Cruise The Cale­do­nian Canal

Polly Pullar sets sail for an un­for­get­table trip down the glo­ri­ous wa­ter­way of the Great Glen.

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

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.

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