Cruise The Caledonian Canal
Polly Pullar sets sail for an unforgettable trip down the glorious waterway of the Great Glen.
Polly Pullar enjoys an unforgettable sail
IHAVE always adored boats of any kind. Even going on CalMac ferries is something I relish, so when the opportunity arose for a three-night foray on Ros Crona, a converted barge, Iomhair and I leapt at it. During my school days I was fortunate to have copious sailing on the curriculum, and loved spending time on the school’s fantastic 67-foot ketch. It was during my teenage years that I first went through the Caledonian Canal connecting the east of Scotland to the west.
And that initial voyage has remained firmly etched in my mind as one of the most enjoyable. It begins in Inverness and its passage involves 29 complex locks engineered by the great innovator Thomas Telford.
The history of the canal is a lengthy tale, but in a nutshell it was built between 1803 and 1822, and is a work of genius. It also provided much-needed employment at the time, as well as a safer shipping route to the west. One of its Gaelic names, Seolaid a’Ghlinne Mhoir – waterway of the Great Glen – describes it perfectly. Approximately 60 miles, it traverses lochs Dochfour, Ness, Oich and Lochy, in that order, when starting the journey from Inverness.
The route passes through some of Scotland’s finest scenery as the Great Glen, situated on a geological fault line, is a dramatic area surrounded by high hills, where ancient woodland clings to steep slopes as racing waterfalls cascade off the mountains. Deer, wild goats, pine martens, otters, red squirrels and many birds of prey – including eagles – are frequently seen.
OUR brief foray began at Muirtown Locks in Inverness on a brilliant warm autumnal afternoon. Ros Crana is an impressive vessel – 140 feet and weighing around 200 tonnes, she has had a total refit since her days as a Belgian cargo barge.
As we drove over the swing bridge at Muirtown we spied her moored close by. Painted smartly in red and green, with the upper deck laden with canoes, small sailing dinghies, bikes, and immaculately coiled ropes, she looked very inviting and our excitement mounted.
We were met by the cheery crew – Dave Roberts was the man at the helm, and greeted us warmly whilst showing us to our immaculate twin-berth cabin complete with en suite facilities.
Soon we met bosun Lucy McGhee, mate-outdoor instructor Chris Absalom, and all-important chef, Martin Hamilton.
We quickly learned that our skipper, who prefers to be called Swampy, ran an extremely tidy ship, was highly efficient and kept every little detail running like clockwork.
We had entered another world where
The River Foyers in autumnal splendour.
In the locks at Fort Augustus.