The Caledonian Canal
Opened in 1822, the Caledonian Canal is one of the most fascinating waterways in Europe. It was built to provide a short cut between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, avoiding the hazardous Pentland Firth on the north coast of the Scottish mainland.
The canal is one of the most recent to be developed for holidays afloat and has retained its unspoiled character. It runs for some 60 miles (100 km). It takes approximately 3 days to cruise from East to West and it is therefore the perfect place to spend a week's cruising.
Canals are artificial waterways, and about a third of the Caledonian Canal is a man-made cutting which links a chain of natural lochs - Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour.
Canals have to be provided with a water supply, normally by means of reservoirs and feeder channels, but the Caledonian is unusual because the lochs that are its reservoir also form part of the waterway itself with weirs and sluices controlling the water levels.
The highest point of the canal is 106 feet above sea level, at Loch Oich, and water flows from here towards the sea in both directions while the sets of locks raise or lower boats according to the direction of travel.
The Caledonian Canal was engineered by the famous Scotsman, Thomas Telford, and completed in 1822 after 19 years of work. It was built at the time of the 'Highland Clearances' to create employment.
Today's canal traffic is mostly cruisers, but you'll also see ocean going yachts, fishing boats and the odd naval vessel. For over thirty years, the canal locks have been mechanised, making it even easier to negotiate the 'staircases' along the way. At every lock and bridge you will be assisted by a friendly keeper.
Key sights along the Canal
As you make your way along the Canal, make sure you don’t miss these key sights!
• Dochfour House, home of Lord Burton, can clearly be seen from Loch Dochfour
• Aldourie Castle, 17th century picturesque castle and estate on the South side of Loch Ness
• Urquhart Castle, one of Scotland’s oldest castles situated on the banks of Loch Ness
• Cherry Island, just before Fort Augustus is a ‘Crannog’ – a man made island
• St. Benedict’s Abbey, originally a Hanovarian Fort built in 1729 at Fort Augustus
• Invergarry Castle, on Loch Oich, was burnt down by Cumberland, only ruins remain
• The Well of the Seven Heads, a monument to the death of seven clansmen
• Ben Tee and Sron a Choire Ghairbh mountains towering above Loch Lochy
• Ben Nevis as the backdrop to the scenery between Gairlochy and Banavie