scottish-barge-527We cruised along 58 miles of the 60 mile long Caledonian Canal in the luxury barge, The Scottish Highlander.
It was a leisurely trip. The barge travels so slow that you can get off and walk beside it, and it moored up every night.
The Caledonian Canal must be one of the engineering Wonders of the World. It stretches from the Northeast Inverness coast to the Southwestern coast of Corpach.
There are 29 locks, including Neptune’s Staircase; a ladder of eight locks, which raises boats by 70 ft over 500 yards.
scottish-barge-43238 miles are through the Lochs Lochy, Oich, and of course, Loch Ness. The other 22 miles are the man-made canal.
As we sailed slowly along, admiring the unique scenery of the Scottish Highlands, it was hard to believe that a lot of it was dug out by hand! It must have been a dreadful mess for a long time, and there would probably have been a lot of casualties.
The Scottish had suffered terribly at the hands of the English for over 100 years.
During the Highland Clearance, whole farming communities were forced to move from their homes. They were also banned from wearing tartan, playing the bagpipes, and speaking Gaelic.
scottish-barge-195A lot of them emigrated, or moved to the Lowlands, and the abandoned land was used for sheep farming.
The canal was supposed to provide much-needed work in the area, employing over 3,000 people. But there were huge problems with absenteeism, especially during the potato picking and peat digging seasons.
In the end, Thomas Telford, the engineer, had to employ Irish navvies to finish the work, which caused a lot of criticism. And the canal took 12 years longer than scheduled to complete. It had cost £910,000 instead of the estimated £474,000.
The riverbanks we passed were practically empty, apart from the lock keepers’ cottages
scottish-barge-335To my surprise, we didn’t even see a pub!
I wondered what had happened to the shanty towns that must have sprung up while the canal was being constructed. Where were the shops, the restaurants, the managers’ family homes, the bars filled with professional female Camp Followers?
When the railways were built, the temporary towns often developed into permanent sites.
But there was nothing at all beside the canal, unless the gorse and trees had reclaimed the land.
Captain Dan, who has lived in the area all his life, tried to find out for me, with no luck. Not only are there no signs of the former lively life of the canal; I can’t find any drawings or photos either. And no names.
The hard-working men who built this masterpiece have disappeared without trace.
Their amazing work though, is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and develops all the time with the help of British Waterways, and Mother Nature of course!

Useful Information:
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:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/European-Waterways-Ltd/78646381842?ref=tn_tnmn
https://twitter.com/#!/GoBarging
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!