Dubuque | Mines of Spain | River Museum

by Melanie and Jim

October included our 35th wedding anniversary. To celebrate, we drove 90 minutes to the city of Dubuque, Iowa, on the Mississippi River. There we visited the Mines of Spain recreation area and National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. We enjoyed dinner that evening and an overnight stay at our favorite B&B in town.

The City of Dubuque

Dubuque, a city of about 58,000 residents and five colleges, sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, in the northeast part of Iowa. It’s one of the oldest permanent settlements of Europeans west of the great river, and the oldest one in Iowa itself. The original settlement dates from the 1780s, as a prime location with trapping and hunting, fishing, and logging. In addition, the area had long been a site for lead mining by the Mesquakie tribe, and later by white settlers. The city was chartered in 1837. You can see the evidence of its age in local architecture. Almost 5,000 properties are documented for historical and architectural significance. These include churches, former boarding houses, grand mansions, and shipyards.

One shop in particular, the Iowa Iron Works, started as an iron foundry and machine shop in 1852. The site was responsible for building about 500 boats on the shore of the river. One of them was the Sprague, the largest paddle wheel steamboat on the river at 318 feet in 1901. The company reorganized in 1904 into the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works. Many boats built by the company were for the government during World Wars I and II.

Mines of Spain

The history of this region goes back a long time. Early Native American cultures dating back 8,000 years left evidence of mounds, villages, rock shelters, and campsites on the landscape. The Mesquakie traded furs with French voyagers and worked the lead mines in the bluffs along the river before the Revolutionary War.

The first European to settle here was Julien Dubuque about 1785. He received a land grant from the Governor of Spain in 1796 giving him permission to work the land and mine for lead in an area named “Mines of Spain.” Dubuque married the daughter of the local Mesquakie Indian Chief. Dubuque died 24 March 1810. The Mesquakie buried him with honors at the site of the present monument on a bluff overlooking the region.

The Mines of Spain park is now a favorite recreation spot for locals and visitors, alike. It features bluff-side trails, as is common with river parks in the Midwest. With both of us recovering from knee problems, we weren’t incredibly ambitious with our hiking. However, we did enjoy two different trails with a total distance of about three miles. Views of the river, seen from different overlooks on the trails, still include barges and riverboats, much as they did 150 years ago.

National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

The Mississippi River has a rich and colorful history. It touched the lives of many as it flowed from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Owned by the Dubuque County Historical Society, the museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.

The museum features the culture and history of America’s rivers. There are over a dozen aquariums featuring river wildlife and animals found at the Gulf of Mexico. You can see giant blue and channel catfish, sturgeon, ducks, frogs, turtles, rays, octopus, river otters. Other exhibits include steam boilers, boats building hardware, and a woodworking shop. Children seemed excited to look through the clear tank walls and even had opportunities to touch some of the animals. We found it all very interesting.

We headed back home the next day and stopped at a favorite nearby park. Palisades -Kepler State Park hugs the Cedar River. Bluff-side trails give opportunities for more challenging hiking, with lots of roots and rocks and ups and downs. We didn’t take photos this time. However, three years ago we did and shared them in this post.

Scotland | Caledonian Canal Lock System

Previous posts about our Scotland trip can be found here.

Our barge Fingal of Caledonia embarked from Inverness and traveled to Banavie near Fort William to the southwest. This video gives some perspective for that journey.

Lake | Loch | Lock

From Wikipedia:

Loch (/ˈlɒx/) is the Irish and Scottish Gaelic word for a lake or for a sea inlet. In English and Hiberno-English, the anglicised spelling lough is commonly found in place names, pronounced the same way as loch. In Scottish English, ‘loch’ is always used. Some lochs could also be called firths, fjords, estuaries, straits or bays.

A lock is a device used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between stretches of water of different levels on river and canal waterways.

Caledonian Canal and Lock System

Three lochs are aligned end to end along the route. The largest and most well known is Loch Ness at the northeast end of the route near Inverness. Loch Lochy is situated at the southwest near Banavie. Between them is the much smaller Loch Oich. The Caledonian Canal connects them and allows boats to access them from the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Rivers also connect the lochs. The rivers are not navigable by larger vessels. The canal parallels the rivers.

