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Lifestyle

Seventh-century lodges, monetising the monster and selling to Disney: Meet the people whose businesses are thriving off the legend of Loch Ness

reports.
Lauren Robertson
John Oag had always wondered why no one was bottling Loch Ness water. Image: Sandy McCook / DC Thomson
John Oag had always wondered why no one was bottling Loch Ness water. Image: Sandy McCook / DC Thomson

Since Nessie first made herself known to locals back in 565 AD, Loch Ness has become as much a brand as it is a very big body of water.

People from across the globe flock to see it and, once they have been suitably awed, leave with armfuls of souvenirs.

These take endless weird and wonderful forms – from Nessie air fresheners and ladles to tartan underwear and actual bottled, untreated loch water (marked not for human consumption, of course).

But many have used the loch as a foundation from which to build something more than tourist mementos.

Situated around Scotland’s second-largest loch are a whole host of businesses who lean into its stature.

We spoke to a number of them about what the loch means to them and why they chose the area to set up shop.

Foyers Lodge

As soon as Anna Low and Phil Crowe walked through the front entrance of Foyers Lodge, something clicked.

Views from Foyers Lodge. Image: Emily Sandifer.

“We were used to going in and out of lots of different buildings, but as soon as we walked in through the door this one just had a special feeling,” said Anna

“All of the grounds were completely overgrown, it needed a lot of work, but it immediately grabbed our attention, and the situation really was the main draw.”

Anna and Phil had been looking UK-wide for a building to renovate and turn into a business back in 2016, and came across the lodge by scrolling Rightmove while on a trip to Nairn.

Two years later, they welcomed their first guests to the hotel they created on the banks of the loch – with people from all over the world choosing to lay their heads there from the first season.

The luxury hotel sleeps up to 18 guests at a time. Image: Emily Sandifer.

Since it was the loch that ultimately drew the pair to the building, they decided to honour it within.

“Everything is geared towards what’s outside the window,” said Anna.

“The beds are located where you can lie and look out on the loch, I’ve decorated with colours that are synonymous with the outside like dark blues, greens and purples for the water, the pine trees, the birch trees.

“There’s not much between the edge of our garden and the water, and because we’re elevated up it looks like you could reach out and touch it.”

The luxury hotel houses up to 18 adults at a time, with group size limited to four so that all guests feel at home and no one “commands the space”.

Anna and Phil reopened the renovated lodge back in 2018. Image: Emily Sandifer.

Local legend has it that there was an inn on the site in the 600s where cattle drovers used to stop. When General Wade was building the military road along the loch, it is claimed he had his site office there because it had the best view of the loch.

The building as it stands today was built in 1863 by a businessman from Edinburgh, and Phil and Anna have tried to stay true to its original features.

Phil said: “From the outset we wanted to create something that was calm, relaxing and an escape from the everyday hustle and bustle of life.

Anna added: “It’s all old worldly; we’ve got antique furniture, in our sitting room we have chess and backgammon boards, we play vintage music, there are nods to all the building’s different eras.”

The blues and greens in the interior of Foyers Lodge marry with what is outside. Image: Emily Sandifer.

As many stories fill the lodge’s visitor’s book as fill the bookshelves dedicated to Loch Ness.

Books were left to them from a late Loch Ness fanatic’s haul of memorabilia, so guests can learn more about the water as they gaze out at it.

“We are not a touristy nod to Loch Ness,” said Anna. “But we are here, and we would never ignore that.”

Though the couple understands people may find themselves at Foyers Lodge because of its location, they hope to influence their reason for coming back.

“Loch Ness is iconic and a globally known phenomenon, for many of our guests it really is a bucket-list destination that they have dreamt about visiting,” said Anna.

“We don’t have one specific type of guest, we get lots of different guests who come to us for a variety of reasons.”

Phil added: “But with every guest the loch plays a part, especially for the people who are coming to stay with us for the first time.

“Our goal is for people to come for the loch, then come back for Foyers Lodge.”

To find out more about Foyers Lodge or to book your stay after they reopen on March 17, go to Facebook, Instagram or foyerslodge.co.uk

Loch Ness Water

No matter how many times he drove the length of the loch, whether in the backseat as a child or behind the wheel himself, John Oag just couldn’t figure it out: Why was no one bottling Loch Ness water?

So that’s what he did.

John in the Loch Ness Water tartan. Image: Sandy McCook / DC Thomson.

“I went to Environmental Health in 2012, because I thought if anyone was going to stop me, it would be them,” he said.

“But it was the total opposite, they were just as excited about it as I was. After four years of research and development, we launched the product in 2015.”

Loch Ness Water extracts water from the loch, transports it to its premises in Dingwall, puts it through 10 different filters, through a UV filter then into glass bottles.

Each tank is tested by Scottish Water, so it is more than safe to drink.

John said: “Everyone comments of how soft, crisp and clean the water tastes.

“That’s after they’ve asked ‘where do you get the water from?’ which is a common one.”

Smaller 100ml bottles are made specifically for whisky drinkers, another big market for the brand.

John said: “It’s ideal for whisky because of the way we filter the water. Once it comes out through the system we’re left with a neutral water with a pH level of seven. We’ve had whisky experts tell us that when they added our water to their whisky it actually released more flavour.

