-time public travel information, joining those sustainable dots.”

Highland Coos and Whisky Tasting

And there is plenty else to explore, whether you are walking or cycling around. Julie Dell, owner of the superb local Morlea Bed & Breakfast, insists the area overflows with things to see and do: “You can get out on the loch, meet our Highland Coos, meet the super friendly locals and dig into our rich heritage. Shinty is played here too, with 100 kids training every week out of a population of only 1,800, with visitors more than welcome to come and watch games. Every summer there is a Highland Games too. We’ve got a whole lot more here than just the world’s most famous monster, you know!”

They certainly do have a lot more than a monster, and don’t fret either, as monster spotting is very much still a thing if you fancy it. An exciting current project is the major revamp of the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, which is becoming the Loch Ness Centre with around £1.5m investment from Continuum Attractions. On that scenery front, just half an hour's walk from the Loch Ness Hub, is Craigmonie Viewpoint, a favourite with locals and visitors alike looking over Loch Ness. Then there are the Divach Falls, Plodda Falls and Dog Falls. And that is not even mentioning Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, with arguably the best views of the loch. On the food and drink front, there is the award-winning Great Glen Distillery, the smallest in Scotland, the home of Cobbs Bakery, and the famous whisky bar/restaurant Fiddler’s, where you can enjoy private whisky-tasting sessions. The Loch Ness Clansman Hotel has a stunning view over the famous waters for dining with a view.

Social Lubricant That Weaves Visitors Into The Community

Spend money back at the Loch Ness Hub, and you can be assured that it is helping the local community. Projects benefiting include a school meal delivery service, health walks (to aid mind and body) and school and childcare transport. The hub also works closely with groups and private businesses, echoing the key themes of SCOTO. It has been an undoubted success, remarkably managing to even generate a profit in its first full year of trading. It’s no wonder that Fraser was asked to speak at the 2022 Highland Tourism Conference, highlighting community tourism and promoting slow and sustainable tourism.

At its best for me, SCOTO gets people together and really does help visitors to an area become ‘temporary locals’. The Loch Ness Hub then is a facilitator, a social lubricant that weaves visitors into the community. You know when you come here that you are spending to help people and also buying into the community, learning how to explore it further on the region’s various trails.

Feel Like A Temporary Local

“When people walk into the Loch Ness Hub, we want them to get a proper local welcome and savvy local advice”, says Fraser. “We want them to feel like ‘temporary locals’, be their first point of contact and for them to go away having had a good experience. People remember when you go above and beyond. This is a year-round community hub in the truest sense bringing people together, providing employment and making everyone feel welcome.” I know for sure that next time I’m in this spectacular part of the Highlands, I’ll be checking out the community-owned delights of the Loch Ness Hub. I advise you to do the same."

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