Dunstaffnage to Inverness – via the Caledonian Canal

Departed 9th June 2023. Arrived Inverness Marina 15th June 2023

Log 1015 (fouled) to L1131

Reading Time: 15 minutes

Diagrammatic Route – Dunstaffnage to Inverness
Sumara awaiting final tasks before heading off to the Caledonian Canal

Tilman and I arrived at the boat after a week in the stunning countryside of Glen Lyon. I had a list of tasks that needed completing before we could set off for the Caledonian Canal – haven’t we always got these lists! The good thing about being on the boat alone (+dog, who really doesn’t care) is that you can make a hell of a mess. I normally spread the tools out on one bunk, line up the oil and antifreeze etc in the cockpit. I don my scruffiest clothes and get stuck in.

But then the phone goes and Barry Pickhall, a yachting Journalist, would like to interview me and take pictures of the boat. So, all of a mealie pudding everything is scurried away, and a feeble attempt is made to clean up the boat.

Tools and blobby stuff everywhere as I service the engine!

Barry and his crew arrived on Monday evening in his fine varnished yacht that he had restored with the help of a friend. We were going to eat in the newly opened “Wide Mouth Frog” restaurant at the marina but it was closed on Mondays, so we drove to the Oyster Inn which was full and so we ended up in Oban where I was treated to an excellent pasta at an outside table overlooking the dock. Barry was keen to get some photos of the boat under sail so when I returned to the boat I hanked on the foresails and took off the mainsail cover then moved the boat to a deeper pontoon so we could leave in the afternoon (low water). Sadly, a lack of wind meant the attempt was aborted and I eventually moved the boat back to its mooring in the evening. Time was getting a bit tight to service the engine and resolve various VHF, AIS and GPS problems.

Getting the new GPS to talk to the VHF was taxing my little brain!

On Thursday evening Grit arrived on the train in Oban, actually her train had broken down so she came on a later one, putting pay to another attempt to eat at the “Wide Mouth Frog”. We had soup onboard and set off to Corpach in the morning.

We had a tranquil trip up Loch Linnhe

The ”sail” up Loch Linnhe was very peaceful, basically motoring  slowly up against the tide to arrive at the Corran Narrows at slack low water. We only saw two other boats, which is weird considering it was a lovely warm sunny day. We moored in the brand new Corpach marina and were slightly bemused by a strange current running out from the shore causing Sumara to gently drift away from the pontoon. In any case, we soon made her fast and went for fish and chips in the new café.

Saturday was a free day as I had booked to enter the canal at noon on Sunday. We mistakenly decided to walk to Fort William. I say mistakenly because I have never liked Fort William, and no sooner had we arrived then I was thinking how we could get back without suffering another long walk in the boiling sunshine. We ended up sitting on a bench at the station for an hour overlooking Morrisons.

Things looked up back in Corpach when a fisherman gave us three lovely fresh mackeral, so that was supper all sorted out! On Sunday we entered the sea lock at Corpach with Tilman barking continuously. We moved straight into the next two locks and moored up awaiting the Banovie bridge to swing and the commencement of the flight of locks called “Neptune’s Stairs”.

Working the locks was enjoyable and pretty stress free, but the dog made himself known!
I think this is the Fort Augustus Flight.

The Lock Keepers were super friendly and very helpful. That was a good job as there are about 8 locks in the flight, the longest in Scotland. I had made my new spring lines especially long so they could be used in the canal, I think they are 18 m long. The Lock Keeper also threw lines down when they were to be of help. We tied up at the top of the flight for the night. We were warned to beware of the hire cruisers, but actually we found them very competent. Grit chatted to one and he said he was a professional barge skipper but enjoyed hiring the cruisers on the canal for his holiday!

This was a tight squeeze. Glad we weren’t trying to share the lock!

