Cruising the Highlands in Style: The Caledonian Canal
There’s no beauty in the world quite like that of the Scottish Highlands. The rugged landscape will take your breath away and make you eager to see more. One of the best ways to explore the wild side of Scotland is by water, and the Caledonian Canal is the finest route of all.
At 60 miles long, this waterway features 29 lochs, 10 bridges, 4 aqueducts and more incredible scenes of nature than you can count. The route connects the south-east of the country to the north-west, reaching from the charming town of Fort William all the way to Inverness. There’s plenty to do and see when you cruise Scotland: the awe-inspiring castles and famous whisky distilleries are sure to catch your attention.
You can sail in the shadow of royalty here. In 1873, Queen Victoria travelled on the canal, which has been extremely popular ever since. The canal’s stunning route makes it easy to see why Queen Victoria loved to cruise Scotland so much!
Thanks to James Watt, the inventor of the Watt steam engine, the idea of constructing the Caledonian Canal first surfaced in 1773. It aimed to connect the eastern and western sides of Scotland, providing work for locals and reducing the need to make a dangerous journey around the coast. The canal would enable all key lochs of the Great Glen could be connected, including Loch Ness, Loch Lochy and Loch Oich.
30 years later, the project was approved by the Scottish government and was led by Thomas Telford, a Scottish engineer. It was designed to run in an incredibly straight line along a geographical fault, and was supposedly a master class in engineering. However, the project missed its deadline by 12 years, taking 19 years to build in total, and also exceeded its budget.
This caused problems for ships that were previously designed to navigate the canal: by the time that it was finished, the ships’ designs were outdated and unsuitable. Although steamer ships with iron hulls were capable of sailing around the Scottish coast, these were too big for the waterway. As a result, while the project was visually impressive, it wasn’t quite the huge success that designers had hoped for.
Despite this, cruising along the Caledonian Canal is an amazing experience from start to finish. Among its many highlights is Neptune’s Staircase: as the longest stair lock in the UK, it takes an impressive 90 minutes for a barge to travel the distance of 500 yards, passing through 8 different locks and rising 70 feet in the process.
If rugged natural beauty, astounding industrial skill and authentic local history sounds like your idea of the perfect cruise, Scotland is the destination for you.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK’s most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury canal holidays across Europe. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge holiday, whether you’re looking to cruise Scotland, France or Italy.