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Loch Tay is a long and narrow natural lake in the central Scottish Highlands that extends southwest to northeast in the country's Central and Perthshire regions. Loch Tay is a wonderful choice for travelers looking for a less developed vacation area. There are several small villages bordering the lake, including Fearnan and Lawers along the north shore and Acharn, Ardeonaig and Ardtalnaig along the south. Killin, on the west end, and Kenmore, on the east end where the River Tay begins, are the larger towns associated with the lake; these two towns draw the most visitors and provide services such as equipment rental, lodging, shopping, restaurants, and local attractions.
The Rivers Lochay and Dochart, as well as various streams, feed Loch Tay. This glacial lake is generally 1 to 1.5 miles (1.6 to 2.4 kilometers) wide and 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) long, flowing southwest to northeast in direction, in the shape of a flattened "S." Many crannogs have been found submerged in the lake; crannogs are ancient artificial islands, usually made of wood and stone, which were used for defensive purposes. These man-made features are common in the United Kingdom, but Loch Tay is fortunate to have a reconstructed crannog on view at the Scottish Crannog Centre on the loch's south side to provide a glimpse into the architecture of the early Iron Age. The ruins of an authentic crannog are also on display at Killin Pier.
With the village of Killin at its head and Kenmore at its foot, an exploration of Loch Tay is an excellent choice for travelers and outdoor enthusiasts who are looking for something different. The nearby Falls of Dochart draw many visitors, as does Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Sightseeing and photography are very popular here, in part because the lake is somewhat inaccessible in places. Wildlife is plentiful in the area around Loch Tay: deer, herons, osprey, feral goats, buzzards and red squirrels make the undeveloped woodlands their homes. Nearby in Aberfeldy, the Fortingall churchyard showcases what's thought to be the oldest living thing in Europe--a 3,000-year-old yew tree. Its impressive stature alone makes it worth the trip. Other points of interest include the ruins of a priory near Kenmore that was built by Alexander I in 1211 in memory of Sybilla, his wife, who is interred there. Loch Tay is also less than two hours by car from many other well-loved destinations, such as Oban, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Saint Andrews.
Loch Tay is known for its excellent salmon fishing opportunities. Trout, perch, pike, char and roach are also sought after in this freshwater ribbon lake. With a maximum depth of 508 feet (154.8 meters) and an average depth of 199 feet (60.7 meters), this loch supports a variety of species. Other water-based activities that are popular with locals and travelers include canoeing, kayaking, paragliding, rafting, yachting, sailing, powerboating and water skiing. An unusual feature of this loch--and one to keep in mind when pursuing activities within it--is the shallow shelf that runs around the perimeter of the loch. The lake bed extends out about 100 feet (30.5 meters) before the shelf drops off and the water plunges to greater depths. Piers are found at Killin, Lawers, Fearnan, Ardeonaig and Kenmore, and ferries are located at Ardeonaig and Lawers.
For those interested in spending some time on a beach, a few on Loch Tay accessible by car, but they are limited in size. One is located between Killin and Fiddler's Bay on the south shore; another is located at Kenmore. Mountain biking is also an agreeable pastime to those interested. Bikes for adults and children of all ages can be rented during vacations, with areas of different skill and exertion levels available, so anyone with a cycling interest should be able to satisfy the urge to bike in the area. For more relaxing activities, hill walking is becoming very popular, and golf is also played.
Ben Lawers is located on the lake's north shore, rising 3,983 feet (1,214 meters). This Munro (a term for a mountain more than 3,000 feet [914.4 meters] high) is the tenth highest mountain in the British Isles. The loch itself is 355 feet (108.2 meters) above sea level. The north shore road is the main road for quick travel along the lake, but it's certainly the less interesting route. The north road is much higher than the lake and runs quite a distance away, so the water can be seen only from afar. To get to the lake's northern shores, determined visitors must do so on foot by crossing fields. The south shore road is the more scenic and more interesting route, although it is a lesser road and not as well maintained. It hugs the shoreline more closely and allows a greater appreciation for the many nuances of Loch Tay. It's a slower drive, but it's much preferred if time is not of the essence. The south road passes through the village of Acharn, which is known for its 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) pathway that leads to impressive waterfalls. This hike, though popular, is rather steep and not a good choice for the vacationer looking only for a leisurely stroll.
Most of the wonderful holiday rentals in this region are self-catering accommodations that fit snugly into the unspoiled woodlands surrounding them. Lakeside cabins, lodges and other renovated and cozy options are available for holiday rentals, as is some real estate that would be perfect for a retirement home. Most rentals feature modern amenities, with full kitchens, satellite television and modern appliances set in the relaxing and peaceful atmosphere that pervades Loch Tay and its surrounds.
The Breadalbane hydroelectric power project uses Loch Tay as an important component of energy generation. Breadalbane, Gaelic for "the high country," is where the Scottish Highlands begin. Seven power stations are in place with this project, which has been fully operational since 1961. It's a powerful system due to the large annual amounts of rainfall received by the high mountains around this area, which then flow into the river valleys and provide the system with plenty of water. There are three sections to the system, each involving a loch: Loch Lyon, Loch Earn and Loch Tay.
The Lawers section of the hydroelectric project, named for its proximity to Ben Lawers, was designed with a series of tunnels to funnel water where it needs to go, using a system of aqueducts to collect and divert the massive amount of water. These tools feed the water into Lochanna-Lairige, a reservoir that is contained by Lawers Dam, which is a very large buttress dam that conveys the water over the highest waterfall drop of any man-made hydroelectric scheme in Scotland--a plunge of 1,361 feet (415 meters). The water flows through a pipeline and is used by the Finlairg power station, located on the shore of Loch Tay. Operated by Scottish and Southern Energy, the Breadalbane hydroelectric power project is a significant source of electricity generation for the central Scottish Highlands, powering roughly 11,500 homes. This project demonstrates that Loch Tay is equally important for recreation and energy production.
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