On Monday, Day 2 in the canal, we mooched along as far as a little pontoon in Ardishaig Bay. We decided to stop here because the canal map had “Shop and Off Licence” written at the end of the pontoon and we were low on supplies. We took to opportunity to cool off with a swim before heading to the shop. Alas there was no shop, and our walk to find the Glengarry Castle Hotel was thwarted because the road had no pavement, a common hazard in Scotland. We retreated along the foreshore and arrived back at the boat just as it started to rain. The rain was very welcome as it has been incredibly hot all day. We brewed up a sardine and chilli pasta and went to bed listening to the patter of rain on the cabin top.  

We share the canal with kayaks and paddleboarders

The following day we needed to transit the Fort Augustus locks before they were closed for repairs (there was a badly leaking gate). We tied up below the locks on a very long pontoon (which did eventually fill up with other boats). We ambled around to the Boathouse Restaurant and bought a couple of beers which we had overlooking a misty Loch Ness. The midges were about, but not too lethal.

We did manage a gentle sail in Loch Ness. I should have got out the big genoa but, hey there’s no hurry.

On Wednesday we set off across Loch Ness towards Dochgarroch. The very gentle wind encouraged me to hoist the sails and we sailed at about 2 knots for several hours before resorting to the engine.

Video Motoring through the canal

Thursday took us down the Muirtown flight and into Seaport Marina near to Inverness where we were able to stay for one night free of charge. I topped up the diesel tank and was unable to empty 20 litres of diesel into it. Not bad considering we have motored most of the way. At last, we found a pub! We had fish and chips on the terrace of the Clachnaharry inn. The terrace overlooks the railway line which has an exquisite old lattice foot bridge over the line which has been totally ‘effed up by some crass trunking. What were they thinking?

A beautiful bridge ruined!

The Seaport marina is near to a trading estate with a selection of supermarkets. We took the opportunity to stock up.

Navigation was hindered by Tilman’s love of the chart table.

On Friday we locked out of the canal at high water to make use of a slack tide to take us to Inverness Marina just a few miles away. The marina is a twenty minute walk into town via a large industrial estate. Not too pretty, but we need industry so I don’t mind.

MacGregors huge hardware shop. Hardware Heaven!

Furthermore the estate is home to Highland Industrial Supplies and MacGregor’s, two of the best hardware heavens that I have ever encountered! We visited MacGregor’s and after all that stimulation I felt pushing on to browse around “H.I.S” would be too much for my heart to cope with.

I discovered a little fish shack in the marina car park last night. It sells Cullen Skink and scallops but closes at 20:00 so we may not have the pleasure of trying it out. As I write this, I am waiting for Ray to arrive. Grit and Tilman left by train this morning. We were hoping to sail tomorrow but the forecast is for strong headwinds so there could be a day’s delay. Maybe that fish shack will be sampled yet!


The 60 nm canal cost just over £200 to transit but that includes up to 7 days mooring so it is pretty good value

If you are not used to locks, don’t worry. Everyone is incredibly helpful and friendly. It is remarkably stress free.

Don’t bother buying Imray’s Map of the Inland Waterways of Scotland. It doesn’t contain enough information and disintegrates if it gets at all wet. You will be given a much better map when you enter the sea lock.

Take on board water whenever you see a tap nearby. They aren’t as plentiful as you would imagine.

If you are kayaking take your own wheels, the ones at the locks seem to have vanished.

Pubs are strangely hard to find. Come to think of it I haven’t been into a pub since arriving in Scotland about three weeks ago (as of 15th June 2023). For me, that could be a record.

If you are an urbanite used to buying a selection of wholemeal rye soda bread, then be aware that the small village shops tend to stock Warbuttons white sliced. Maybe best to bake your own on board, unless you actually like Warbuttons white sliced bread. Someone must!

Inverness Marina cost £28.00 per night and has good clean facilities, but it is a bit out on a limb.

I will improve the photos when I return home but I have limited facilities onboard the little boat.

One response to “Dunstaffnage to Inverness – via the Caledonian Canal”

  1. […] has been a great sailing season. I really enjoyed bringing Sumara through the Caledonian Canal, around to Edinburgh and then down the East Coast. Then I joined Will Stirling to sail through the […]

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