Scotland | Barge Trip Continuing To Banavie

by Jim and Melanie

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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33 thoughts on “Scotland | Barge Trip Continuing To Banavie

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I like that phrase — bucket list had I one. That is sort of how I think of it, too. There are lots of places you can get to without flying, so you still have lots of options. Nova Scotia is not too far off, and would give you a taste.

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  1. Jim Wheeler

    A most enjoyable travelogue! Slugs have a hole in them?

    I followed with interest the addressing of the haggis although I could not understand 90% of his words because of the thick accent. (I have trouble with song lyrics too.) Did you acclimate to the accent during your trip?

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  2. underswansea

    Sounds like a fantastic trip. So much to see! And so much history. I enjoyed riding in the basket of Jim’s bicycle. Not good about the ticks. Glad to hear the test was good. I believe the legless lizards are rare so it was lucky to see one. Thoroughly enjoyed the Addressing the Haggis. One of my favourite authors is the Scottish writer Irvine Welsh. He writes the dialogue in his novels in Scottish dialect. They are fun to read. Wonderful post! Bob

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Bob. It was quite the trip! We don’t know enough of the history to fully appreciate it, but we learned a lot. We’ll have a couple more posts before we’re done.

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  3. Faith-Madgalene

    That is awesome! I would have wanted to linger around the the Dark Mile and training grounds. I also would have loved to have seen The Eagle, decommissioned. History freak that I am
    Lol I would like to have seen the slug close up too, but not the snake / worm / lizard. Whisky you say? I’m so there!

    Evening tea for me is with tea biscuits. Do you know what type of black tea you had? Did they specify?
    What beauty.
    Faith

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  4. Mrs. P

    Eight locks…wow! Great picture. Looks like a fabulous trip. How long did it take to get accustomed to the dialect/accent>? I found it difficult to understand what was being said in the video…still quite animated and entertaining.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      🙂 The video is an aberration, though there are people who speak like that! It is a very old accent, and performed for us by an Englishman who is very easy to understand. And otherwise, most people we encountered were quite easy to get.

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  5. shoreacres

    The photos are wonderful. I still have uneasy feelings about the haggis, even though it probably is, as you say, just sausage with a bad reputation. As for the accents — it reminds me of my early sailling days, when I had to learn to understand Cajun tug captains. It wasn’t easy, and I still have trouble with the really thick accents.

    Your slow worm looks like what we call skinks. There are many varieties, but some do come without legs. 🙂

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