Cornwall to Scotland days 41 to 43
|16/08/2011||Filled under Caledonian, Canal, Scotland|
Day 41 – Summer has come to the Highlands. The air is clear, the hills are all in sharp focus and Kate is trying out our inflatable dinghy. Bought last winter and carried all the way from Plymouth rolled up in a bag on Cirrus’ stern we finally get a chance to pump it up to see if it floats and also to find out how easy it is to row. Typically, small inflatables come with a pair of very short oars which are held captive in specially designed rowlocks. They are less like oars and more like a pair of spoons but ours do perform reasonably well despite this.
We had spent the morning motoring along the short section of canal that leads into the vastness of Loch Ness, avoiding the weir on the south side that feeds tons of excess water into the River Ness, and steering well clear of even greater hazards, the hire boats. Exhibitions of astonishing boat handling incompetence go hand in hand with these vessels as families whose only previous experience with anything that floats is a rubber duck in the bath tub are given the keys to a small ship in which they are expected to negotiate locks, moor to pontoons and then navigate across the small sea that is Loch Ness. We hear of an Italian family who take their hired motor cruiser under a swing-bridge without waiting for it to open and successfully shave off the top part of the boat – windscreen, aerials, navigation lights, etc. – without apparently coming to any harm themselves. Whatever short training the hire company gives them fails to include basic rope handling, how to steer in a straight line, what to do if the wind is blowing hard, when to use the bow-thruster and when not to, the list is endless. Any close encounter with a hire cruiser is potentially damaging to us so we make a point of staying well clear.
But maybe the incompetence is infectious for on our first night in Loch Ness we anchor on a sandy ledge in Urquhart Bay close to the castle but far enough away to avoid the tourists. The wind cannons down the length of the loch from the south-west but we are sheltered here, just the occasional random gust finding us. There are, of course, no tides in the loch so we anchor in two metres with just enough chain paid out for this depth. Mid-way through a balmy afternoon on board we suddenly notice that Cirrus is drifting away from the shore and we rush outside to discover that our anchor had failed to pierce the layer of weed and on the first gentle tug it had slid across the bottom and dropped off the ledge into deep water. It is now hanging straight down beneath the boat, touching nothing as even this close to the shore the bottom is seventy metres below us– oops! We gradually winch the weight of chain and anchor back on board then start the engine and motor back in to reset it, firmly this time, then we set a depth alarm on the echo sounder so we will not be caught out again.
Day 42 – We sail off in the morning, tacking up the loch against another fresh south-westerly breeze, as far as Foyers, famous for its spectacular waterfalls and on the agenda of most tourists, it seems. We moor here for our second night and go exploring around the lake shore where tiny patches of rounded pebbles nestle between the trees which lean out over the water as if the land is too crowded for them. This knobbly old beech tree is so ancient that some of its branches have grown back into the tree again making a mockery of the standard pattern of tree growth. Back at the boat the wind has shifted slightly so our mooring is a little bumpy but by dusk it calms down as it does every evening here, the night becoming quiet and still.
Day 43 – Our time in the Caledonian Canal is limited by the eight-day licence issued to us at Clachnaharry so we get up early to do some serious motoring, to cover some more of the fifty nautical mile length and negotiate some more of the twenty-nine locks. For a change the wind is very light but it rains sporadically for most of the day so we stop for the night just before the Laggan Locks, one hundred and six feet above sea level and at the highest point on the passage. One very good reason for stopping here is the presence of the Eagle, a floating bar and restaurant which winks at us until we drop by to sample its wares.