Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Scotland's Caledonian Canal in the Scottish Highlands

Cruising The Caledonian Canal in the Scottish Highlands

We are not alone in the belief that cruising the Caledonian Canal is the perfect way to appreciate the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands. This 60-mile waterway, which bisects the Highlands from Fort William in the southwest to Inverness in the northeast, passes brooding castles and connects dramatic, deep-water lochs.

A Two-Pronged Project

The canal was first conceived by James Watt, inventor of the Watt steam engine, in 1773. It would join the lochs of the Great Glen – namely Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy – which lie in a remarkably straight line along a geological fault, connecting eastern and western Scotland. However, it was in 1803, 30 years later, that the project was approved by the Scottish government with canal engineer Thomas Telford at the helm.

The benefits of the canal would be two-fold: it would save sailors from making the often perilous trip around the north and west of Scotland, and it would provide work for the many unemployed men who had been deprived of their jobs in the Highland Clearances. However, the project exceeded both its deadline and its budget. Its local workforce was significantly reduced during the peat cutting season and the potato harvest, resulting in the hiring of Irish navvies (unskilled manual laborers) to continue the work and leading to criticism that it wasn’t fulfilling its aim to reduce local unemployment.

Better Late Than Never?

The fact that the canal took 19 years to complete – 12 years longer than expected – meant that the wooden sailing ships it had originally been designed to accommodate were somewhat outdated by the time it opened. Steamer ships with iron hulls were now able to make the journey around the coast of Scotland with much less risk. To make matters worse, many of these new ships were too big to use the canal.

Scottish Highland & other pleasure boats in Fort Augustus lock
 Although, commercially, this impressive waterway was not the success its designers had envisaged, its stunning route through the Highlands made it a popular tourist attraction. Queen Victoria’s cruise along it in 1873 led to an increase in interest which has not abated ever since.

Fabulous Features

Cruising aboard the hotel barges Scottish Highlander and Spirit of Scotland allow you to appreciate the incredible feats of engineering that Thomas Telford and his team achieved when building this remarkable canal. The area is called "the Highlands" for a reason: there are an impressive 29 locks, 10 bridges and four aqueducts along the 60-mile route. Of particular note is Neptune’s Staircase, the longest staircase lock in the UK. It takes a vessel 90 minutes to rise 70 feet over a distance of 500 yards, passing through 8 locks along the way.

Neptune's Staircase

Scottish Hotel Barges

While the waterway itself is very interesting, there are many other fascinating aspects of the Scottish Highlands that you will enjoy.

Click map to enlarge

We represent two hotel barges who travel this route...



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