Passage from Kirkwall, Orkney, to Corpach on the Caledonian Canal

Tue 4 Sep 2018 20:16

Passage from Kirkwall, Orkney, to Corpach on the Caledonian Canal

Tuesday 28th August to Tuesday 4th September

Crew: Patrick, Virginia and Lizzie Bird and Will Bertrand.

58:59.3 N 002:51.4 W to 56:49.2 N 005:07.5 W

Day 1 Tuesday



We had an enjoyable afternoon in Kirkwall which included a walk to visit a 5000 year old Neolithic burial chamber, an excellent dinner at the newly opened Storehouse restaurant and a chat and drink in the Bothy pub with Nic and Torrill from Skydancer, who we last saw in Svalbard. We set off early Tuesday morning for the sail south to Wick, some 45 Nm away in a straight line. We went through the String, a tidal passage, in quick time, and then spent most of the day beating along the coast in good conditions, with sunshine and showers, rainbows and castles. Perfect conditions, although a little lumpy for Lizzie and Virginia, and Will soon picked up the ropes, both literally and metaphorically speaking. 11 hours and 51 Nm later we arrived in Wick. It looked to have had a facelift from 4 hours ago when we last visited, and there was plenty of evidence of new off shore wind farm paraphernalia on shore, no doubt bringing financial benefits to the area. The previously derelict harbour was looking up beat and the place had an altogether better feel, not just due to the sunshine on our arrival! Sadly we didn’t stay long enough to explore, just managing to eat dinner and sleep and shower before we left 13 hours later!

Day 2 Wednesday




Not impressed by the prospect of an even longer sail straight into the southerly wind, we left at 0830 and motor-sailed for a few hours past wind farms and oil in order to make progress in a straight line. After lunch we decided to sail and made good progress in strong winds (15-25 knots with occasional stronger gusts) and enjoyed more sunny views with rainbows. We arrived off Cromarty where we picked up a visitor mooring at 2100 after 60 Nm sailed, another long day, where Patrick got very excited about drilling rigs being stored in the Firth! It looked like a pretty town, and it was on Virginia’s recommendation that we stopped there, as she’d visited it by bike some years previously. It was quite rough by night but we were safe on the mooring.

Day 3 Thursday



We took the dinghy ashore early to explore the very attractive town, and found a lovely run to the point through deciduous forest, around a mile each way so nothing too strenuous. We passed a medieval archeological dig, and the place where the first fossilised winged fish was found! The views were magnificent from the point and we enjoyed the sunshine, returning for some provisions from a lovely local bakery. Virginia enjoyed the East Church, now redundant, but with a rich history going back to medieval times when Roman Catholics first worshipped there. After 1560 former practices were replaced by the Scottish Protestants and by the 1700’s the church was expanded with a second floor where people paid for space and then built their own pews! 100 years later, around 1840, a large section of the Church of Scotland left to form the Free Church and the East Church never regained its popularity. The scale of the exodus can only be imagined by seeing the huge size of the Victorian West Church at the other end of town which Will had spotted when we first arrived and we had walked to. Interesting history!

Back to the boat we left at 11:30 heading for Inverness and the entrance to the Caledonian Canal. It’s a surprisingly torturous entry as the firth of Inverness is very shallow! Saw some dolphins on the way and enjoyed more sunshine! Into the canal we heard Sky Dancer on the radio and we passed them at Seaport marina as we went under the bridge and up the flight of four locks at Muirtown. We had last been here around 4 years ago when Sea Fever was on her way to Norway for her first voyage. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and we continued as far as we could and we moored alongside Dochgarroch locks. Here we had a pleasant stroll down to the River Ness where we saw dippers in the water whilst Lizzie and Will prepared dinner.

