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Mysterious and romantic, beautiful Loch Duich holds a special place in the history and hearts of Scotland's West Highlands. Loch Duich featured prominently in the 1719 Battle of Glen Shiel between British government troops and an alliance of Jacobites and Spaniards, resulting in a victory for the British government forces. Eilean Donan, a small island on the loch, was one of the main strongholds of rebel forces; the castle of the same name was destroyed by the British as a result. Built in the 13th century, Eilean Donan Castle was the stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae. The castle was reconstructed in the 20th century by Lieutenant-Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap and has become one of the most photographed monuments in Scotland. The image of the castle surrounded by the waters of the loch has graced many a label and featured in several films. But Loch Duich is just as photogenic in its own right and attracts thousands of holiday visitors every year.
One of three connected lochs, Loch Duich and Loch Long branch from the eastern end of Loch Aish. Loch Aish begins at the Strait of Kyle Akin which separates Scotland's West Highlands from the Isle of Skye. Eilean Donan is strategically located at the spot where the two inner lochs join Loch Aish and has been a major defensive look-out point for thousands of years. The deepest spot in the three lochs is Loch Duich where the water reaches 377 feet in depth. All three lochs have been named the "Lochs Duich, Long and Aish Reefs Special Area of Conservation" for the reef structures beneath the waters and the variety of rare reef vegetation and animal life they shelter. Unusual geologic formations below the lochs show that major earth changes were involved in the formation of these fjord-like arms of the sea. However, most visitors are drawn to the area for the beautiful and historic Highlands landscapes that surround the lochs.
Fishing is a popular pastime at Loch Duich, with salmon being the main catch along with a variety of typical northern sea species. Salmon are commercially raised in limited numbers in cages at one location, an operation highly regulated to avoid damage to the unique ecology. Small boats may be rented at Letterfearn along the southwest shoreline. Many of the holiday houses and small inns near the shoreline also provide boats and fishing tackle to guests. Some fishing may also be done in the small 'hill lochs'-small bodies of water nestled in the hills around Loch Duich.
Loch Duich has little shallow water, with the depth dropping off quite close to the shore. Porpoises and otters are often seen on the loch, reminding visitors of the local legend of the otter girls who married local men. The surrounding area holds golden eagles, deer, pine martins, badgers and wild goats along with a variety of other wildlife. In addition to Eilean Donan Castle, anther area attraction is the Glen Shiel Battleground, a National Historic Site at the far east end of the loch. The dramatic scenery, consisting of many sharp peaks surrounding the loch, attracts many visitors and honeymoon couples.
The restored Eilean Donan Castle is a popular site for weddings. The historic castle is easily accessed by a narrow bridge built from the mainland near the Village of Dornie. A visitors' center helps to interpret the history and architecture of the castle; a visual display makes viewing the castle possible for the disabled, since the castle cannot be made handicap-accessible. One of the most poignant newer features is the World War I memorial to the fallen Macraes of that war. The inscribed names are highlighted by a few lines of a famous poem of the era written by yet another Lt. Colonel John Macrae, a Canadian soldier. The poem, "In Flanders Field" became a symbol of the loss of soldiers in the war and forever enshrined the symbol of the poppy as an emblem honoring the veterans of all wars. Although most view the island from land, visitors can take small tour boats to the island for a view of the castle from the water.
A substantial number of small lodging facilities are dotted along the shore, with self-catering holiday stays, hotels and cottages. Several small villages along the shore offer inns, restaurants and other tourist accommodations. At least two caravan parks or campgrounds are located near the shoreline. The roads, lanes and paths surrounding Loch Duich are a delight designed for the treasured Scottish walking holiday. Walking here is what is referred to as hiking or trekking in most countries. Some of the paths are quite strenuous and reach to otherwise inaccessible locations. Ranger-led walks can be arranged from Kyle of Lochalsh, the largest city on Loch Aish. Kyle Tourist Information Centre has information on all of the favored 'walks', boat tours, and accommodations in the area. The paths are often traveled on horseback, with horse rental available along Loch Duich.
The small scenic mountain range called the "Five Sisters of Kintail" is a fitting backdrop for the picturesque loch and a favorite among those engaged in the sport of 'Munro bagging'. In the Highlands, a munro is a mountain reaching over 3000 feet. The name originated with Sir Hugh Munro who produced the first list of such peaks in Scotland. The Scottish Mountaineering Club publishes a list of 282 Munros in Scotland, and those engaged in the sport climb or 'bag' as many peaks as possible. Three of these munros are located in the Five Sisters of Kintail range. Those who are accustomed to peaks above 14,000 feet may think this is an easy climb, but the munros are very steep with unsteady footing; they are subject to sea-driven winds and inclement weather and require a considerable amount of caution.
One archeological feature common in this area of the Highlands is the Pictish broch. These mysterious circular stone ruins are located throughout the area with one on the southwest entrance to Loch Duich opposite Eilean Donan. It is unclear who built these towers; the location of the one nearest to Loch Duich appears to have been a defensive look-out as it overlooks the area where the three lochs come together. Other ruins are located nearby. The brochs are only one of the features that make a holiday near Loch Duich a favored destination. The nearby Isle of Skye at the mouth of Loch Aish holds a number of Mesolithic sites along with sites evidencing early Norse settlement in the area. Clan heritage is strong here; local history regarding Highland clans, battles and dramas are a favorite topic of discussion.
No trip to Scotland would be complete without a visit to the Scottish Highlands and Loch Duich. The beautiful scenery, colorful local history and serenity of the loch surrounded by the green peaks of the Five Sisters of Kintail will make a memorable vacation. .
* Very few statistics for Loch Duich are available.
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