The elevations of the three lochs are different. Loch Oich is the highest and most inland at 106 ft above sea level. Loch Lochy has an elevation of 94 ft above sea level. Loch Ness is 52 ft above sea level. Ample precipitation inland maintains the loch levels. Because of the differences in elevation, a system of locks raises or lowers vessels to allow them passage. From the Inverness end, there are 14 locks to allow vessels passage to and from Loch Oich the highest elevation. From the end near Fort William, there are 15 locks to allow vessels passage to and from Loch Oich.

Three places have multiple locks arranged end to end. There are 4 in a group near Inverness. There are 5 in a group at Fort Augustus. And there are 8 at Banavie. This last large group is known as Neptune’s Staircase. Passage through it can take more than 90 minutes. Operations can be challenging when the holiday season brings many pleasure boats to the canal. Our barge barely fit its length into the locks. Our width also limited the vessels that could join us in the lock.

How Locks Work

A lock can raise or lower a vessel depending on the desired direction of travel. Below are two series of graphics provided by Wikipedia User Cmglee illustrating the step by step process to raise and lower a vessel in a lock.



capstanIn the past, lock gates and valves were operated by a team of men at a rotating device called a capstan. Sturdy lengths of wood were inserted into the four white square holes so the men could push it around to turn the mechanism. Seven turns were needed to open or close a gate.

Today, the lock gates and valves are operated by hydraulics. One person can control the gates and valves from a console next to the lock chamber. In the past, a busy lock might have several men assigned to operate the gates and valves. Below is one of the hydraulic control panels.


Passage by Fingal

On the third day of our voyage we approached the set of five locks at Fort Augustus at the end of Loch Ness. The video shows our very slow and deliberate approach into the system of locks. Next, we see Fingal within the first lock being readied to be raised. The crew tied the barge and moved the small craft out of the way. The third part shows the water pouring into the chamber. The crew is busy adjusting the ropes to keep Fingal snug to the side. Finally, the water level is the same as the next lock chamber. The gate is opened for us to proceed. The whole process starts over to secure the barge and prepare for being raised in the next chamber.

One of my favorite images I found in researching this post is a map published in 1848. I include a link to it if you are interested. It is a large file over 2 megabytes. On a computer screen, it can be view full-sized showing some amazing details of the canal system. In the lower right corner:

Ordered by The House of Commons to be Printed 29th August 1848.


Scotland | Barge Trip Continuing To Banavie

by Jim and Melanie


On September 3 we began our week-long trip on the Fingal of Caledonia, one of two barges owned by Caledonian Discovery. Each day the barge averaged about 10 miles of progress. To read about our first few days, read here and here.

Loch Oich

On the fourth day we left Loch Ness at Fort Augustus, traveling through 4 or 5 miles of canal to Loch Oich, the smallest of the three lochs (lakes) in the glen. Some passengers including Jim biked to Cullochy Lock, which provides entry into Loch Oich. He was able to easily stay ahead of Fingal as evidenced in this video. On the way he encountered a startlingly large slug and a slow worm, which is not a worm or a snake, but a legless lizard.

A surprise treat was mooring up with the Fingal’s sister ship, the Ros Crana. While the two barges were linked, passengers on both were able to step aboard the other. I think everyone decided their own accommodations and crew were best. We also took on some canoes and exchanged other equipment and supplies.

A different treat awaited us in the afternoon, when we visited a hotel for cream tea. Those of us unused to the ritual of tea needed “cream tea” demonstrated. (That is, the two of us!) It is tea accompanied by a scone or treat with clotted cream and jam. The photo below shows the tables set for 6 passengers. If you look closely through the window, you can see the Fingal in the bay.


 And On To Laggan Locks

Drenching rain swept the next morning. As the clouds lifted some, we passengers chose our activities. We decided to walk to Laggan Locks at the south end of Loch Oich. Clad in rain gear we set off, encountering several northbound hikers with fully loaded packs. On the way we passed antique train cars, waiting for use within a historical restoration project. By the time we reached the locks and the Fingal, the rain had ceased. Docked across from the barge was the Eagle.

