Let’s face it: the only reason most people are going to Urquhart Castle is for the views of Loch Ness. After all, ruined castles are a dime a dozen in the UK (or maybe I should say 10p a dozen? Or about 6p if you convert it), and the main thing Urquhart has going for it is its deeply picturesque surroundings. And being that most of the road around Loch Ness runs worryingly close to the edge of the loch (I was terrified of swerving off the road and drowning in the icy water), there aren’t that many places to get out and photograph it without risking death. Which is probably why people are willing to pay £7.90 a pop to see some mouldering old stones (half price admission to Historic Scotland properties with English Heritage membership, woot woot, although the mean woman working the admissions desk clearly resented us for it).
Actually, as far as things go, £7.90 isn’t all that bad, considering we paid the same to go to the “Loch Ness Experience,” which I need to take some time to warn you away from. I knew it would be a tourist trap, but I often like tourist traps, as long as they make a bit of an effort to give the people what they want (hint, usually plenty of photo ops or weird stuff to look at, so in the case of the Loch Ness Experience, you’d expect a Nessie to pose with, right? Wrong). This place was so awful though, it still pisses me off. It advertised itself as having all these different exhibits, but was actually just six different small rooms where they showed different bits of the same old-ass documentary. It was seriously just one of those shows that they used to play on the History Channel along with all the alien abduction programmes (my dad used to watch those for hours for some reason, so I’ve definitely seen the Nessie one before) before it became the all Pawn Stars all the time channel. I didn’t even watch the videos; they were so boring, and I was in a hurry to get to what I thought were the exhibits, only to find myself going direct from the videos into the gift shop, filled with every kind of Nessie tat available. I actually asked one of the people working there if I’d somehow missed the museum, because I could not believe how shit it was. And yes, there was not even a fake Nessie statue, we had to pull into some random hotel parking lot for a photograph with one of those. Avoid the Loch Ness Experience like the plague, it is one of the worst places I’ve ever been!
Anyway, back to Urquhart Castle, which at least delivers on what it promises. Spectacular views of the loch, and some castle ruins. There are a lot of steps involved, and the weather will probably be terrible, so prepare yourself for these things. They did at least install metal steps in one of the towers, so you’re not having to climb those scary old stone staircases, but the other tower is still old-school, and passing people going the opposite direction on the stairs is really difficult.
They did have signs in each former room of the castle, but they didn’t get that much into the history of it (or maybe they did, just not to the extent that I can remember it), it was more what each room was used for, that sort of thing. It was, as I’ve said, very dramatic scenery, but I was kind of glad we only paid half price to see it.
There was also a gift shop/cafe with a very small exhibit inside, basically just a wall of posters which got more into the timeline of the castle, and a few artefacts. The gift shop was trying to hawk CDs of Scottish music, which meant that the soundtrack as I was looking at the timeline was frankly hilarious; some kind of Caribbean remix of “Amazing Grace,” featuring bagpipes and steel drums. A video presentation was available to watch, but we didn’t hang around to see it, as we still had a lengthy drive down to Loch Ness, and I was starving (the cafe was less than thrilling, so we stopped off for cheesy chips in Fort William). So, Urquhart Castle: Come for the scenery, not for the detailed history, basically. (If you zoom in, you may be able to spot Nessie in the right hand picture immediately below. Please ignore the incredibly stupid face I’m making.) 2.5/5