Barging Along the Caledonian Canal
We boarded our luxury barge, the Scottish Highlander, in Inverness, Scotland, we didn’t know what to expect. It was a completely new experience for us.
Our cabin was tiny, with two portholes, a bathroom with a shower, and adequate storage space if you juggled it around.
Two other cabins are the same, and the main cabin is much bigger.
In the lounge, the seats are comfortable, and there’s a well-stocked bar which we could help ourselves to any time that we fancied a drink or a coffee.
We met the other guests, two Australian ladies, a lady from California and a couple from Colorado.
It turned out that we were a well-balanced group and we all got along like old friends!
Sasha the Chef performs miracles in the small galley. More about that later!
After an excellent dinner and several drinks, we all turned in, looking forward to our morning start.
Breakfast was at 8 o’clock. I had a Full Scottish, with egg, bacon, mushrooms, and black pudding.
Most people tried the porage, which was a perfect texture.
We set off at 9.30 through the Tomnahurich swing bridge, holding up all the traffic. But they’re used to it!
Then we were locked in the lock, with high walls at each side and lock gates in front and behind. The water was black and smelled strongly of peat.
After a week, locks are still a mystery to me. I admit it.
Anyway, the water poured in and ‘Hurray and up she rises,’ to quote the old song.
In about five minutes we’d risen to the top of the walls and the lock gates opened.
We were travelling along the River Ness.
As the barge travels slowly, our minibus was driven along to catch up with us, and off we went to visit the site of the Battle of Culloden Moor, scene of the last battle on British soil (as it was then, in 1746.)
After breakfast, we drove to visit the Glen Ord Distillery and see how their whisky is made. It dates back to 1838, and most of it is exported.
Back on the boat, we cruised through Loch Dochfour, and then the part of the cruise that I’d been looking forward to; along Loch Ness.
It was a bit choppy, but as we had the wind behind us, it wasn’t rough at all, even in a flat-bottomed barge!
We moored at Fort Augustus.
In the morning we visited Eilean Donan Castle, one of Scotland’s most famous castles, featured in many movies, including Highlander, and James Bond’s The World is not Enough.
Afterwards, our marvellous guide, Helen, diverted and drove us across the bridge to the Isle of Skye.
I was really surprised as I’d always thought the island was much further away, only reached across usually rough sea, on a ferry. But it’s just a few yards away, across the bridge which was opened in 1995.
In the evening we drove to have dinner in a lovely hotel.
The building was interesting and the staff were professional. But we all agreed that the food wasn’t as good as Sasha’s meals!
Urquhart Castle stands on the shore of Loch Ness. It ruined shell is immediately recognisable, probably by anyone who hasn’t landed from Mars!
Amazingly, none of it is visible from the road as it’s very low down.
The weather was cold and the wind cut right through us as we walked from the minibus. But it just added to the atmosphere.
After lunch on the barge, we set off again, working our way up through the ‘flight’ of lochs, and then along a narrow part of the canal, through stunning Highland scenery, where everyone went ashore and walked beside the boat.
We moored at Laggan, and on the bank a piper greeted us, strolling proudly up and down, totally ignoring us while he played.
In the morning we awoke to bright sunshine. It completely changed the scenery.
The mountains and the luminous yellow gorse were cloned in the canal.
Everyone grabbed their cameras and went ashore.
We sailed along Loch Lochy, through Moy Bridge, the last original and hand-operated bridge on the canal.
Just a short couple of miles from the sea, we moored at Banavie beneath the snow-capped Ben Nevis, near Neptune’s Staircase, which leads down to Loch Eil.
Captain Dan joined us for dinner on our final night. It was a good evening and we were all a bit sad as well as happy.
Saying our goodbyes to the crew, we piled into the minibus for our journey back to Inverness.
It was a lovely drive. The scenery was an artist’s delight, changing colour all the time.
The Highlands are totally different to what I expected. It’s like being abroad, in France or somewhere.
I thought it would be more rugged, but it has a calm green beauty all of its own. And the people are friendly and proud of their heritage.
And the barge trip? One of the most memorable holidays that I’ve ever had. What a wonderful way to unwind!
Prices for a 6 night cruise aboard the 12 passenger hotel barge ‘Scottish Highlander’ are from £2,450pp in a twin/double en suite cabin, including all meals, wines, an open bar, excursions and local transfers. Charters are also available. European Waterways: Tel: +44 (0) 1753 598555Website: www.gobarging.comLinks:
http://www.youtube.com/user/EuropeanWaterways?feature=g-all-uWe flew from Gatwick to Inverness with easyjet.
easyJet flies to Inverness from 2 UK airports, with prices starting from £9.49 per person (one-way, including taxes). All flights can be booked at www.easyjet.com For reference, we fly to Inverness from London Gatwick and London Luton.Before the flight, we went in the No 1 Lounge.
Quite honestly, paying to use the Lounge is well-worth it.
You get comfortable seats, a good view, newspapers and magazines, plus a choice of meals and drinks, all included in the price.
In fact, it can work out cheaper than paying for everything separately in Departures!