Log #16c The Great Glen Part 2

July 29, 2000 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 16 Scotland, The Logs

Log #16c The Great Glen Part 2

Written at Rothesay, Isle of Bute, Scotland
July 29/00
Covers the period June 10 to 14

The pontoons at Invergary Castle were free, as were most of the pontoons and moorings throughout the Canal. The only time we paid for any mooring in the Canal was at Urquhart Castle; all the others were free, included in the price of the Canal. Invergary castle, once the home of the McDonnel Clan chiefs, was burned after the Battle of Culloden and the defeat of the Jacobites by “Butcher” Cumberland during his purges, for giving support to Bonnie Prince Charlie. We left the pontoons and motored down the rest of Loch Oich, passing the “Well of the Seven Heads”, used to wash the decapitated heads of seven clansmen before these were presented to an opposing clan chief. More bloody Scottish history!

The bridge at the end of Loch Oich was opened for us on our approach, and entering the first Laggan lock at 1035, we were cleared out of the second by 1100. That is good time for two locks. We have been pleased with the lock and bridge operations in the Caledonian Canal, other than the heavy turbulence experienced at the Fort Augustus locks. Two hours motoring took us the length of Loch Lochy and into the two Gairlochy Locks and swing bridge which took only 75 minutes to complete. After stopping at the pontoons past these locks for a leisurely lunch, we left at 1445 for a comfortable 5 mile motor down to the pontoons just above Banavie Locks, the last flight of 8 locks, called Neptune’s Staircase, before exiting the Caledonian Canal sea locks at Corpac. We inquired about locking through that afternoon, but were unable to, as only one more locking down would take place, and that was for the Grand Turk, expected in a couple of hours. We would have to wait until the next day to go down.

OK, so off to the Lochy Pub for a “wet”, then over to Caol, a suburb of Fort William, for some grocery shopping. Murphy’s Law (Sod’s Law to you Brits) was alive and well, as it was pouring rain when we came out of the grocery store. We thought we would go a more direct route back to the locks by following the shore line. Ha! Of course we didn’t have a map or chart, but our navigational sense of direction should serve us well. Ha! After following the shore for about ten minutes, the two Judys cut across a school playing field, whereas I continued on the shoreline to the end of the field, then cut across, soaked to the skin, to arrive at a canal. Which way? Of course I chose the wrong way, and found myself in Corpac at the Sea Lock. So, back up the canal about two kilometers, soaking wet, to see Neptune’s Staircase and the Grand Turk through the first two locks of the eight.

I caught up to the two Judys watching it lock through, and they didn’t even have an “I told you so” expression for my taking the wrong way. It was still raining, so I went up the locks back to Veleda with the groceries and to dry off. Then I went back down to watch the Grand Turk. This is a replica of a late 18th century frigate that was used in the “Hornblower” TV movies a few years ago. Judy (mine) and I had toured this ship in St. Katherine’s Docks in London over the winter, and enjoyed watching the poor deck hands getting soaked as she eased her way slowly through each of the remaining six or seven locks. We returned to Veleda and had a nice warm, dry, comfortable evening on the pontoon, anticipating going down Neptune’s Staircase first thing in the morning and out the sea lock into Loch Linnie and on to Oban.

We were able to start locking through the next morning, June 11, at 0800. We locked down with two other yachts. Going down is not as turbulent as going up, so it was an easy process, but took two and a quarter hours to go through the 8 locks. However, !!! we were strongly advised not to go through the sea lock into Loch Linnie as there would be no secure anchorage or mooring for ten or fifteen miles, and a major gale was expected. Even the Grand Turk had not gone through the sea lock, and was moored in the basin waiting out the anticipated storm before continuing its trip over to Ireland. We figured if a large sailing ship like that was seeking shelter in the basin, it would be prudent for us to wait as well. We did.

We tied up at a small British Waterways dock above the two Corpach locks, about two hundred yards up from where the Grand Turk was moored in the basin before the sea lock. We were quite secure, sheltered by a stand of large trees on the far side of the canal which served as a great wind break. We stayed there for three days waiting out the worst June storm on record. The Grand Turk recorded 70 knots at their masthead during the peak of the three day storm. We could see their White Ensign flying straight out in the heavy winds. We were fortunate, with the trees as a wind break, that we did not see much more than 30 knots across our masthead. It was a force 10 storm! Free energy with our wind generator charging up our batteries!

The next day, June 12, my Judy went to the local Corpach Gem and Mineral Museum while Judy J went to tour the Grand Turk. I had a glorious morning to myself on board Veleda getting caught up on my logs. At noon hour we caught the train up through the Highlands to Mallaig, an end of the line fishing village up the west coast beyond Ardnamurchan. The train perambulated through some glorious Highland country, past Glenfinnan, where Bonnie Prince Charlie made his landing from France to get the clansmen mobilized for his Jacobite Rebellion, up past Arisaig, a small fishing community on the shoreline, and through some beautiful valleys and around several lochs, both salt and fresh water, fringing the mountainous highlands. We spent two hours going through a local heritage center and Marine Museum in Mallaig, both very worthwhile. The heritage center had very personal and graphic displays of the “Clearances” that took place in that area. Horrible what happened to those crofters! The marine museum was assisted by the local fishermen who contributed sea life and some fascinating film footage of fishing and storms at sea. One video showed a large shark accidentally caught in their nets and hauled, dangerously thrashing, on board. They had to throw it back after removing it from the net, as it was too dangerous on board, and uneconomical market-wise. The aquarium was excellent, including a wide variety of fish caught in the area, moray eels, lobsters, displays of netting systems, and a touch tank where people could pick up and feel a variety of sea urchins, crabs, starfish, sea cucumbers, anemones, whelks, snails, limpets and barnacles. We wandered the town and then caught the next train back to Corpach. Before leaving, I climbed up the hill in town to get a fascinating view of the sea shore with the heavy storm driven winds pounding the surf on the offlying rocks. I was glad we were not out there in Veleda.

Upon returning to Corpach, we were talking to some of the crew of the Grand Turk, and invited them over to Veleda after supper. Four of them came over and we had a most pleasant evening on board, out of the rain and drizzle, talking about sailing and other things. There were two Johns, Bev, and Chris. We met them again the next day on the bus going into Fort William. They went on a distillery tour of the Ben Nevis Distillery while we went right into Fort William to do some shopping, try to get some laundry done (unsuccessfully), try to send some E-mail (unsuccessfully), but had a lovely meal and Scottish floor show of pipes, accordion, singing, and Highland dancing at McTavish’s restaurant. Most enjoyable! There is no fort left at Fort William, as the original wooden fort was destroyed after the Jacobite Rebellion was put down. There is also no place for yachts to moor in Fort William as it is exposed, and serviced only by a wooden skeleton pier for fishing boats. The town itself has a pleasant pedestrian mall and is located under Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. It is strategically located not only at the foot of Ben Nevis, but at the juncture of Loch Linnie and Loch Eil, and was important during the Rebellion of 1745.

When we returned to Veleda, we found a nice bottle of single malt Ben Nevis whisky from our friends from the Grand Turk. They were taking off first thing in the morning and left the bottle as a “thank you “ for our get-together the night before. Thank you John, John, Bev, and Chris.

The winds were dying down and we too were able to leave the next day, June 14, at 0800, clearing the two Corpach locks by 0830 and the outer sea lock by 0848, and out into the open salt tidal waters of Loch Linnie, on our way to Oban.

This completes the trip through the Great Glen, a scenic, historical trip through Scotland from the Moray Firth on the east coast to the west coast Highlands, most enjoyable in spite of the weather.