Day 4 Friday



We started with a tow path run of various distances and lengths, showered and left for Loch Dochfour. Lizzie and Will prepared a superb breakfast which needed the table put up outside, cheesy scrambled eggs and avocado with wind and plenty of sun as we entered Loch Ness. However, as ever, things change very quickly at sea, and the canal is no different. By the time we had washed up the wind had picked up and we quickly had three reefs in and were blasting along on a beat, tacking back and forth across the Loch. Super flat sailing which we all enjoyed. We came into Fort Augustus early afternoon and spent a slow couple of hours getting up the broken locks. It was a shame to miss ice creams but we moored alongside above the locks and had a fine view across fields with rabbits (black and brown) and cows. Dinner was followed by a pleasant visit to a pub with live music where we sat outside with blankets to keep us warm.

Day 5 Saturday



We set off early to catch the 8 am opening of the lock at Kytra where we had a pleasant chat with some visiting South Africans. It was a beautiful spot in woodland with three of the lock cottages as holiday rentals. We continued through Cullochy and into Loch Oich, then into Laggan at the top of Loch Lochy. Here we moored alongside a pontoon and threw some lunch into a rucksack to tackle Ben Tee. We neither had the weather nor time to tackle a couple of good looking Munros (around 20 km walk) so this 10 km hike seemed more appropriate to the slightly claggy weather. After a pleasant stroll with a few good views we had a cuppa and a short rest before we sailed south, with more beating but less wind, through Loch Lochy and down into Gairlochy for the night. It was a very warm night and hardly seemed like the end of August! We met the bug boat again, this is a tiny motor cruiser that is going to the end of the canal just to dip her toes in the sea, and then back again! A very friendly couple.

Day 6 Sunday



We went through the locks and swing bridge with Lizzie and Will before packing and organising took place, and the four of us had a lovely walk into Spean Bridge in sunshine, for them to catch one of two daily trains to Glasgow. They had a lovely, albeit slow, journey to Glasgow through the beautiful highlands stopping at all stations. We meanwhile found a path down by the river with lots of history, General Wade’s military roads and impressive bridge from the 1700’s and the Jacobite uprising, and more recently, from around the turn of the century, a failed railway link from Spean Bridge to Fort Augustus which we had already noticed on our sail down Loch Lochy. We returned to the boat feeling a little flat, and motored on down to the top of Neptune’s Staircase at Banavie. Due to wind, black clouds and threatening weather after a beautiful morning we decided to call it a day and hide from the weather for the evening. It certainly did rain heavily but the next day.....

Day 7 Monday September 3rd

Dawned beautiful and sunny. We took around 2 hours to get down the 8 locks and then enjoyed coffee with new friend Donald, who Patrick had noticed wearing a norwel sweatshirt (oil drilling company who he’d worked with). He is renovating a 12 berth fishing boat to take clients kayaking... we had a nice coffee and wedding cake and he left us with tasty home made preserves from his foraging. We decided that as it was a stunning day and Ben Nevis was looking so inviting, we would postpone going to sea and climb her instead. Of course memories of The Three Peaks race 2010 and the speedy times up and down from Corpach were ringing in my ears (4 or 4 1/4 hours for the 16 miles and 1300m) as we set off on the route still marked on our was a stunning day and we reached the top in around 3 hours 20 mins. Delicious lunch on the top and then a moderately speedy descent in around 1 1/4 hours to the Nevis Inn. Virginia then put on a burst of speed seeing a taxi leaving, and luckily it was empty so we got a lift all the way down! Cheating it was not! Tea with Donald on his fishing boat renovation, dinner on board, home made cuillim skink and then Fray Bentos! and then a drink with Nic and Estella from Skydancer, who we saw in Longyearbyen and Kirkwall, and have been travelling through the canal with....lovely to catch up with them and talk about boat projects and geology. Nic spent 15 years as a mining engineer in Svalbard so knows the place better than most. Respect! Check out their website

Day 8 Tuesday September 4th

Left Corpach Sea Loch lunchtime for Hollytree Hotel just a few miles away with stunning views and sunset....time to relax a little...almost home....

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