Leaving the Highlands – Cruising the Caledonian Canal with Daniel

This was not the sailing season we had envisaged.  But then again, this was not the year that anyone had planned on!  As Idun was overwintered in Scotland, we couldn’t travel up there until July.  Also, both Dominic and I caught the virus back in March.  He was ill for a few days, but I just never got better. It is now November and I’m still not back to normal, so long Covid is definitely an apt name!

Wednesday, 29th July – Tuesday, 4th August: Oban Marina and Launching Idun

When travel restrictions from England to Scotland eased in late July, Dominic went up to Oban and worked hard at getting Idun ready after the many months on land.  Because of the restrictions still in place and staff shortages in the marina, he had to do much more himself than expected, but Idun was successfully prepared and launched on the 31st of July.  Our son Daniel soon joined Dominic and together they put up the sails, scrubbed green algae off the decks and other less enjoyable tasks but also ventured off on the odd walk on Kerrera between the rain showers.

Leaving Oban and Kerrera behind

Wednesday, 5th August: Leaving Oban Marina and into Corpach Sea Lock

Daniel had said he’d join us going through the Caledonian Canal as a bit of a holiday, then as time got nearer he went from guest, to 2nd mate, to the only crew, as it turned out I just wasn’t well enough for the boat journey, let alone the train ride from home to Oban. So Dominic and Daniel were tasked with taking lots of photos of the spectacular Scottish scenery to satisfy my need for high mountains and deep lochs. I’m pretty gutted that I couldn’t come along; Caledonian Canal has long been on my tick list.

Timed for the tides, they set off from Kerrera and Oban Marina mid-morning going up into Loch Linnhe, through the Corran Narrows, past Fort William and into the Corpach sea lock for the early evening opening. It had been a very dull day, but Ben Nevis was coming into view as the clouds lifted in the evening. They stocked up at the Coop for the week ahead.

Thursday, 6th August: Up Neptune’s Staircase

Thursday started with glorious sunshine. The locks were very busy and they had some bigger boats to come down first, but after lunch it was Idun’s turn to go up Neptune’s Staircase. The Staircase was designed by Scottish architect, canal and bridge builder Thomas Telford and it comprises of eight locks. At 64 feet/20m to the top, it is the longest staircase lock in the UK.

This is how Dominic and Daniel managed the many locks: Due to Covid-19 we could not rely on staff helping and so, with just two of us, we had prepared a locking procedure that worked well. Daniel would walk both the fore and aft lines (both long enough) up the lock. Each had a loop (bowline) at the end so all he had to do was loop them round the hooks positioned on top of the lock walls. Dominic had both lines running back to the two electric winches so all he had to do was press the winch buttons to pull the lines taught having motored in to the next lock and settled on the side. Dominic also learned a cunning technique to take the boat away from the wall when leaving to go into the next lock. Normally you would have crew to “fend off” but without that (Daniel would be standing high up on the lock wall above) Dominic would engage forward engine then steer into the wall whilst at the same time applying bow thruster power away from the wall. Result: Idun would gently move laterally away from the wall. This manoeuvre was particularly important to ensure the wind turbines never touched the wall.

It was nearly 5pm when the 8th lock in the sequence was done, so they tied up Idun to a pontoon in Banavie Top Basin for the night. In the evening they walked along the path by the Canal, the start of the Great Glen Way. Another item on my tick list: https://www.highland.gov.uk/greatglenway/info/3/

Friday, 7th August: From Banavie to Loch Lochy

After slipping the lines at Banavie they set off along the straight canal with its verdant edges. The river Lochy runs alongside, albeit at a more meandering pace. They went past Muirshearlich and Gairlochy via two swing bridges and a lock before heading into Loch Lochy. After rain poured down for hours, Dominic rowed ashore for a walk and an opportunity to take photos of Idun anchored in the loch.

The Caledonian Canal runs 62 miles/100km from coast to coast across Scotland. Only one third of the entire length is man-made, the rest being formed by Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour. These lochs are part of the Great Glen, a geological fault in the Earth’s crust. A total of 29 locks have to be crossed to reach the other end of the canal.

