There aren't any Loch Lochy Locks!
Even before entering Caledonian Canal at the Clachnaharry Sea Lock this was shaping up to be an unforgettable trip! Giles, Lucinda and Anabel joined us on Moana mid afternoon on Sunday. Tom Benham dropped in on his way up to his regular spot in Beauly and it was straight out to MacGregor's Bar in Inverness for a bite to eat and some of the best traditional Scottish music we could have hoped for thanks to a superb group of musicians at the open session and a finale from Bruce MacGregor himself on his Blazin' Fiddle. Anabel ended up the star of the show with some impromptu dancing to finish the set. Monday took us straight up and over the Black Isle to visit Suter Gin at Ed Scarman and Stuart Wells's wee distillery just south of Tain. Ed had been on the dock helping with our lines when we arrived from Ipswich and kindly invited us to come and see the fledgling distillery during our next trip. It was great to see the process and background to the Suters brand. The authentic process and use of 100% locally sourced ingredients and botanicals gives it a true connection with the gorgeous landscape of the surrounding area. A superb product Ed....you deserve every success and lets hope you find a way of getting a visitors centre up and running in the near future. Any trip to Tain also has to be graced with a visit to Glenmorangie which led to an informal tour around the parts of the distillery still free from Covid restrictions and a tasting of the Original, Nectar D'or & Quinta Ruban. There are so many great memories there from the Aquabio anaerobic project and it felt good to be back again. On the way back to Inverness we made a quick pitstop at the lovely Storehouse on the Cromarty Firth and once back on board we were quickly joined by Andy and Anne MacDonald with some local delicacies before making our way to the Mustard Seed for another super meal. It was really good to catch up with Andy and Anne and hear about the family, ski touring in the highlands and what's been happening over the last couple of years.
The timing of the high tide meant we needed to be at the Clachnaharry Sea Lock by early afternoon on Tuesday. The weather continued to be fantastic and the Scottish Scorcher had set in for the next couple of weeks. The lock keepers and staff working on the Canal are all delightful, never short of a good joke or story. We spent our first night in the complete shelter of the marina in the Muirtown Basin. After a good shower, topping up with water and fuel and we were off up the Muirtown ladder and into the beautiful early stretch leading to Loch Ness and our first anchorage under the shadow of Urqhuart Castle.
What a setting and made all the more mind blowing being together on Moana in fresh water mid way down Loch Ness. Wonderful and a privilege. We spent the next morning exploring on the nearby beach, skimming stones and swimming. Then on to Fort Augustus and a lovely spot on the pontoon opposite the Abbey, ready for the locks. A visit to D J MacDougalls resulted in fresh venison burgers and sausages along with a new favourite, haggis sausage rolls to die for.
It was upwards again the next morning, into another stunning stretch of the Canal and on into the wooded, shallow and atmospheric Loch Oich. We decided to anchor again in the shelter of a wooded bay and enjoy the total seclusion of the Highlands. Awe inspiring. We were still pinching ourselves in the morning to remind ourselves it was real before mosying onwards to the pontoon above the locks at Laggan, the gateway to Loch Lochy, and a floating pub/restaurant boasting local ale the hottest Chilli in Scotland. Giles and Lucinda had bought pre-prepared superb Orrico & Chorizo Chicken and other meals which made life easy and tasty for our evening meals. But this time we ventured out and sampled the Chilli (Zowie, it very well could be the hottest north of Gretna!).
Freddie's school and cricket friend Alex was on holiday with his family nearby, so we were able to meet them for a couple hours before setting off. It meant that Alex could join us through the lock before we moved on to Gairlochy. As we departed an approaching yacht called up the lock keeper asking for Loch Lochy Locks and in reply he promptly reminded them 'Yacht calling Laggan Locks or Gairlochy Locks, there are no Loch Lochy Locks.....' . Too many loch(k)s... we all had a good chuckle.
By the time we reached the reception pontoons at Gairlochy we had a breathtaking view of the mountains towering above Fort William and the snow filled gulleys of the north face of Ben Nevis. The air was crystal clear and still, perfect weather for a lochside camp fire and barbeque. We packed up, climbed into the RIB and set off back into the loch to find a secluded beachside spot. The super lean venison burgers and sausages were outstanding, along with the cold beer & cider. We were nearing the end of the first incredible week in Scotland and it just seemed to be getting better and better. We all knew that some of life's best memories were being made and shared in those moments. Freddie certainly discovered his primal instinct of fire-starting!
The final leg of the Canal to Corpach Sea Basin was as picturesque and tranquil as we'd come to expect. Just prior to the final lock into Corpach there is the eight lock descent of Neptune's Staircase. Here, this incredible engineering wonder is crowned in spectacular fashion. We handled the lines in awe of Telfords vision and the will, determination, endurance and skill of the people who made it a reality.
Once in the Sea Basin we were able to take stock of the week and prepare ourselves for entry back into the salty tidal waters of the West Coast. Giles, Lucinda and Anabel were planning to take a stop or two on the way back to Pembrokeshire. especially as it was Lu's birthday the following day. We took a taxi into Fort William to pick up Giles and Lu's car which we'd left parked up the previous week. It's been a special time together. Full of fun, laughs, awe inspiring beauty & memories etched in Scottish granite x x