Monday, 14 May 2018


The Caledonian Canal runs vaguely North-South. Lying in almost perfect alignment down the massive geological fault that is the Great Glen, are four natural Lochs. Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, the famous Lock Ness and Loch Dochfour. They make up 38 miles of the 60 miles of the total length of this engineering masterpiece running from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. 

There are 22 miles of cuttings,  29 locks, and 10 bridges. The Canals designed purpose was to enable naval and other sailing vessels to avoid the treacherous Pentland Firth and Cape Wrath. William Jessop and Thomas Telford are credited with the engineering design and it took roughly 40 years to complete by which time the arrival of the age of steam largely rendered it unnecessary. It survives today to provide access to forestry and Highland economies with Germany, Holland and the Scandinavian countries. It plays a major roll in the Scottish Tourism economy, as a popular route for commercial cruisers, private yachts, fishing vessels and small naval vessels using it as a shortcut and as a destination in itself. The route also attracts walkers, kayakers, and cyclists.

Inverness is tucked into the armpit of the Moray Firth, at the northern end of the Caledonian Canal. Our arrival at Clachnaharry Sea Lock was the entry point for our trip south. Arrival is carefully timed to coincide with the lifting rail bridge so you can enter Muirtown Basin. We explored Inverness for a week, re-provisioned and awaited the arrival of Pam and Jon Tweed and Sentijn with John Kara and Dean, who were still coming north on the East Coast of the UK. 
Memorial at Cullendon.

Tweed arrived with a hire car and for the next two days, we explored further afield. The battlefield at Cullendon, where, in 1746, English Soldiers killed or wounded 1500 to 2000 Highlanders in a brief and bloody battle. Their fight to restore Bonnie Prince Charlie, is graphically represented in a new Visitors Centre at the site. In beautiful weather, we then drove down along Lock Ness to Urquhart Castle and then onward inland to take in some highland scenery.

Touring at LocH Ness
Inverness City sights and some shops satisfied the shopping urges and then it was into the serious business of Locks. Muirtown Flight comprises 4 locks in a staircase, with the top gates forming the bottom gates of the next one. It takes about an hour to traverse the stairway. We carried on to Dockgarroch, approximately 5nm where we spent the first night on a pontoon provided. The cost of the canal was £438 and included 2 weeks in the canal and pontoon berthing. There is also power and water available at many pontoons. Onshore ablutions are very good and there are laundry facilities as some stops. Some of the stops have restaurants or pubs and some, just a lock keepers cottage. Dockgarroch has a new Visitors Centre and offers some attractive Highland souvenirs to the many tourists who bus in here to take a cruise on Lock Ness.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness the next day was a 20nm sail in brilliant sunshine with a headsail only. Loch Ness is over 220M deep with steep mountains on both sides. There's a lot of forestry on the lower hillsides. The higher mountains are treeless and clad in heath in the Autumn. Now there is a lot of golden Gorse flowering. 

Loch Ness was the training ground during the WWll for the Dam Busters. The hillsides have raised beaches, well really just shelves, which run perfectly horizontally several hundred meters higher than the current shoreline, caused when the water level dropped in some past millennia. Formed into roads during the Jacobite Wars by General Wade, they facilitated access by the English Army to quell the Highland Rebels. Feelings still run deep in the cultural heritage of the Highland Scots. 

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle sits high on a cliff halfway along the western side of the Lock. We were able to approach quite close for a great view from the water.

Fort Augustus

Fort Augusts, midway along the Great Glen, Fort William at the southern end and Fort George at the northern end on Moray Firth were built by the English, and linked by General Wades roads. Fort Augustus is a small and particularly picturesque town and is one of the main centers on the canal. The Fort has been substantially modified, now houses private condominiums and is not open to the public. 

A quaint Pepper Pot Lighthouse sits at the entrance to the next section of the Canal. We spent 3 nights here during which time Sentijn caught us. Jon had met them in Cocos Keeling. 

There are numerous choices for dining and pubs and a new Visitors Centre is almost completed. We dined, walked and explored here for 2 day. Fort Augustus has a stairway with 5 locks and a swing road bridge at the Loch Ness end. After traversing the locks to the top, Pam and Jon left us the following morning by bus, back to Inverness, to catch their flight and continue their travels. We had such a great time catching up and sharing time with them in this precious place.

Southern end of Loch Ness. Fort Augustus.

On Wednesday the 2nd of May, in company with Sentijn we pressed on South. The weather closed in and it was a pretty cold. 9.5nm. Laggan Lock was the next stop after a pretty, but misty, passage through Loch Oich and the River Oich. Loch Oich is the highest point on the canal at 32.31meters.  At lock Laggan, our first downward lock, Eagle Pub is a converted Dutch barge serving as a restaurant and bar. Weather was a bit grim but a Scottish piper suitably clad in a kilt, was undeterred by the stiff breeze up the dress and he piped in one of the Canal Cruise boats. 

Thursday dawned cold and rainy so we decided to stay put. Friday we locked down the 2 locks into Loch Lochy and we pressed on for another 9 miles in highland mist and a fresh nosily to Gairlochy where we spent the night. There is nothing much here apart from Canal facilities for boaters. Laundry, showers power and water. Gairlochy to Neptunes Staircase was just 5 nm on Saturday. Approaching the snow-capped mountains on the west coast, Ben Nevis is a spectacular sight as the mist lifts. 

Neptunes Staircase consists of 7 locks down with a road bridge at the bottom. Going down is much easier than going up. You just let the lines loose as you go. Going up you need to be shortening lines all the time and with the turbulence in the locks as they fill, that can be fairly arduous. We stayed the night at the top. Availed ourselves of a nice meal at the new Visitors Centre and enjoyed the improving weather. 

Next morning our descent was delayed by a road bridge failure. Being a Bank Holiday Weekend, Technicians were hard to get. However, by late morning we were underway. It takes approximately an hour and a half to complete the decent then it was just a mile or so to a couple of locks then the Corpach Basin, our last night in the Canal. We had in fact been 8 nights but as it was not busy and there had been several delays with breakdowns of infrastructure, this was overlooked. We paid £6 for power for the week and next morning, 7th May we exited the sea lock into Loch Linnhe.

The Caledonian Canal is an experience we would definitely recommend. The scenery, history and culture is amazing. The staff are excellent and some even remembered us from our trip through last year. Locks are not difficult, a couple of long lines and plenty of fenders are all thats really required and of course time. Allow plenty of time. We enjoyed 2 weeks between our arrival in Inverness and our departure at Fort William.
Taipan and Sentijn at the top of `Neptunes Staircase with Ben Nevis behind

Onward South on the Atlantic Coast of Scotland for our next adventure. A planned Ocean Cruising Club Gathering in Craohb Haven south of Oban, return to Tobermory and some spectacular anchorages are just a few of our plans. We will also take a road trip to Northumberland on the Northeast coast of  England. Stay tuned.

Kara's photo of Taipan leaving the last lock.

Further information on charts and guides for the areas at

Maps Me

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