When we left Fair Isle, we got the recommendation to avoid Pentland Firth and head towards the Caledonial Canal instead. The Caledonial canal links Scotland east and west coasts, avoiding the difficult passage around the north of Scotland mainland and through the Pentland Firth. Our first port in Scotland mainland was Wick, which will be remembered for the many rainbows caused by a constant switching between sun and showers. We called the canal office and made sure that we would be able to go through the canal before we continued south. On our way to the canal, we made a short stop in Lossiemouth and Inverness Marina. The seals and otters guided us, but we did have some challenges entering Inverness firth since we were sailing straight through a shooting range at sea outside Fort George and didn’t manage to reach someone by the VHF to know when it was safe to pass. After several calls to the Royal Navy and the Coast Guard we finally knew it was safe. But then the tidal streams made the journey at least five hours longer than anticipated…
Then we were ready to leave Inverness and continue through the canal. The 60 mile (96 km) Caledonial Canal runs between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and was built in 1804-22. The engineer on this huge project was Thomas Telford, who later inspired and advised Count von Platen on how to build Göta Kanal in Sweden a few years later. We felt right at home 😉
The second day we continued through the locks to Dochgarroch, where we stayed to enjoy the forest and work on installing the stationary VHF-radio that we brought with us from Sweden. As it was getting quite cold, we preferred staying in harbours (or lock transit jetty) where we could get electricity to put on the heating fan at night and charge the batteries.
Then it was time to cross the famous Loch Ness, where thousands of tourists each year try to spot Nessie. It is 35 km long and up to 250 metres deep; actually deeper than the North Sea! This is one of the reasons there can be large waves here, but the loch was calm when we passed by, getting ahead with both sails and engine.
We heard that there was a nice forest trail on the south side of the lake, and stopped at Foyers before lunch to take a hike up to the waterfall. Walking across the river and up the mountain, we could enjoy the autumn colours much better than from the water.
We were amazed by the view as we climbed higher. You could see far across the mountains and we were reminded of how much we love hiking in the forest.
We finally got up to the waterfall and enjoyed the scenery before we continued the hike down the mountain to our boat and sailed on. We really recommend a stop at Foyers if you visit Loch Ness!
We stopped for the night in Fort Augustus, a cute but rather touristy town. As the weather was getting colder, they promised minus degrees in the morning and then heave rain all day after that – we decided to stay one extra day and finish the work started with mounting the stationary VHF-radio, our FM radio and some charging outlets. In the end, it actually didn´t rain at all that day, but we did get some work done and it was nice to have a warm boat before we continued. A series of locks and swing bridges takes you to the next lake, Loch Oich, which is narrow and pretty. After a short passage of canal we then got out to Loch Lochy, and here it was really clear that the mountains grew higher the further west we came.
It was a rather cold day, we put on all the clothes we had and enjoyed the few moments of sunshine. We stopped for the night in Gairlochy, where it felt like we really had sailed to an alpine environment. We could even see a mountain where they seemed to have a ski resort! Pretty good timing since we had seen on Facebook how all our friends enjoyed (?) the snowfall in Sweden.
Then it was time for our last day at the canal. This day was all sunshine and we enjoyed it a lot, Jens even took the opportunity to play some tunes on his flute. In the last part of the canal you are passing through “Neptunes staircase”, a series of eight locks in a row, through the small city Banavie and then reach the end of the canal in Corpach, our final harbour in the Caledonial Canal.
After this sunny day and as we reached the end of the canal, we can recommend anyone wanting to visit the Caledonial Canal to consider planning it for the autumn, especially if you are going by boat. At the most we met three boats in one day, we were always alone in the locks and got maximum help and attention from the lock keepers. I have a hard time imagining that there would be a nicer view of the “Great Glens” in the summer time, as the colourful leaves and snowy mountains created great contrasts.
After one week with almost no sailing, it was time to head out and face the tides again. Let´s just say we have a lot to learn about planning our routes according to the tides.. But more about that the next time!