Alan Fairfax travels the locks and lochs surrounded by magnificent scenery, on water and land.
Snow-capped mountains, azure blue skies, history, sea and inland waterways yet less than 90 minutes flying time from London, yes, Scotland, the Highlands and Western Isles, some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
From Inverness airport it’s a short coach journey to Hebridean Islands Cruise ship, Lord of the Highlands, moored on the Caledonian Canal, my home for the next seven days.
My cabin on Richard Hannay deck is impressive, large picture window, single beds with stowage and drawer space under each, UK style electrical sockets, two USB ports by the beds, individual flexible reading lamps, wardrobe, drawers and shelves provide more than enough storage for the seven day voyage. Air conditioning, hair dryer, flat screen tv, kettle with tea/coffee/milk sachets, iron and little extras other ships don’t provide, shoe horn, shoe polish pad, clothes brush and dressing gowns. The bathroom boasts a large walk in shower, toilet, wash basin, extending magnifying mirror, large soft towels, complemented by toiletries of shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, shower cap, soap and much more, all bearing the Molton Brown name. Finally, a small decanter of Whisky and glasses await ready for that night cap and if Whisky is not your tipple, it can be changed for Gin or Brandy.
The following day, Tuesday, I wake to a clear sky and sunshine. After breakfast some depart on a visit to Culloden and Clava Cairns. I stay on board and take in what a beautiful vessel Lord of the Highlands is. Everything of the highest quality, woodwork, panelling, chairs, glass topped tables with inset marquetry, cutlery and glass ware. Lunch over, our transit of the canal begins. Gliding peacefully past the vast Inverness Tomnahurich Cemetery, banks of bright yellow gorse, moored canal boats and houses on the water’s edge. Onwards through swing bridges and locks to arrive at our overnight berth of Fort Augustus.
Tonight, is the first Gala Night where we are welcomed to a Champagne Reception by our Captain.
Wednesday, we continue along the canal berthing at Cullochy Lower. An area of flowering bushes, red and white in various stages of bloom are a delight, trees so tall they seem to touch the sky. We meet a group of canoeists having to take their canoes and drag/carry them as they are not allowed to paddle them through the lock. Back aboard we progress through locks, passing small villages, watching birds diving for fish, fields of sheep and a swan sitting with her young, fish causing ripples in the mirror smooth water can be seen.
Following lunch, we moor at the head of Neptune’s Staircase. A set of 8 locks that lower the ship from the Caledonian Canal to sea level 64 feet below at Fort William. We have a choice, stay on board and go through the locks or to take the excursion, I decide on the excursion visiting the Glenfinnan Monument, erected in 1814 in memory of the Highlanders who fought in the Jacobite rising of 1745. There is a small gift shop and museum taking you through the area’s history. From this point can be seen the Glenfinnan Viaduct, Harry Potter fans would recognise this as the viaduct the Hogwarts Express passes over.
Now to visit Fort William on the shores of Loch Linnhe, ithe largest town in the Highlands, and see the sights of this old Scottish town which during the 2nd World War was home to HMS St. Christopher, a British Navy training unit. Fort William is popular with tourists as Glen Coe is nearby as is Ben Nevis, a favourite with climbers and hill walkers. Arriving back to the ship berthed at Corpath the ‘Hogwarts Express’ steams through the station to the delight of Harry Potter fans. Our mooring has views of Ben Nevis, the snow still visible to let us know that for this area winter is not long gone.
Thursday, we enter our 22nd and final lock, the ‘Sea Lock’ as we travel Loch Linnhe on route to Oban. On arrival the sun is shining from a clear blue sky, a great time to go ashore and visit one of my favourite towns in Scotland but not before the Whisky Vault Experience on board from a representative of the Oban Distillery. Oban’s a busy town with tourist and fishing boats plus the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries that travel between the islands. We sail as the sun is beginning to set for our overnight berth at Craignure on the Isle of Mull.
Friday begins with a coach trip to Duart Castle ancestral home to the Clan Maclean since the 14th Century. However, due to Clan Wars, the castle changed hands several times and became almost a ruin before being purchased in 1910 by Sir Fitzroy MacLean, 26th Clan Chief. Situated on a peninsular overlooking the Sound of Mull and the entrances to Lochs Linnie and Etive it affords breath taking vistas.
In the grounds are a tea shop selling wonderful homemade scones, fruit cake etc and a small but well stocked gift shop. Driving back to the ship, a bright sun shines from a cloudless blue sky, the fields have become alive with sheep and lambs, their white coats contrast with the rich yellow Set amongst gorse hedgerows and green grass, Highland cattle with their long horns and woolly coats ignore us as we pass.
Back on board it’s time to set sail again, this time for my all time favourite, Tobermory a small town on the Isle of Mull featuring brightly coloured houses, cafes, restaurants and shops, its busy small harbour making it a popular location for visitors to Western Scotland and used as the location for the children’s television programme ‘Balamory’. It’s a beautiful warm day and the small sand beach is busy with families. Another interesting visit is the Tobermory Distillery, one of the oldest in Scotland. We remain here overnight allowing passengers to explore the town in the evening.
Saturday, first port is the Isle of Eigg, an amazing island that the 90+ residents have taken into private ownership. Eigg truly has ‘picture postcard’ scenery, hills rolling down to silver sand beaches and inlets, fields that are home to over 1,400 sheep. Unfortunately, we were only here for a short time before crossing to Armadale on the Isle of Skye.
The excursion this afternoon is to Armadale Castle and Gardens now cared for by the Clan Donald Land Trust. The castle is now a ruin but you can imagine what a magnificent structure it used to be looking out over lawns to the sea.
A late afternoon departure as we head for our final berth of the journey, Kyle of Lochalsh arriving early evening.
Sunday, our last day, takes us on tours to Eilean Donan Castle believed to be named after the Irish saint, Bishop Doran and in the afternoon to Plockton often said to be the prettiest village in Scotland, and yes, it is beautiful with stunning views. The evening is the final Gala Night and in true Scottish tradition the Haggis is piped aboard and the ancient address made by the hotel manager. A fabulous ending to a great cruise.
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Alan travelled as a guest of Hebridean Island Cruises. Contact our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678 to discover more about their Scottish voyages on Lord of the Highlands and Hebridean Princess.