The Eagle is a Dutch barge built in 1926. It was used as a troop carrier in World War II and is armour plated. It weighs about 200 tons. After the war, it was used as a sugar beat mover. After being decommissioned, she was brought over to Scotland and placed on the Caledonian Canal here at Laggan locks and converted into the Eagle Bar and Restaurant. Periodically, it must be moved. Then, it is allowed back to this same spot.


In the afternoon the sky was clear. Captain Adam suggested canoeing. He and Chef Kevin prepared canoes and the small motorboat as passengers donned flotation devices. We headed north a ways before boarding the canoes. None of us had recent experience with them, but we soon found our rhythm.

After dinner, we all headed to the Eagle for a drink. Jim went back again later to see if Susie our hiking guide could help him remove a small tick embedded in his ankle. She did so. He found another on his waist next day. Once home, the family doctor did a Lyme test and got a negative result.

The Final Dinner 

On the last full day, the Fingal anchored in a small bay. All passengers but Melanie hiked the Dark Mile, crossed World War II commando training grounds and the great Cameron estate. A small museum and ice cream shop enticed some in. On the last part of the outing, Melanie met them at tiny mission church on the estate.

Our final evening’s wonderful dinner included chicken stuffed with haggis and vegetarian haggis. The crew were dressed smartly in their finest kilts. A highlight before eating was the Address to a Haggis by Robert Burns.

Coming to Banavie

The next morning broke quite rainy. We had about 7 miles to go in order to reach our final destination at Banavie. Two passengers chose to walk along the tow path. Jim and another passenger chose to ride bicycles. They suited up with rain gear and set out. It gradually quit raining. Jim recorded this short video along the way.

Neptune’s Staircase in Banavie

The longest set of canal locks in Britain consists of these 8 locks to raise or lower boats 64 feet (20 m) in about 90 minutes. They were built between 1803 and 1822. Three operators can coordinate to run the lock gates on a schedule. From this point, the waters gradually open to the southwest and into the Atlantic Ocean.


The view looking up the 8 locks of Neptune’s Staircase. Our barge did not descend.

Fort William

We stayed in the town of Fort William for two more nights before continuing to Edinburgh by train. The town population is around 10,000 and is a short distance from Banavie. Fort William serves as the southern entrance to the Caledonian Canal, a skiing center in the winter, and as the gateway to hiking the Great Glen Way as well as to Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles at 1345 m (4414 ft).


We continued our trip with time in Edinburgh and a three-day whisky tour in Speyside. (We’ll share some about those, as well.) But none of it dimmed our enjoyment of the week on the Fingal, the funny and interesting passengers, and the skilled and generous crew.

Scotland | Barge Trip on Loch Ness

by Jim and Melanie


On September 3 we began our trip on the Fingal of Caledonia, one of two barges owned by Caledonian Discovery. Each day the barge averaged about 10 miles of progress. The first day it was about 6 miles. We moored that night north of the entrance into Loch Ness. Next morning we were underway before breakfast.


After dinner every evening, the activities director outlined the options for the next day. Our cruise was focused on hill hiking. Mountains rise up on either side of the lochs and canal, while foot paths line most of the way. Passengers could hike, bike, or walk, depending on the weather and their preferences. The activities director led the most challenging of those options, and those who chose otherwise were on their own.

Our intention when we booked the trip was to hike as much as possible. However Jim injured a knee in May and Melanie did in early August, leaving her unable to trek very far. Below we’ll share a few pictures of our outings, as well as some of the vast beauty of the Great Glen.

Foyers Falls

Loch Ness is approximately 23 miles long. Our progress on Day 2 would take us about halfway, to the town of Foyers. On the north side of the loch is a peak that two adventurous passengers chose to hike, led by Steve. On the south side is a less challenging choice, a beautiful waterfall tucked within woods, which we opted for. Roundtrip of our outing was about 3 miles. Part of the journey was on paved roads, and part was on maintained hiking trail.


Captain Adam checked the water traffic from our Foyers mooring. Could there be pirates?


Later that afternoon, Jim posed for a photo. What’s that behind you, Jim??



