Inverness to Fort William – The Caledonian Canal

With younger son swapped for older, my crew change at Inverness was complete. Inverness wasn’t a bad place to do it, as the marina is just a short taxi ride from the airport, which both sons used. The disadvantage was that it was a fair walk into town, so I dug out my Brompton bicycle, which had languished deep in the cockpit locker for the last couple of years. It was none the worse for wear and I accomplished a decent shop. While crossing the Pentland Firth I had also put a call in with Majestic Wine, who kindly delivered to the marina to resupply vital lubricants.

Claret resupply. Logistics are important on a yacht

Leaving Jonty to head to the airport, Tom and I headed round to the Inverness sea loch at Clachnaharry, where we were greeted by a friendly American member of staff who told us what to expect. The Canal was completed in 1922 and was constructed by Scottish engineer Thomas Telford. 29 locks, four aqueducts, ten bridges and some 60 miles awaited us.

Entering the Caledonian Canal. This is probably the first time Spellbinder has floated in fresh water. The Brompton proved very useful along the route. The locks were all manned, and the staff unfailingly polite, easy-going and helpful
An early stretch of the canal, not far from Inverness

We soon got into the swing of it and adapted to the routine of going through the locks and waiting for bridges to open. Before long we found ourselves in Loch Ness. Often the prevailing winds make this an uncomfortable motor, but we had a fair wind for a while and managed a brief sail and a coffee anchored under Castle Urquhart. We also made good use of the drone to get some fine footage.

A fine, albeit brief sail up Loch Ness. No monsters seen
Anchored under Castle Urquhart. Not a bad place for a coffee
Castle Urquhart from the side
Mid Loch Ness

At the end of Loch Ness we ascended the locks up Fort Augustus, which seemed like a suitable place to stop for the first night.

Typical lock action. You just need longish bow and stern lines, and lots of fenders. We didn’t see many other yachts, but quite a few hired small cruisers. The crews were obliged to wear old-fashioned thick foam life jackets though, which would have put me off…
Fort Augustus
First berth for the night

After a quiet night we headed off from Fort Augustus, climbing up the locks until we met the mid point of the canal, from where we started to descend. For me this part was the most beautiful, as the canal wound through quiet upland countryside.

Mid canal scenes
Approaching the Canal mid point, from where we started to descend

Once through the mid point, we headed down Lochs Oich and Lochy, past Invergarry Castle and eventually to Banavie, at the top of a series of lochs known as Neptune’s Staircase. The countryside changed, and Ben Nevis and its surrounding mountains appeared, with snow patches still clearly visible.

Ben Nevis appearing, viewed from the water….
..and across wild flower meadows. Almost Alpine
Rhododendrons on the mountainside. An invasive species, they nonetheless give agreeable colour at this time of the year

We arrived at the top of Neptune’s Staircase, and stopped for the night, enjoying the views and the engineering.

Neptune’s Staircase viewed from the top and bottom

In the morning we took the first descent down the 8 locks, and moored shortly afterwards to allow Tom to run up and down Ben Nevis, which he did in a remarkably brisk time.

Summit photo. I wasn’t there…

Tom’s rapid mountain bagging allowed us to head down to Corpach and exit the canal, with Spellbinder once more floating in salt water.

Corpach sea lock opening for us. Our arrival coincided with the first of the 3 Peaks yachts who had finished their race

In increasingly poor weather we headed down Loch Linnhe through the Corran Narrows to the very friendly mooring field at Linnhe Marine, which is to be Spellbinder’s base for the next ten days. The next day the weather was foul, but we did motor down to Port Appin where we had an excellent celebratory lunch at the Pierhouse Hotel.

It was a really enjoyable transit, although very different from rounding Cape Wrath! I was impressed by the laid-back efficiency of the lock keepers and the general administration of the place. We were helped with sunny weather, which helped greatly, and the midges had not yet arrived.

Spellbinder will remain in Loch Linnhe for the next ten days while I return south, but her adventures will recommence in early July.

The current view from the heads
Linnhe Marine, Spellbinder’s current mooring

5 thoughts on “Inverness to Fort William – The Caledonian Canal

  1. Neil Wilson


    Another interesting blog and clearly you and Tom had an enjoyable passage through the canal.

    I’ve just got back from our voyage after a successful, if slightly tricky handover in Ullapool.

    I can see that Ireland is not going to be the easiest place to reach under current restrictions; what are your thoughts for the next few weeks? Do you want to chat over the weekend/ next week?


    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Adam Fairrie

    Nick , a good read but you are in disgrace. You sailed past my house on the the Black Isle close to the Kessock Bridge without dipping a pennant or even stopping in for a brew.
    Please don’t let it happen again.
    Yours ever,


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