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Loch Solitude

The eight-day licence which permits us to transit the Caledonian Canal has almost expired as we approach the final spectacular flight of eight locks at Banavie, close by Fort William. Soon we’ll once again have to contend with tides, currents and salt water and maybe we also need to prepare for sailing boats in greater numbers as the holiday season is nearly upon us.

One of the most striking features of the canal for us has been the absence of other boats. It was not uncommon for us to have a Scottish loch all to ourselves for the whole day, miles of water stretching out to the east and to the west, and we rarely shared a lock passage with another vessel. All this was unexpected. Indeed we had established emergency procedures for repelling wayward hire boats which might threaten our paintwork in the confines of the canal, knowing that there is nothing more dangerous than the tired driver who steps out of his car and slips behind the wheel of a boat, then expects it to line up with the pontoon as if he were parking at the kerbside. Kate was to rush forward with a roving fender to protect the impact site whilst I had practised a stony-faced glare guaranteed to keep anyone at bay. But in the end none of this expertise was needed simply because there were too few hire boaters about to bother us.
True, Urquhart Castle did seem to be getting its fair share of foreign tourists if the coach park was anything to go by but the view from the Loch in the sunshine, the aspect the tourists never see, was ours alone.
Thomas Telford would be a disappointed man were he alive today, disappointed because worldwide celebrity status around here goes not to his engineering masterpiece in the massive stone works of the canal but instead to the elusive creature living beneath the waters of its longest loch. So naturally I have to report on our own experiences after having now spent several midsummer nights afloat on its surface. Did Nessie put in an appearance?
The waters of Loch Ness are deep brown in colour as indeed is all the water throughout the length of the canal. Steep waves form easily here (steeper in fresh water than in salt) and the mountains which drop precipitously into the loch throw long shadows which reflect back inverted summits, distorted by any surface disturbance. No matter who first gave birth to the magical monster it is easy to see how it is perpetuated and who can blame the Scots for the monster replicas in purple plastic or wickerwork which are as much a part of the culture as scotch whisky. So maybe, just maybe, that flickering shadow far away across the loch was Nessie flicking her tail for us, who knows. None of this can take away the magic or the beauty of the place. It is just too big and too overwhelming for that.

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