The Caledonian Canal – Our Open Canoe Adventure

Our 60 mile (96.6km) Canoe Trail included a series of canals and lochs with links to Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and the great Loch Ness. Mike, myself and our faithful Cocker Spaniel Harry, started our journey at Corpach, just north of Fort William, on the west coast of Scotland, where we slept in the car overnight with a magnificent back drop of Ben Nevis. The route took us through the Great Glen and should have ended at Inverness on the east coast, however, due to a change in weather conditions we decided to call it a day at Dores after spending a very windy and wet night in the tipi.

Having chosing to do this trip in October, we were extremely fortunate that the weather conditions were excellent for that time of year. The lochs were mainly like glass making the reflections look surreal.

And so the journey begins….. Loading the Canoe with our kit at Corpach

Day 1 – Corpach to Gairlochy and across Loch Lochy to our first nights camp at Laggan Loch….. Fuelled on fig rolls & orange & mint club biscuits, we decided to start at the top of Neptuneโ€™s Staircase to avoid the portage around the many lochs so our journey began immediately at the canal which would take us to Gairlochy where the swing bridge gives access to Loch Lochy. At the swing bridge we were delighted to watch the golden retriever, who apparantly makes the walk daily to meet a lesuire cruise boat. The crew on the boat tipped off the passengers to save the dog a sausage from their breakfast and at the same location every day, they would throw the dog his treats. It was such a pleasure to watch.

The waters were like mill ponds

On entering Loch Lochy, we were met by complete tranquility and again, the waters were like mill ponds. The wildlife was in abundance and we were in awe of such beauty. After a full days paddling we reached Laggan, were we had a well deserved comfort break and portaged the loch to the river system that was to join the canal with Loch Oich.

Our camp at Laggan Loch

Our first camp was on the banks of the river and to say it was an idylic site would be an understatement. After putting the tipi up and sorting out our sleep mats and bags, we headed off back to Laggan where we had a few well deserved drinks on the converted Dutch barge, the Eagle. The next morning, we woke to a famous Scotch mist, packed up the kit and headed off for the next leg of the trip…..

Day 2 – Laggan Loch to Loch Ness via Loch Oich and Fort Augustus. Another long tiring day but the beauty of the journey made it a very pleasurable trip. When we finally arrived at Fort Augustus there was another long portage around the numerous lochs and we made a few trips back and to to collect our kit, so after a good stretch of the old legs, another comfort break and a fish and chip supper, we finally set off and entered the mouth of the very awsome monster of a Loch – Loch Ness.

The Great Loch Ness. This photo was taken on a beach just after leaving Fort Augustus

We decided to head to the South East side of the Loch where there is very little access to the roads and civilisation as we both felt that the whole adventure deserved to be experienced in total solitude. So, after a further hour or two of paddling, we found ourselves a lovely little beach, complete with a fallen tree and lots of fire wood, so here we chose to set up our next camp. Mike made a fire and cooked a curry while I made up the beds and poured a wee dram (this is customary apparently!!) That night, we slept under the stars rather than putting up the tipi and enjoyed the clear black skies that was full of the brightest shining stars.

Day 3 – The next morning we woke to the sound of the wind getting up and the waves that were quite choppy were lapping on the shore. We had two choices now…. we could either stay on this little beach with no access to civilazation until the wind dropped or to get in the canoe and battle the elements. We chose to move on….. The journey was somewhat of a challenge and we were both tired and horrified to find a salmon farm further along our journey that we had to paddle around in order to make headway to get to our next stop, which was the beach at Dores at the end of Loch Ness. This is where we would set up camp for the last night of our adventure.

The final camp on the windy, wet beach at Dores

The next morning, we again assessed the conditions and decided to call it a day. The waves were far too high to attempt to carry on. So, while I stayed at the camp with Harry the hound, Mike headed back to Fort William in a taxi to collect the car. That evening we booked into a hotel where we enjoyed a much deserved shower, a hearty meal and a few drinks. The next morning, we headed back home…….. back to reality!!

Things to consider if you decide to do this trip:

Get a British Waterways Licence. This Licence gives paddlers the opportunity to purchase a key for the toilets & showers along the way which costs approximately ยฃ10 per person. The lochs are extremely cold even in the summer. Set an example, and make minimal impact by leaving no trace of your camp. Take litter home with you and remove all traces of fires. Only light fires on sand or shingle spots, never on grass or peat. Use only dead wood.