Mysteries still to be found beneath the waves of Loch Linnhe

Swimmers take to the water on Good Friday for a morning dip in Loch Linnhe. JP F14 Open Water 01. Photo: Abrightside Photography. JP F14 Open Water 01
Swimmers take to the water on Good Friday for a morning dip in Loch Linnhe. JP F14 Open Water 01. Photo: Abrightside Photography. JP F14 Open Water 01

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Lochs are an integral part of the Highlands and in earlier years Loch Linnhe was an essential means for transportation, long before roads were utilised, writes Savannah Cobb-Thomas.

For many people now Loch Linnhe provides a picturesque background to their lives in Fort William and pictures of its glassy reflection frequent news feeds, but below its glossy surface it plays host to a plethora of activity.

John MacLellan the operations manager at underwater trials firm, Fort William UTC, told the Lochaber Times:  ‘A survey carried out by Marine Scotland found Loch Linnhe to be one of the most complex loch systems, due to a combination of freshwater, winds, tides and variation in depths that create complex hydrodynamics within the loch.’

Despite deriving its name from the Gaelic term for ‘pool’, Loch Linnhe is connected to the sea and is the only tidal loch along the Great Glen fault.

This infusion of salt and freshwater results in an obscure mixture as if someone has mixed cordial into their drink.

A spokesperson from Fort William Marina and Shoreline Community Interest Company (FWMSCIC) explained that the loch was in fact in two sections – the part south of Corran Narrows was Loch Linnhe, meaning ‘salty pool’ and the part north of the Corran Narrows used to be called Loch Aber, meaning ‘black pool’ but they are now collectively known as Loch Linnhe.

Loch Linnhe experienced the peak of its utility during the Second World War.

Mr MacLellan said: ‘The government planned to use Loch Linnhe during the war to store weapons due to its depth (reaching 150m), relative distance from civilians and its comparable security.

‘There are in fact two small miniature submarines sunk between Corpach and Fort William that remain from the war and, until recently, have not had a confirmed location; one is actually sitting in six metres of water.’

The visible wreck at Camusnagaul, according to local creel fisherman Fergie Maclean,  was from the ML133 disaster in 1943 where one crew member died.

He said: ‘The stories say it caught on fire and the high octane fuel caused an explosion so loud it was heard in Oban and caused windows to smash in Inverlochy; in fact some say parts of the three-pounder gun were found near Ben Nevis.’

Mr MacLellan continued: ‘There are two more wrecks in the loch called the Calipso and the Nunky, but these are for diving purposes along with some other strange objects for dive training, such as a hollow concrete cube and other geometric shapes.

‘These wrecks have allowed species such as pollock, cod and skate to thrive and they are currently in abundance.’

With Loch Linnhe being one of the closest controlled environments to the North Sea for remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) and diver training, it remains an important location for the subsea industry.

In fact, Loch Linnhe is currently hosting a multi-million-pound rescue submarine that is being tested before shortly being sent to Korea.

The marine connectivity of Loch Linnhe allows some of Scotland’s favourite maritime fauna to visit Fort William, such as dolphins, porpoise and some species of whales which have also occasionally squeezed through the narrows.

Footage from ROVs from the underwater centre reveal Loch Linnhe’s silty base, and Mr Maclean says this provides a haven for langoustine to bury into and live, scavenging on small fish and worms.

Langoustine are sought after in many up-market restaurants and some Loch Linnhe langoustine find their way onto dining tables across Europe.

Scottish National Heritage has also said Loch Linnhe is home to three rare species – horse mussels, burrowing heart urchins and heart cockles.

Furthermore, the Scottish Wildlife Trust has launched an official snorkel trail within
Loch Linnhe, with leaflets for what to look out for.

Loch Linnhe is home to three species of starfish, which are in abundance and snorkelers have reported a ‘starry-filled underground’ whilst in the water.

‘This is partly due to the mussel farms around the loch which starfish find particularly
appealing’, added Mr Maclean.