Everyone has heard of the Loch Ness Monster. But how familiar are you with the stories behind the creature or the mountainous region of beautiful waterways where this monster allegedly lurks?

The word “loch” is Scottish Gaelic for “lake.” Some lochs are filled by inlets from the sea but Loch Ness is made of freshwater. It is nestled in the Scottish Highlands, one of the most thinly populated areas of Europe and home to the tallest mountains in the British Isles. That means the rolling green foothills and pristine waters of the lochs and rivers that make up the landscape here are largely unspoiled and ripe for exploration.

Viewfinder Tip: The town of Inverness can be used as a home base to explore the wider region of the Scottish Highlands.

Locals joke that the Loch Ness Monster must be female because no male could ever live so long.

There have been many sightings of the monster over the years caught by eyewitnesses, on camera, and on video. Some are more credible than others, while certain reports have been completely debunked all together.

Purportedly, the earliest sighting was in 565 A.D. by Saint Columba as he passed through the region. According to the tale, Saint Columba learned of the monster when he encountered one of the creature’s victims.

But it wasn’t until 1933 that the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster caught the imaginations of locals in the region and subsequently spread to worldwide renown. That year, a married couple witnessed a large, limbless creature lurching across the road in front of their vehicle and descending into the loch. Thereafter, land and water sightings of a large creature became commonplace. The problem was nobody had been able to produce concrete evidence.

The most famous photograph of the Loch Ness Monster was reportedly taken by a local doctor in 1934. You may have seen this photo showing a silhouette of a creature with a bulbous body and long neck. This image, known as the “Surgeon’s Photograph,” was revealed years later to be a fraud. The silhouetted shape was made from a toy submarine attached to a model sea serpent head. Despite this and other hoaxes, sightings have continued over the years. And the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster lives on.

Attracted by the lore and the beauty of the region, I decided to explore Loch Ness and try to look for old Nessie myself.

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I boarded a cruise near the city of Inverness that sits just north of the loch. It is known for being a small but growing metropolis with plenty of restaurants, lodging, and even late-night fun. When passing through town, I stopped at the Rocpool Reserve Hotel for a delicious mini-tasting-menu lunch by Michelin starred Chef Albert Roux. A savory pea soup, a smoked salmon starter, tender lamb with a delicate jus, and a modest slice of passion fruit cheesecake went down with ease.

Now back to the loch. Sailing out onto the lake, I could see miles of glassy waters stretched out ahead of me framed by bushy, green hills. The sun was high in the sky, and diffuse clouds added to a sense of mystery.

When I let myself indulge in the fantasy of finding Nessie, my skin pricked with goose bumps. I stared intently into the deep waters wondering if at any moment that mysterious creature might pop up from the depths. While the adult in me is confident that any creature must be long gone, the kid inside curiously scans the placid surface for signs of the old girl.

The cruise I was on sailed right to the ruins of Urquhart Castle, one of the most popularly visited castles in all of Scotland. Pictured above, it was built atop former medieval ruins in the 13th century. Over the years, it was at the center of wars and conflict in the region. All that is left are the stunning and sometimes eerie reminiscence that sit facing the beautiful loch.

It is quite an amusing experience to cruise along the famous Loch Ness and challenge yourself to be the one to finally spot that storied creature. I dare you to try it.

Are there any other mysteries that inspire you to travel?