Fort Augustus

2016_0905barge3_02After mooring at Foyers overnight, we proceeded to the locks at Fort Augustus. Jim steered us toward our destination for part of the way. Steering was a challenge for a couple of reasons. It was windy. And, the barge was built in the 1920s. The steering mechanism was via chains and gears. It had a lot of slack. It took more than a full turn left or right to engage the chain and gears to get a response from the rudder. Jim handled the challenge well. He is a former farm boy.

As we neared Fort Augustus, Captain Adam took over the wheel for the final approach to the locks. Moving a 180 ton vessel into and through is a delicate job. Not one for an amateur.

Fort Augustus is a small village on the south end of Loch Ness, with a population of about 650. From the looks of the main street, most of them are involved with the tourist trade.

After passing through the locks, all passengers and a new crew member, Susie, hiked to another waterfall. We enjoyed an ancient cemetery, some tree covered lanes, a boggy patch, ferns, and pushed through shoulder-high bracken on the way. Round trip mileage was about 5 miles.


At the end of our busy day, Chef Kevin served another delicious dinner, which we all enjoyed. What kinds of meals did he fix? Salmon, venison stew, curried chicken, and haggis-stuffed chicken, to name some of the dinners. And there were always vegetarian options. Breakfasts were wonderful, too!


Chef Kevin preparing dinner

The next day we continued our journey through canal to Loch Oich. Come back next time for more of our adventures.

Scotland | Barge Trip Coast to Coast

by Jim and Melanie

Great Glen Fault

The city of Inverness opens to the North Sea via the Beauly and Moray Firths. The city of Fort William opens to the Atlantic Ocean via Loch Linnhe. Three inland lochs (lakes) Ness, Oich, and Lochy are aligned between the two cities along a geological fault called the Great Glen Fault. It was formed about 400 million years ago.

Navigation by ship between regions around Inverness and Fort William was a long and dangerous undertaking over 200 years ago. They had to go around the islands to the west, or around England to the south. Both journeys faced hazards of weather and piracy. The trips took a long time.

A canal was proposed to be built between Inverness and Fort William which would drastically shorten the journey. Much of the 60 miles would utilize the lochs. To raise and lower ships, a system of 29 locks were to be built. The system was called the Caledonian Canal. On 27 July 1803, an Act of Parliament authorized the canal project. It opened in 1822 nearly 12 years later than planned at a cost nearly double the estimate.

The finished canal system allowed ships to cross from the Atlantic Ocean on the southwest to the North Sea on the northeast, without endangering their ships and cargo. In truth, the canal was never a commercial success for shipping. However, the rugged beauty of the area led it to become a tourist attraction.

Holiday Barge Cruises

The company Caledonian Discovery Ltd. formed in 1996, proposing to offer holiday cruises by barge along the canal. It operated one barge until 2013 when a second was added. We booked a cruise from Inverness to Fort William. It was a cruise of 7 days. Each night the barge was tied up to a pier or at anchor as we made our way to the southwest.

The trip we engaged emphasized hiking the hills and trails along the way. We also had bikes available, and one day we canoed. Some of the company’s other trips include wildlife spotting, music, and kayaking. Check their site if you’re interested in more information.


Arrival at the Barge

We stayed overnight in Inverness about a mile from where the barge was moored. With suitcases rolling behind us, we walked to our destination. Though we’d seen photos, we felt a rush of excitement as we walked up to the pier.

Robbie, red-haired and genial, greeted us. He handed our suitcases down the hatch to Steve, who showed us to our cabin.

Quarters are tight on the barge. It hosts a maximum of 12 passengers and typically runs with four crew members at a time. For our trip there were only six passengers including us.

Each of the passenger cabins is about 7′ x 8′. That includes all floor space, bunk beds, and a set of shelves and a small closet. Also in the cabin is a tiny sink. The cabins are en suite, with an adjoining toilet and shower. The shower had great water pressure and comfortably hot water.

The common areas felt roomy in comparison. The dining table had space for all passengers and crew to eat together, though it would be quite tight with 12 passengers rather than six. The galley kitchen adjoined the dining area, separated by a window. Our able chef, Kevin, created wonderful meals in abundant proportions. We had both meat and vegetarian options for all meals, but I think everyone ate everything. Click on any picture to see the gallery.



