Well, what can I say about this historical monument, except I love it. This world class engineering marvel was constructed in the early 19th century by the famous Scottish engineer Thomas Telford. Without doubt, the man was a flipping genius. Completed in 1822, taking twelve years to build and costing over £900,000, this 60-mile watercourse with its 29 locks cutting through the Great Glen and stunning scenery is a gem. With 22 miles man made and the remaining 38 miles made up of four lochs: Ness, Oich, Linnhe and Lochy, this is Scotland’s longest, inland waterway, stretching from Inverness in the East to Fort William in the West.
You would be wrong if you thought the canal was purely for the enjoyment of yacht owners, cruise ship passengers, boat hire companies or kayakers, the wonderfully flat towpaths are superb for walking, cycling, running or just ambling and taking in the vistas. Hire a cruiser from Caley Cruisers at Inverness, or Le Boat at Laggan, meander past brooding castles, witness the variety of wildlife from majestic mute swans, hunting herons and busy beavers to name but a few.
From the Seaport Marina, Muirtown Basin in Inverness with its sheltered berthing, nature reserve, canoe hire and Titanic Museum, parking, picnic benches and only twenty minutes from the airport. Mooch through Dochgarroch a small lockside village with restaurant (An Talla) and free parking, we stopped here for tasty fish and chips, followed by a generous helping of gelato (pop up shop next door). A kodak moment peeps, three hairy coos, posing in a small field next to the car park. Jacobite cruises run along Loch Ness and can be booked and picked up here.
Onto Fort Augustus – drink in the atmosphere along with hundreds of excited tourists, here where the lock flight descends into Loch Ness. This lovely village with bike hire, eateries, gift shops, ice cream parlour and boat trips, along with the Caledonian Canal Centre and its family activities, good restaurant and accommodation. Soak up the atmosphere and watch the procession of cruisers, yachts and working boats traverse the flight of six canal locks with their huge wooden gates, eventually being released to the serenity of the canal and allowed to continue their journey. The lochs are excellent for salmon and sea trout fishing.
Onwards, passing through the stillness that is Kytra through to the peaceful Cullochy Locks and onto Laggan, the highest section of the canal. Take a stroll along the tree lined Laggan Avenue. Have a bite to eat at the Eagle Barge, a converted Dutch barge, the canals only floating pub restaurant, quite unique and bijou, dine in only, (check website for opening times) or have a coffee at the Laggan coffee shop.
Crossing Loch Lochy takes you through to Gairlochy, have a wander to the pepper pot lighthouse, dip your toes in the cold clear water. Then through Moy where time has stood still with its original cast iron swing bridge. Finally, onto Banavie and the Neptune Staircase with its perfect back drop of Ben Nevis, usually with patches of snow remaining on the Ben. The staircase and its eight locks, stretching over a quarter of a mile and raising the canal by an incredible 62ft. It took 900 highlanders four years to dig and build, these dedicated men even supplied their own picks and shovels. Here you will find gift shops, ice cream parlour and hotel with a good restaurant, lots of free parking and a view of the Jacobite steam train as it passes along its track at the bottom of the locks.
Sadly, ending your journey at Corpach with its locks that lead out to the sea, here you will find plenty of parking, again free. All this and a newly opened marina. This all-weather fully accessible marina and public slipway provides safe berthing for 45 yachts and motor vessels. Scottish Canals charge for usage of the waterways, price includes free toilets and showers and laundry facilities (£3 per wash load).
No visit to Corpach or the marina is complete without popping into the newly opened An Cafaidh Mara (Café of the Sea). This lovely eatery with its big glass windows overlooking the water is a welcome sight. Owner Rob, and staff will be sure to give you a friendly greeting, enjoy a warming coffee with a good choice of home-made foods, including breakfast, lunch, daily specials and yummy cakes available, all at very reasonable prices. Seating either inside or out, overlooking the slipway. Take away is also available and the café is open seven days a week. Clean toilets and chargeable showers along with plenty of free parking. A friendly, busy hub and a good craic. Check website for opening times.
Have a great time – the only tip I can offer is not all the locks along the canal have loos!