Today we commenced our transit of the Caledonian Canal from an overnight stop at Fort Augustus. This protected waterway is an engineering marvel of the early 19th century, and was constructed under the supervision of Scottish engineer Thomas Telford. The canal connects the west and east coasts of Scotland, enabling ships to avoid the treacherous north coast. A series of locks allowed the Lord of the Glens to safely defy gravity as this morning we sailed “uphill” — against the flow of water as it drops from the terrain’s high point. We spent the afternoon in the area of Glenfinnan, home to the famous Viaduct featured in the Harry Potter movies. The Glenfinnan Viaduct is a renowned feat of Victorian engineering and the longest concrete railway bridge in Scotland. I enjoyed a hike with guests through the estate with great views of the bridge along the way.
Lord of the Glens
Fort Augustus presented a charming backdrop as we prepared to descend the flight of five locks down to the entrance to Loch Lomond. Everyone watched from the deck, fascinated as the lock-keepers operated the hydraulic gates while Captain Tony and his crew maneuvered the ship delicately from lock to lock. Once at the bottom, traffic on the public road came to a halt, the swing bridge opened, and we made our stately progress out into the open waters of the loch. At twenty-three miles long and over 1000 feet deep, Loch Lomond holds an enormous volume of water which belies its relatively narrow breadth. Halfway along, Urquhart Castle came into view; this magnificent ruined fortress is strategically placed to dominate the region. On an ancient site, the present walls date from about 1320, and were destroyed during the Jacobite uprising of 1691. The final stages of Thomas Telford’s Caledonian Canal glided peacefully by, and we arrived at the top of the Muirtown flight of locks at Inverness. Then it was on to the bus to explore the sights of the area. The ill-fated Jacobite rebellions came to their climax in April 1746 at the battle of Culloden, when the weary highlanders were overwhelmed by the superior government forces; the impressive museum at Culloden presented this story with compelling effect. In bright sunshine we strolled around the site of the battle, imagining the highland charge and the answering report of the Hanoverian guns. A group of Highland cows were on hand to pose for photographs; their function at Culloden is to conserve the landscape with their judicious grazing. Finally we visited the Clava Cairns, a remarkable set of well-preserved early Bronze Age monuments dating from about 4,000 years ago. These subtle and complex stone structures are focused on the midwinter solstice; prehistoric farming communities erected them as a ritual expression of their beliefs about ancestors, life, and death. Our evening, and indeed our entire voyage, was rounded off after dinner with a delightful performance by the young students of the Elizabeth Fraser School of Highland Dancing. It was a fitting finale to our exploration of Scotland on board Lord of the Glens.