First Day of Travel

Our barge was tied to a pier about a mile from the actual beginning of the Caledonian Canal. We all walked along the towpath to the beginning lock and then back. By that time the Fingal was ready to depart. We continued walking another 5 or 6 miles to where it would be parked for the first night. Fingal had to leave at a particular time in order to have a highway bridge open for passage.

We walkers got a fair distance ahead of the slow moving barge. We were at the swing bridge when she arrived.

With the highway swing bridge cleared, Fingal was allowed passage. Melanie was on board and offered her fine rendition of the Queen Wave. At the end of the video watch as the swing bridge closes.

We spent the first evening getting acquainted with our fellow passengers and crew. After dinner (salmon filet with béarnaise sauce, followed by dessert and a cheese plate) Adam, our captain, reviewed the day’s progress by boat, while Steve reviewed the activity for the day. They also told us the next day’s plan and options for activities.

We’ll have a couple more posts on the cruise. One will focus on the locks, with a few comments on their engineering. Join us on our adventure.

The Face of America

Jim and I are in agreement on this, so I am reblogging here.

How I See It

I haven’t said much about the presidential campaign this year. I know many are very disturbed by it in this country. The partisan splits and us-against-them encampments have left us with no common ground for compromise and problem solving. It is a sad state of affairs.

People in other nations of the world wonder what has gone wrong here. They don’t understand how we can have such a fractious campaign. They are justifiably concerned about the outcome.

You might not ‘like’ either presidential candidate. But, that is the choice we have in November. You should vote anyway.

Things to consider… Whose face do you want to represent America internationally? Does expression at a negotiating table matter? Are important treaties and agreements promoted by making faces at your opponent?

I think the impressions we give to others matters a lot. I want someone who acts like an adult respecting others, not an…

View original post 33 more words

Body Armor

A very personal essay by Melanie, spurred by a docent’s presentation at Edinburgh Castle.

Catbird Quilt Studio

While touring Edinburgh Castle, Jim and I encountered a man describing medieval arms. He demonstrated the long bow and the crossbow, detailing differences between them. One of the great benefits of these weapons is they could be used from a distance. Closer contact between enemies was dangerous for both.

He showed us a gambeson, or quilted coat. It looked remarkably like the coats worn by many in the audience. It’s purpose, though, was not warmth, but protection. It could protect the skin from cuts and tears rendered in close combat.

2016_0912edinburgh_38 Docent with audience volunteer. She is wearing the gambeson, quilted body armor, and a helmet and is holding the crossbow.

The demonstration reminded me of an essay I wrote a few years ago, while at the tail end of recovery from depression and anxiety. Excerpts from it are below.


This morning I awoke thinking of body armor. Imagine the padded…

View original post 1,296 more words

Walk Before the Morning Rain

by Melanie and Jim

We left the house in a hurry this morning after checking radar. Showers were headed our way, and we wanted to stretch our legs without getting too wet. As I write this, the radar shows it is raining here now. However, the sidewalk is not even damp. I guess that is one more example of why you shouldn’t believe everything you see online.

When we walk, our attention is usually quite mixed. Sometimes we chew over world problems, sometimes personal ones. The “personal” ones often have to do with our children. Parenting adults is hard! They have a whole range of issues we’ve otherwise moved past. We also enjoy the noises outside. Humming crickets and locusts, peeping frogs, and various bird songs capture our notice. Today we heard catbirds, bluejays and cardinals, chickadees, and a flicker or two, among others. We watch for daddy longlegs, small snakes, and the occasional chipmunk crossing the pavement. And we enjoy the wildflowers.

A few weeks ago, there were dozens of wildflower species blooming along trails, railroad tracks, and streets. Now there are fewer, but those left are some of my favorites. Though the Queen Anne’s Lace has faded, goldenrod is coming on with bright yellow brushes. Jewelweeds still display their brilliant orange drops. Cattails stand proud and tall, and the few thistles allowed to grow wild are bursting with their lavender-colored blooms.

Before we left this morning I insisted we bring a camera, something we rarely do. Jim captured the shots below.