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Remote, desolate, historic, beautiful: all of these describe Loch Maree. Located in the Highlands and Morey Region of Northwestern Scotland, Loch Maree is the fourth largest Loch in Scotland and the largest north of Loch Lomond. Fed by the Kinlochewe River and multiple smaller rivers, it forms the headwaters of the River Ewe. The River Ewe empties into Loch Ewe, a bay on the west seacoast of Scotland, less than a mile from Loch Maree. The deep narrow loch has a well-deserved air of mystery - and even a legend of a monster known as Muc-Sheilch. No pictures of Muc-Sheilch exist, only reported sightings of a large dark form sighted on rare mornings when the fog lifted. Rumors persist that there was once a futile attempt to drain the loch, and efforts to poison it at another time, so perhaps early landowners did succeed in driving the monster back to the sea. The name Maree is not, as many assume a derivation of Mary; the loch was named for St. Maelrubha, a seventh-century saint of the Celtic Church.
Loch Maree is primarily known as a great fishing lake: sea trout, salmon and arctic char are found in the lake. The fishery became extremely popular after Queen Victoria visited the Loch Maree Hotel at Talladale in 1877, a visit which also led to the naming of 'Victoria Falls', a lovely waterfall feeding the loch from Beinn Eighe on its south side. Due to its remote location, Loch Maree has little industry or commerce in the immediate area. A few local hotels and farm cottages provide lodgings for fishermen, hikers and nature enthusiasts who visit the loch. Often considered the most beautiful loch in Scotland, the nearly 13-mile long loch is up to 375 feet deep in some places and known to blow up some vicious storms with little warning. The fishing is under the control of several local hotels who rent boats and guides to fishermen. The guide service is necessary, as much of the area is protected as a nature preserve, and because the loch can be treacherous to those unfamiliar with its waters.
Around 30 islands are located in Loch Maree, one with the ruins of an early castle. Another has a complicated history considered by some to be an early Druid holy site. Prehistoric ruins predate the remains of an 8th century chapel, cemetery, holy well and 'wish tree' connected with St. Maelrubha. The holy well, now dry, was reputed to cure madness. Oddly, Isle Maree contains holly bushes not found on the other islands. Other islands are protected as breeding grounds for rare waterfowl and birds such as the black-throated diver and osprey. Canoeing and kayaking among the cluster of islands is a popular pastime with visitors. Landing on the islands is allowed except during active nesting seasons. The island grouping lies close to the south shore of the loch, much of which is occupied by the complex mountain ridge, Beinn Eighe. The north face of the mountain is protected public land named Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, a favorite for hiking, climbing and wildlife viewing. From the heights, the view across Loch Maree features the impressive sandstone face of Slioch, a very different type of mountain rising over 3200 feet. Several car parks and camping grounds along the south shoreline offer easy access to the many trails of Beinn Eighe. A highway travels along most of the south shore of the loch - the north shore is a bit harder to get to.
The northern shore of Loch Maree is accessible only by footpath or boat. Much of the lakefront is public nature reserve property, but the remains of two old ironworks and a smelting furnace and sawmill still exist. The footpath passes several picturesque waterfalls. A portion of the north shore is the Letterewe Estate - 90,000 acres of meadows, mountains, rivers and small lochs in private ownership but managed for hunting, fishing and nature tourism. In the hands of the former Laird of Gairloch and the Mackenzie family for centuries, the property now belongs to the estate of a wealthy Scotsman, and the various lodging facilities are available as holiday houses or cottages. Letterewe is popular as a deer stalking ground, where hunters carry supplies in and game out on ponies. Wildlife and game on the Letterewe Estate are scientifically managed to assure optimum breeding and populations.
The far eastern reaches of Loch Maree near the outlet to the River Ewe contains small settlements and farms accessible by road from Poolewe. Although a small town, Poolewe offers a campground, swimming pool, several restaurants, self-catering guest cottages, secluded beaches and loads of quaint charm. An ancient church dedicated to St. Maelrubha makes for a picture-perfect photo opportunity. Two hotels serve holiday-makers who enjoy the quiet harbor protected within Loch Ewe. On the far side of the south end of the loch, Inverewe Gardens showcase the efforts of one man to wrest a lovely garden on the windswept point. Blessed by the warm Gulf Stream current, the barren point was reclaimed by Osgood Mackenzie beginning in the mid-1800s. In 1952, Mackenzie's daughter donated the gardens and an endowment for its upkeep to the National Trust for Scotland. Only six miles southwest of Poolewe, the larger town of Gairloch is the epitome of a highland town. The old city sprawls along the eastern shoreline of the loch to the harbor called Charlestown. Gairloch possesses several hotels, a campground, bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, shops and an excellent golf course. A 'must-see' location is the Gairloch Heritage Museum, where the history of the Highlands from the Bronze-Age to modern times is told. Find out about the two clans, the MacLeods and Mackenzies, who fought for dominance of the area until King James IV granted the lands to the Mackenzies in 1494. The family still owns much of the land in the area.
Visiting Loch Maree is the prefect holiday for those who enjoy solitude, hiking, historic lore and fishing. Vacation rentals in the form of farm cottages, guest cottages and holiday houses can be found, often with Loch Maree vistas. Real estate on Loch Maree is not commonly available, but other nearby locations in the immediate area can sometimes be found. Pack the hiking boots, the fishing gear and the canoe - Loch Maree will steal your heart. You'll soon realize there's a little McLeod or Mackenzie in all of us. So, come home to Loch Maree! And bring your tartan.
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