Loch Ness Water is sold to customers around the world. Image: Sandy McCook / DC Thomson.

“You can’t have a Scottish whisky without the world’s most famous water to go along with it.”

Like most who live and work around it, John himself is fascinated by Loch Ness.

“Loch Ness has always been a part of my life, the stories, the beauty of it,” he said.

“You feel this thing when you see it, something in your heart, it takes your breath away.”

Its connection to the legend has meant John’s Loch Ness Water is sold all around the world and has even attracted the attention of some extremely famous names.

“The further away you go from Loch Ness, the easier it is to sell the product,” said John.

“I’ve never had to go out and seriously sell this product, it holds its own. I even met with the main buyer for Walt Disney who was desperate to get the product in Florida and on the cruise ships.”

John still marvels at the loch whenever he sees it. Image: Sandy McCook / DC Thomson.

He wasn’t able to deliver on the scale they needed at the time, but expansion since has meant John hopes to revisit the deal soon.

Even Mickey Mouse himself isn’t quite as notable as another customer though.

“We had a German couple email to buy 12 bottles of the 100ml water,” explained John.

“They had got married at Loch Ness and were buying the water to baptise their child.”

Find out more about Loch Ness Water on Facebook, Instagram, or at ness.scot

Great Glen Distillery

John isn’t the only one who found a way to utilise the water itself.

Great Glen Distillery is located in Drumnadrochit and is Scotland’s smallest craft distillery.

Just down from the Clansman Hotel that proudly overlooks Loch Ness is a borehole that marks the water’s first step in its journey to becoming a bottle of Great Glen gin.

Simone Peter, a brand ambassador and trainee distiller at Great Glen said: “We use the water in our distillation process.

“Once it’s finished distillation it’s still at about 84%, so we then dilute that to 43% with more water from Loch Ness, it plays a big part.”

Combining the water with the likes of honeysuckle, Scottish heather, Red Sorrel and Frankincense, the distillery produces its classic Great Glen gin, as well as a pink version and a newer Inverness Gin.

Great Glen Distillery’s classic gin. Image: Sandy McCook / DC Thomson.

The distillery was set up by Daniel Campbell and Adam Dwyer in 2020, a welcome outcome of lockdown boredom.

In the few years since it has attracted a global fanbase, punctuated by tourists that fill the region every year.

“We are right by the Loch Ness exhibition centre so we get the tourism from that,” said Simone.

“Pretty much everybody knows the loch, so it’s a huge benefit to us that we use water from there and are based on its banks. We get a lot of tourists, from all walks of life, and it’s a nice thing for them to take away.”

It would be impossible to enjoy a tipple without noticing the gin’s connection to the loch, with its name on the labels and tabs on the top of each bottle.

The first 100 bottles of gin were dunked into the deepest part of the loch. Image: Sandy McCook / DC Thomson.

The business itself owes so much to the loch that it dunked its first 100 bottles into its depths, resulting in a highly sought-after collector’s edition.

Simone moved to the area around two years ago and can’t quite believe her life now revolves around the spectacle that is Loch Ness.

“From our balcony, you can see the loch,” she explained.

“I see it every single day and it’s quite special. I think people can take it for granted but it’s lovely, I feel very lucky to be here.”

Find out more about Great Glen Distillery on Facebook and Instagram, or book a tour at greatglendistillery.co.uk

Mr Loch Ness

There are few who know just how great an impact the loch can have on business than Mr Loch Ness himself.

In fact, you could say Willie Cameron is partially responsible for marketing the loch in a way that has benefited many through the years.

Willie Cameron is known as Mr Loch Ness.

“The loch has been my life and livelihood socially, commercially, business-wise for the last 50 years,” he said.

“Everybody loves a mystery, everybody loves something that is totally unexplainable.

“Loch Ness is a brand that, by default rather than design, is as big a brand as Madonna, Coca Cola, it’s internationally known.”

Willie was branded Mr Loch Ness by Executive magazine decades ago and it stuck. His face has become synonymous with the loch in documentaries, film and the tourism industry as a whole.

The 71-year-old is founding director of marketing for Visit Loch Ness, founding director of the Cobbs Group and founder of Loch Ness Marketing – all of which have been built around the legend of the loch.

Willie Cameron’s life has revolved around the loch for decades.

He said: “More and more people are coming here every year and they are overall spending more and staying longer.

“There is so much here, from things to do to local businesses, and it changes everyday. In my mind, we are a jewel in Scotland’s tourism crown.

“I can’t explain how we’ve done it, the loch is just there, it’s there to use; we’ve been lucky enough to have been blessed with a story and a phenomenon that is second to none and we have taken full advantage of it.”

Willie has made it one of his many goals to take the loch’s story round the world, which has been made a little easier with the fact he is closer to it than most.

“My late father had a very unusual sighting of something in 1955,” he explained.

“So on the basis of telling his story we went from a local to an international organisation.”

Willie Cameron on the banks of Loch Ness.

Being Mr Loch Ness, who better to ask the age-old question: is there or isn’t there a monster that lurks in the depths of the loch?

The answer? It doesn’t matter.

“At the end of the day, if we found out and globally proved tomorrow that there’s nothing there, believe you me, 50% of people would still believe there is,” he said.

“We’re in a win-win situation, no matter what happens. It’s a success story that is beyond all comprehension in terms of business.”

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