Jun 24, 2018 - Lord of the Glens
Fort Augustus was named for the Duke of Cumberland, commander of the victorious Hanoverian army at the Battle of Culloden, that momentous turning point in British (and indeed, European) history, when Britain confirmed its position as a leading protestant power. The fort was built to pacify this central part of the Great Glen, and its remains are still visible, incorporated into the foundations of a gym for a new resort complex on the site of the former Abbey School. Fort Augustus today relies heavily on tourism, especially the summer pastime of watching boats and yachts navigate the flight of locks around which the modern settlement is clustered. The previous settlement, known by the Gaelic name Kilchuimen, was erased in the clearances that followed Culloden; only its burial ground remains. We visited the site on a hike last evening.
Our day started at 8 a.m., when the lock keeper began his work of moving down the flight of five locks that are the heart of this small settlement. Ahead of us lay the impressive sight of Loch Ness, the largest body of fresh water in Britain, deeper than the North Sea. Midday, we moved close to the shore for fine views of Urquhart Castle. This ancient site once housed the hill fort of a Pictish leader. Now it is occupied by the ruins of a large Norman castle, its keep and bailey clearly visible from our decks. It was here that St. Columba, according to his first biographer, performed a remarkable miracle: on a mission to convert the Pits of Eastern Scotland, he bid a monster in the loch to descend to its depths when it threatened to impede his passage. Upon arrival in Inverness, Columba succeeded in converting King Bridei (or Brude) of the Picts by explaining that Christ was his druid.
After a final stretch of canal that overlooks the fast-running, salmon-rich River Ness, we arrived at Muirtown Basin in Inverness in time for lunch. In sight of the sea lock at Clachnaharry, we had completed our transit from the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea.
In the afternoon, we toured the award-winning visitor center at Culloden, the site of the final Jacobite defeat in 1746. Following Culloden, the forces of the crown determined to rid Scotland of treacherous Catholic Gaels. The Gaelic language and clan system were proscribed, the playing of bagpipes was outlawed, and wholesale forcible eviction and emigration ensued (largely to the Canadian Maritime Provinces). This process was known as the Highland Clearances, in which an uneconomic people were replaced with more profitable sheep.
We ended the afternoon’s excursion at Clava Cairns, a late Neolithic/early Bronze Age site consisting of chambered burial cairns and megalithic stone circles. We returned to the ship for a festive Scottish farewell dinner, with haggis and bagpipes, followed by a presentation of Highland dancing in the lounge by local schoolchildren.
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