by Jim and Melanie
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.