Susan Morrison: Nessie lets the side down on Highlands tourist trail

Is this the Loch Ness Monster?
Is this the Loch Ness Monster?
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Just north of Oban I realised I was sceneried out. There are just so many hills, glens and lochs a girl can take before scenery fatigue kicks in. No wonder we get tourists, though. For a small country we cram in a helluva lot of stuff to see. However, some of the attractions advertised are suspiciously like those Sylvester Stallone films which are massively promoted but don’t really live up to the hype.

Take Ben Nevis. The biggest mountain in the UK. We should therefore be proud of it. Admittedly, it would have been even taller if the Ice Age hadn’t ground it down a bit, but we are not a nation to bear a grudge.

But make no mistake, my friends, it is just A Very Big Hill. They say the view is stunning. You can’t see it, since the summit is stubbornly cloud-wreathed. This makes me wonder if, in fact, said Ben is quite as tall as everyone says it is, or is it a sharp move by the people of Fort William to encourage tourists to come and look at the underside of a cloud, believing there to be more mountain up there.

In Edinburgh we have a hill which is quite high enough, thank you, and boasts a splendid aspect of John Lewis, which is enough view for me. Arthur’s Seat is the right height for a Sunday ramble and rarely the venue for dramatic Sea King Helicopter rescues because some plonker has taken on the notorious west face clad only in flip flops and a T-shirt emblazoned with the witty phrase, “I’m With This Idiot”.

Loch Ness. We drove past the loch twice, which is about once more than I really needed.

In the past I have been a vocal supporter of Nessie, and, like any Scot with the interests of the tourist industry at heart, have sternly denounced anyone who has dared to suggest the monster was a fiction, so I expected she’d at least flip a flipper in my direction. Nothing. Not so much as one of those mysterious ripples that seem to be her stock in trade.

Nessie made like a camera-shy B list celeb outside a cosmetic surgery clinic. Do you think it possible she does not exist?

Highland roads. There are people who enjoy rollercoasters. Try the roads along the Great Glen. You can scream if you want to go faster, but it doesn’t make any difference if you are behind a tour bus laden with camera-flashing little old ladies from Philadelphia.

At least the breakfast is dram good value

AND then there are Scotland’s secret attractions. The cheerful announcement of the Malt of The Day on the Tiree ferry. Bowmore, since you ask. £3 for a double. Damn good value, announced the two cherry- nosed Islanders next to me, and they added it to their breakfast tray, it being 9.25. In the morning. Never too early for a malt. Or two.

The food. There was a time when you counted yourself lucky if your sarnie only curled one way and the green stuff was lettuce. Today there’s hardly a hamlet that doesn’t boast a gourmet bakehouse, artisan deli or a wee cafe that serves soup so comforting you purr like a cat for hours.

Just think what Mo could do after a slab of tablet

HIGHLAND tablet. Kendal Mint Cake is for wuzzes. Two squares of tablet and Mo Farrah would still be running. It’s diabetes in a bag, but it’s the worlds greatest sugar rush.

The welcome. Highland hotels are only too aware that however you got there, you wash up at their reception desks having come from somewhere very far away. The traditional frosty stare has been traded in for a warm, sunny smile.

The staff mostly smile, since they are still attending their English classes at night, but smiles in Polish, Spanish, Italian or Senegalese are just as welcoming.

The hotels are grand but have a strange addiction to relentlessly upbeat ceilidh music belting out at breakfast and hiding your towels on the bed, which is a problem when your eyes are full of soap.

Backs to the wall

Dingwall. I didn’t actually believe Dingwall was a real place. It sounded like a TV panel show. Ding Wall, where reality TV “personalities” are thrown quite violently against a wall if they failed to recognise a photo of their original nose/chin/breasts. Hang on, we might have something here . . . Anyway, we went to Dingwall – which does exist – and it is lovely.