Fort Augustus, Corpach & Glenfinnan

Jun 13, 2018 - Lord of the Glens


Morning found us on the shores of Loch Ness with glorious views up the Great Glen. Over breakfast we set off to continue our journey through the Caledonian Canal, climbing up a series of locks surrounded by the quiet village of Fort Augustus. Sailing southwest, we passed through Loch Oich, crossing the highest point of the canal at 106 feet above sea level. 

As we sailed, Stewart presented “Scots on the Rocks,” an overview of Scotland’s geology, covering the several millions of years of geologic history that resulted in the Scotland we know today. Stewart noted that the Great Glen which provides our present route is a major geologic strike-slip fault deepened by the grinding of the Ice Age glaciers. Late morning, Ella talked on Scotland’s orca population, describing the ecology and habits of the local killer whales. Sadly, only 10 orcas remain of the west coast community, and the population continues to decline, in part to the bioaccumulation of toxic PCBs in their system. 

After lunch we disembarked into rather dreary weather, though a bit of rain wouldn’t stop this spirited group. A few hearty folks ventured off for a kayaking trip, learning how to maneuver a sea kayak along a scenic stretch of the Caledonian Canal. They returned a bit sodden, but a celebratory drink was had before any hot shower. 

Others set off for the Glenfinnan Monument at the head of Loch Eil. This marks the point where Prince Charles landed in 1745 and raised his standard to begin the campaign to restore the Stuart Dynasty, the campaign that ended in the disastrous defeat at Culloden on the battle site we explored yesterday. A hiking group was dropped off above the monument, to walk across the hills back to Glenfinnan enjoying the dramatic views across the glen and over the train viaduct made famous in the Harry Potter films. Another group joined David for a walk near the monument itself. 

Tonight, we berthed near the base of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom at 4409 feet. Though lost in cloud, we could see the foothills and imagine its summit thanks to Stewart’s evening recap describing the mountain’s history. Also during recap, Robin talked about the ancient walking culture of Britain, and the Glenfinnan Estate Manager, Alistair Gibson, joined us for a lively talk describing the complex management of a modern-day Highland Estate. Deer stalking (aka deer hunting), timber production, and tourism are all part of the everyday tasks on the estate. This informative evening program gave us an insight into the Highland culture of today. Finally, David informed us about tomorrow’s events. The adventure continues!

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About the Author

Robin Patten

Naturalist

The natural world has always been central to Robin’s life. At an early age, she was out exploring the Montana backcountry, learning natural history through experience. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in landscape ecology from Colorado State University, followed by an M.S. in Environmental Writing from the University of Montana and a Post-Graduate Diploma from Scotland’s Centre for Mountain Studies. Her studies included environmental history and cultural geography, and her work often focuses on the interactions between cultures and landscapes. Robin still lives in Montana, writing and working from a small cabin near Yellowstone National Park.

About the Photographer

Stewart Aitchison

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Trained as zoologist and geologist, Stewart 's passion is the natural world. He has been exploring, photographing, teaching, and writing about biodiversity, geology, and the American Southwest for forty years and has worked with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic since 1981.  Stewart also spent ten years as a field biologist for the Museum of Northern Arizona, a nonprofit institution dedicated to preserving the Colorado Plateau's natural and cultural heritage.

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