Loch Maree (Scottish Gaelic: Loch Ma-ruibhe) is a loch in Wester Ross in the Northwest Highlands of Scotland. At 20 km (12 mi) long and with a maximum width of 4 km (2.5 mi), it is the fourth largest freshwater loch in Scotland; it is the largest north of Loch Ness. Its surface area is 28.6 km2 (11.0 sq mi).
Bordered on the east side by the oakwoods of Letterewe Estate and the mountain mass of Slioch, a mountain over 3000 feet high, and which dominates its surroundings and on the other side by pinewoods of Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve. The main peak here to the west is Beinn Eighe, a Torridonian mountain capped with quartzite. Loch Maree is regarded as one of the most scenically attractive areas of Scotland. The loch itself is the largest in the north-west Highlands and lies in a glacial trough up to 110m deep. The area has attracted a clutch of conservation accolades which reflect the quality of its habitats, its scenic beauty and the rare plants and animals which are found here.
Loch Maree contains five large wooded islands and over 60 smaller ones, many of which have their own lakelets. Isle Maree has the remains of a chapel, graveyard, holy well, and holy tree on it, believed to be the 8th century hermitage of Saint Máel Ruba (d. 722), who founded the monastery of Applecross in 672. The same island contains ancient stands of oak and holly which have been linked with ancient Scottish druids.
A major feature of the Loch is the large numer of islands which it holds, 66 in total. The larger islands such as Eilean Ruaridh Mor, an Garbh Eilean and Eilean Subhainn contain pristine remnants of ancient Caledonian Pinewood. Some of these Scots Pine trees are over 350 years old, and stand on ground which has changed little in the last 8000 years. They are jointly managed as a Natural Nature Reserve by Forest Enterprise, Gairloch Estate and Scottish Natural Heritage, whose aims are to protect and maintain the unique character of this wonderful place in Wester Ross.
The waters of the loch were also thought to have curative effects, with being submerged in the water thought to be a cure for lunacy. All of the loch's islands are conservation areas. The largest is the only island in Britain to contain a loch that itself contains an island. Like Loch Ness, Loch Maree has its own monster in the form of the muc-sheilch. The loch is often referred to as the most beautiful loch in the Highlands.
Loch Maree is of international importance for its special wildlife and biodiversity. Until recently, thousands of adult sea trout (seagoing brown trout Salmo trutta) and salmon (Salmo salar) returned to the loch from the sea every summer. Sea trout gathered in huge numbers in certain bays, providing some of the most exciting angling in Scotland for which the loch had an international reputation. A British record sea trout of 19.5 lb was caught on a "dapping fly" in the loch in 1952. The sea trout fishery collapsed in the 1980s and 1990s.
Sea trout and salmon are an important part of Loch Maree's ecosystem providing food for black-throated diver and otter (Lutra lutra) for which the loch is a designated Special Area of Conservation and Special Protected Area under the EU Habitats Directive. Juvenile trout can be an important part of the diet of black-throated diver. The loch also has two separate populations of Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) about which little is known. One form of charr, with a big eye which feeds on the bottom in deep water matures at less than 15 cm. The other form grows to over 32 cm and can sometimes be seen in shoals ruffling the surface when the loch is calm.
Loch Maree was designated a Ramsar site on 19 September 1994. The area hosts the golden eagle.
Loch MareeWester Rosswooded islandsScots Pines