After two days in Inverness, we left our cozy B&B to pick up the boat we hired from Caley Cruisers and began our journey down the Caledonian Canal, between Inverness and Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.
If you have ever been tempted by the history, people and spectacular geography that make up the Great Glen in northern Scotland, I can’t recommend Caley and their superior fleet of boats enough. Audrey, Karin and the rest of the staff should write a book on customer service, if they haven’t already. We loved our first experience with them in 2011 so much, that we did it all again in April of this year.
This second trip was a totally new experience. For one thing, the weather was not the perfect sunshine and warm temperatures that we had in 2011. Instead, this time we had a mix of sun, rain and cold wind that is much more usual for the Highlands in the spring. To put a positive swing on things, I’ll tell you that we saw a rainbow almost everyday. When you look at it like that, and pack for all weather contingencies, it’s hard to complain. Especially when you remember you’re on vacation and looking for adventure!
The weather was so rough on the Monday that we picked up the boat that we actually couldn’t cross Loch Ness. When the wind gets going, the loch acts just like a bathtub, and really gets rocking! But in true Caley style, the crew strapped bikes to the front of our boat, free of charge, which gave us the option of bicycling along the canal after we tied up on Loch Dochfour, the last stop before entering Loch Ness.
The next day (my birthday) dawned a little calmer, and 2 Caley staff arrived bright and early (see what I mean about customer service?!) to escort the 3 boats, including ours, that were held up the night before. Despite the lack of wind, Loch Ness still had some waves stored in her deep belly, and it was a rough trip belting through six foot swells.
We arrived safe and sound at Fort Augustus on the south end of Loch Ness, just in time for lunch. Fort Augustus is a picturesque town that is built around the impressive set of 5 locks that transit tourist boats like ours, as well as large working fishing vessels, either up or down, depending on the direction of travel.
After a delicious pub lunch complete with a pint at the Lock Inn, we went next door to the butchers to stock up, and stopped by the Clansman Centre where Howard bought me a beautiful woolen tartan blanket for my birthday. (It came in handy on cold evenings on the boat!) The sites of this small village exhausted, we returned to our boat, moored beside the grand 19th Century Abbey, to spend the afternoon reading and relaxing.
Our dinner at The Loval Hotel Brasserie was one of the best we’ve enjoyed in many years. Their two rosette status has been well earned. Everything from start to finish was eye-poppingly beautiful, and even more delicious. I savoured every last bite of my filet of Lochaber salmon, served with a crab ravioli, sweet pea risotto and crispy, deep-fried salmon skin. My starter of smoked venison bresaola, with celeriac slaw was equally delicious. We left it at two courses, being too satisfied to indulge in a birthday dessert.
We walked back to our floating-hotel alongside the locks we would pass through the next day, feeling satiated, relaxed, and very much on vacation. A birthday fit for Scottish royalty, and one this lass from Pender Island, BC, Canada will remember for the rest of my life.