Caledonian Canal October 2011

    LCC Home  
 Site Map 
Page last updated

  News items or reports on club activities should be sent to

Archived Newsletters 
Major Trip Reports.…

31/10/11 Caledonian Canal October 2011

The plan was to meet up at Morrisons at Fort William for 1pm this would give us time to set up camp and shuttle the cars up to Inverness – The weather was typical constant rain, black low level cloud and windy. Organising this is critical to this paddle – it’s a 64 mile drive and takes a good 1hr 20min each way. We eventually set off and got up to Inverness in the early evening, finding the British Waterways yard was not easy but having parked up three cars and locked up the trailers we headed back to the campsite. 

The Linnhe campsite was in a perfect position for doing this trip situated on the banks of Loch Eil we were able to launch onto the water about 3km away from the canals entrance. This was a beautiful sheltered inland Loch and well worth an explore at a later date. We soon approached the first loch gates and experienced our first portaging experience, having an open canoe is great for stowing gear but what you take you have to carry! It was soon clear that the boats would have to be emptied each time and all
the gear carried independently – this was time consuming and hard work but we all set too and with much huffing and puffing we cleared the sea Lock paddled up to the Neptune Flight and repeated the same process. To the purists it was worth the effort to truly do it sea to sea but having done it once I would suggest a get in at the top of the Neptune Locks and start from there – it was now 2.30pm and effectively we were starting the paddle for real.

We were a mixed fleet of boats and paddlers with three sea boats & opens and one sit on with equally different paddling experiences, the canal section gave every one time to get used to their loaded boats. We arrived at Garlochy Locks around 4.30pm, it was wet and grey. The portage was getting efficient and so we found our selves looking out over Loch Lochy the decision was made to camp up for the night – an opportunity to eat and drink the boats a bit lighter.

It rained all through the night but the morning was over cast but dry, Loch Locky some 10 miles long was calm but grey, a mirror image of the cloud base. As we paddled further down the loch, Meail core lochain rose some 907 metres to our left and being more exposed to the wind which was now gusting 4ish from our rear left quarter which was causing Dermot on his ‘sit On’ to weather cock, having no skeg to keep it on the straight and narrow. Catalytic winds is a phenomenon caused by the funnelling of weather systems down or through a mountain feature, it was clear by the patterns on the Loch’s surface that ‘stuff’ was going on with the waters surface, with this mountain range on our left we paddled through a series of very strong down drafts and gusts which lifted and sent water spirals across the Lochs surface, out of no where it would try to snatch your paddle out of your hand or make the water surface confused.

The two photos were taken between 9.30 and 11am and give a true contrast of the light conditions. This effect was minimised by paddling close to shore and so we continued to paddle up and along the right hand side towards the middle distance mark. As we got clear of the effect of the mountain the wind now had its’ chance to build a swell with some white caps this was compounded by the effect of the road on our right which was built up creating a vertical wall of rock. For the sea kayaks this posed no real problem, it was good fun to ‘run’ the swell to help us on our way but the opens did take in water as the waves occasionally broke over the sides. We stopped of for a lunch break at a small headland near a hotel which gave them time to bail out and give us all a chance to stretch the legs.

The wind continued and blew us down the loch towards Laggan where we portaged. There are some obvious landing pontoons adjacent the Lock used by the ships but this gives a long portage; when approaching the loch paddle to the left of the manmade rock pier then around what looks like a floating boat yard and right down to a grassy bank this gives a portage of only 100 yards or so.

The wind was really blowing now, the lock keeper mentioned a force 8 was expected but we were entering the second cannel system and Fort Augustus was our aiming point. With 10 miles under our belt and 10 more to go we portaged the lock which by now was a military precision operation, with every one working as a team; we entered a completely different world. We were completely sheltered from the wind as we paddled down avenues of green and bronze the water tranquil filled with reflections.

The weather is so localised, even the sky shone blue as we paddled the man made cannel and linking Loch systems of Oich. We made
good time, buoyed on by the prospect of civilisation and the amazing views, the miles slid by. Loch Oich is part manmade part flooded valley with it’s gentle rising grassy banks and navigation buoys narrowly spaced to ensure shipping stays in deep water, well worth a return journey. Time was marching on as we entered into the last cannel section with 4miles remaining. Steve Gille had lent me the British Waterways shipping chart which was brilliant ( isbn 0-86351-175-9 £4.50, I’ve bought you a new one) this shows enough detail to pick out all the main geographical features but more importantly gives detailed split distances, navigational buoys and hazards such as weirs etc, this meant that I was aware that their were two more locks to portage  on the manmade canal section – each portage would take us 35/ 40min to get all the boats through so effectively meant we were going to arrive at fort Augustus in the dark.

 The lights of Fort Augustus glowing in the distance the steady rhythm of the paddles pulling through the dark grey water with the white silhouette of my boat cutting a silent path – the perfect end to a days 20mile paddle through some truly beautiful country.

The camping area is up on the right opposite to the canoe landing stages by the toilet block – there is a grassed area behind a wooden fence. It is well worth purchasing your own Key (£6) the facilities are amazing, free showers, toilets and equipped with washing machines and tumble dryers all in excellent condition. Having sorted out equipment, showered most of the group helped the local community’s economy by going down to the pub, the landlady feeling sorry for the wind battered paddlers made soup and bread as a one off.

The Force eight was beginning to show it’s self by late evening so as we bedded down for the night it gradually grew. 2am – imagine sleeping in the central carriage way of a motorway with a 125mph train line on the other side. You got the deep earth moving rumble that the trucks would make coupled by the roar of an intercity going through a station without stopping. The wind was so strong I could feel the cold air being forced through the nylon mesh of my inner tent. The morning came with only Dermot’s Sit On being some yards away from where he left it the night before, it was still blowing with the weather forecast indicating that it would only build. The lock keeper also said the fishing boats weren’t going out. After some discussion it was agreed not to venture out onto Loch Ness – the bus was caught to Inverness and the cars returned.

However Scotland being what it is has it’s own micro climate and by the time the cars returned the weather had changed considerably for the better. Steve had decided that he would go on with the two sea boats. My car was in Fort William which meant I had no real option of getting back. I was tempted to paddle back to fort William but this would be alone and not the wisest thing to do. My boat and all my gear were shared around the remaining cars and we got back to Fort William and then returned to Liverpool that evening.


This trip has been a real taster of paddling distances on wide expanses of water, my boat a dream and an absolute pleasure, it’s been good to share the experience with the other guys – big thanks to Chris Fletcher for sorting out the logistics not always an easy task but one thing is for sure -  ill be back !!           John Pegram   More photos…..