Saturday, 8th August: Loch Lochy to Fort Augustus

Leaving behind the pine clad lochsides of Loch Lochy, they went through the Laggan Locks and on into Loch Oich. There were lots of hired motor boats around and they made a lot of noise, apparently! They reached Fort Augustus and got through two locks before they closed for the day – three to go tomorrow morning. There were plenty of people around in Fort Augustus which hosts the Caledonian Canal Visitor Centre as well as plenty of hotels and pubs (all Covid compliant!). The train station in Fort Augustus is now closed, but it’s an easy destination to get to by road.

Sunday, 9th August: Fort Augustus to Loch Ness

Glorious sunshine and warm! (This is when there was an unbearable heatwave in England, resulting in nice and warm weather in northern Scotland.) After tackling the remaining locks Idun elegantly motored off in to Loch Ness. At 200m meters of depth, who knows what monsters can hide under this mass of water?!

After going for a few hours they stopped in Drumnadrochit Bay two-thirds of the way up the loch. The loch contours fall steeply making anchoring difficult but Dominic managed to find a position in about 30 meters of water that would allow the anchor to hold. It’s not often we have 90 meters of anchor chain out (almost all of our 100 meters). With calm conditions all was fine and the anchorage afforded spectacular views.

They went ashore with a view to visit Urquhart Castle. This involved a long hike up and through wild fields to a road that lead to the castle. But they got there with only 30 minutes to go before closing time. “Oh well, perhaps they’ll let us in for free for a quick nosey”, says Dominic to Daniel. The reply came from a nearby official who had overheard: “I don’t think they will, actually”. Never mind, they returned having to be satisfied with the walk alone.

It was here that Dominic decided it was time for his annual wild water swim. Conditions, though hardly ideal, would not be better at any other time. The water was freezing and after much cajoling from Daniel, Dominic eventually managed to immerse himself off the back of the boat. A circumnavigation of the boat, as had been achieved in seasons previous, was out of the question. So one stroke was enough. He was out and under the hot shower in a second.

Monday, 10th – Tuesday 11th August: Loch Ness to Inverness

They set off early on the Monday morning as there were lots of locks and bridges to go through today to get to Inverness. Soon after getting the sails up they realised that with such little wind they just didn’t make any headway so had to resort to the engine. It’s either sunny and no wind, or grey, rainy and plenty of winds for sailing!

Having passed Lochend and into Loch Dochfour they were noticing that the landscape is lower and rounder. They’re getting closer to the coast. When they arrived at Inverness they could only get to the top of the set of four locks, there just weren’t enough staff in Covid times to keep the locks open, so they tied up just past Caley Marina for the night. They took a long walk through Inverness out to the sea lock.

Tuesday morning, and time for the last few locks. First the Muirtown Flight, then a swing bridge, the Clachnaharry Works Lock and the railway swing bridge and finally into the sea lock at Clachnaharry. Daniel and Dominic made it safely to Inverness Marina by midday. Daniel set off into town immediately as he had an early afternoon train to catch! There were severe delays due to the recent heavy rainfall and he ended up having to stay the night in Glasgow. But thank goodness he was not on the train that de-railed! Dominic stayed in Inverness for a few days doing the laundry, a few repairs and cleaned and polished Idun to showboat standard both inside and out!

3 thoughts on “Leaving the Highlands – Cruising the Caledonian Canal with Daniel

  1. Great to read your blog again! It brings back great memories for us, as it was the first trip the three of us did in our little 17-footer, back in 2007, I think. I remember that it rained 50% of the time, for whole days at a stretch, but I guess that is fairly par for the course on the Scottish west coast.

    Sorry to hear that you are still not recovered, Birgitta, this virus is a real nasty one, but at least they seem to making progress with the vaccines at least. Hopefully you will be back to normal again for next season, and we can possibly catch up in Sweden or somewhere.

    Look forward to reading the next episodes of Idun down the east coast!


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