Caledonian Canal, Highlands of Scotland

Aug 04, 2018 - Lord of the Glens


We felt its looming presence from behind trailing Scottish clouds and mist, but Ben Nevis itself, the highest mountain in Britain, was nowhere to be seen this morning. Down below, we slipped away from our berth just inside the mouth of the Caledonian Canal, and soon Lord of the Glens was ascending the eight locks forming Neptune’s Staircase.

Thomas Telford, the engineering genius behind the construction of the canal, arranged the locks in three clusters (at either end of the canal and in the center at Fort Augustus) in attempt to minimize costs for both the building and the operation of the canal. It took 22 years to complete this major undertaking, which employed 3,000 local workers during its construction, and provided access between the North Sea and the Atlantic west coast. A government-commissioned ship canal originally designed for naval shipping and fishing boats, it is now mainly used for leisure vessels. 

We sailed serenely along the canal, passing through a magnificent landscape of heather-covered hills, green forests, and green fields. Moy Bridge—the last original, hand-cranked Telford swing bridge, with its cheerful and chatty bridgekeeper—slipped by, as did Loch Lochy, Glengarry Castle, Loch Oich, and locks with pretty lockkeepers’ cottages and even prettier gardens. At Kytra Lock, many guests disembarked to hike along the towpath as Lord of the Glens passed by on her way to berth at Fort Augustus. There, a flight of five locks descends to the famous waters of Loch Ness and is lined on either side with charming stone Highland cottages, pubs, and shops. Today a busy and popular summer attraction for visitors, Fort Augustus was founded in 1729 as a fort for government troops in an effort to subdue possible Jacobite insurrections. 

Other guests took a longer hike that led to Kilchuiman Burial Ground, a cemetery with ancient yew trees and historic headstones that was originally constructed in the early 18th century. The route brought us by a former Victorian-era Benedictine abbey and then back to the ship through the lockside village. 

The evening concluded with traditional Scottish music. Brian, on the small pipes, and Julia, on the accordion, played jigs that set our feet tapping and sweet airs that stirred our souls. A beautiful day in the heart of the Highlands.  

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About the Author

Carol Knott

Expedition Leader

Carol studied archaeology, history and philosophy at the University of Glasgow, her native city. She spent many years as an archaeologist in the southeast of England, specializing in medieval ceramics and the conservation of historic houses and gardens. Since 1988 she has worked as an archaeologist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, living in a crofting village on the Isle of Lewis, and was formerly archaeologist for the National Trust for Scotland for their World Heritage site of St Kilda. Her great pleasure is to explore the cultures of Scotland, Europe and the north Atlantic, and to bring them to life for a modern audience. 

About the Photographer

Eric Kruszewski

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

An editorial photographer and videographer based in Washington, D.C., Eric Kruszewski's multimedia work focuses on reportage and travel. His work is represented by National Geographic Creative, and he is a regular contributor to National Geographic's Image Collection.

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