Sugar 'n' Spice – Weblog 6

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Whitehills, Aberdeenshire, Scotland


57˚ 41’N

2˚ 35’W

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In Oban our main objective was to complete some chores – engine oil change, laundry (lots), etc & some provisioning.  The latter meant a trip on the marina’s ferry across the channel to Oban, a very civilised way of shopping.

Wed 24th July.  A mid morning departure from Kerrera, mostly motoring (light winds) with some on/off interludes of sailing.  Various birds, terns, black guillemots, gannets sitting on the water.  Late morning we were in the steep sided sea loch Linne with pretty villages clinging to the sides, high mountains either side & ferries crossing at the narrowest points.  There were more yachts about & around tea time we were outside the sea lock at Corpach waiting for the tide to make so we could enter the Caledonian Canal.  By 5.45 pm we were through the lock, in company with 10 others, mostly a group from Nairn S.C. on the (Scottish) east coast.  30.7 nm.  I think the lock keepers were rather surprised by the number of customers!  We were also lucky to get a clear view of Ben Nevis, no cloud but still some snow in the top gullies.

The next 6 days (25th to 30th July) we spent traversing the Caledonian canal from west to east.  The first day a great deal of time went on traversing the first locks & then the famous ‘Neptune’s Staircase’ of 8 locks.


Quite hard work controlling the boats on lines as the water rushes in, & quite a tourist attraction.  It also chose that time to rain steadily.

The second day we caught a local train from Banavie, the station at the bottom of the staircase (we walked down), to the pretty fishing village of Mallaig.  It is justifiably reckoned to be one of the most scenic rail journeys in the UK, with coast & mountains (this day trailing swathes of cloud) & an epic curving viaduct.  Mallaig is picturesque & yielded some nice fishy bits for supper.



We returned to Banavie by bus as the times suited us better, but as part of the bus route was closer to the coast we had more nice views & felt we’d had the best of both options.  We were back in time to move the boat from a ‘borrowed’ space (thank you McCavity) to anchor in Loch Locky off Achnacarry Bay, again with views of Ben Nevis.  Very pleasant.


The Caledonian Canal is part canal & part various lochs (including the famous very deep Loch Ness) to make a water route between the Scottish east & west coasts.

Saturday we left Loch Lochy for another bit of canal & more locks, then tied to a jetty & took the bikes along the canalside trail to look at the Well of 7 heads (clan wars) & the ruined Invergarry castle.



We aborted plans to go further as that would have been on the main A82 which was exceedingly busy, & not bike friendly.  Sunday dawned wet, very wet.  We togged up & carried on, through the swing bridge into Loch Oich past the places we had cycled to yesterday (a good thing as with the rain there was no great appeal in re-visiting them), another bridge, more locks – we are over the summit now - & on to Fort Augustus.   This small town on the shore of Loch Ness is attractive as it has a staircase of 4 locks & its houses & shops sprawl down the sides of the canal.


After a wait (lockkeepers lunch break & the rain also stopped) we went down the flight - again providing a great tourist attraction.  In Loch Ness we checked out one anchorage which was way too deep, another with not enough space & finally anchored in Urquhart Bay close to the famous castle.



Next morning we took the dinghy ashore & went round the castle, then across the Loch to the village of Dores, where we anchored off its lovely sandy beach.  We walked along the beach, had a pub lunch, & returned to the boat just as the skies went black.  A sudden squall came through & a Dutch boat anchored further along dragged.  Luckily they were on board so no harm was done.

We moved on into the smaller narrower loch Dochfour & just as that became canal the river Ness dropped away to starboard over a set of weirs.  Quite dramatic as it was well below us & there were fishermen in waders standing in the resulting rapids.  Finally another lock where we tied up for the night.  There was another heavy rainstorm that evening that flooded the paths alongside.

Tuesday another swingbridge & then another flight of 4 locks, the Muirtown staircase, on the outskirts of Inverness.  As precedented it rained while we were coming down these. At the bottom we stopped at Seaport Marina so we could stock the dwindling supplies & stroll into Inverness city centre for a quick look.  The river Nevis runs through it with many bridges & the castle & cathedral dominate the skyline.



To date we have logged  48.3 nm  in the canal with a couple still to go before we are through the sea lock.

Wed 31st July.  A prompt start to the penultimate lock which operates in conjunction with a swing rail bridge.  It was a lovely clear day & the scenery was breathtaking.  Once through there was just the final sea lock at Clachnaharry to go then we were in the open sea, well the Moray Firth.

I should say that all along the Caledonian the lockkeepers were consistently polite, helpful, friendly & smiling despite the weather & their customers muddles.

We passed under the mighty Kessock bridge & were sailing by 9.15am with the genny poled out.  Down the Firth we passed the outskirts of Inverness, & entrance to the river Ness, then further on seals hauled out on a sand spit.  At Fort George we gybed twice to thread through the narrows, & 2, maybe more, dolphins arrived. The Moray Firth is noted for its resident population of very large bottlenose dolphins, & these were certainly big.  They chased around & under the boat with a few leaps & dives, & then were gone, only to return with reinforcements (4 or 5 +) in about 10mins. They stayed to play for a little while before departing.  Around midday the wind started to drop, there were lots of jellyfish about floating in large pale masses that must have numbered hundreds.  Doug started fishing, he actually caught one mackerel, but as no more materialised he returned it to the sea, then with the wind dying further we started motoring.  At around tea time we turned into Lossiemouth, the tide had just risen enough for us to get in, but with not a lot to spare, & the entrance had an interesting narrow dogleg for the ‘driver’ to negotiate.

34.9 nm   & we have passed our most northerly point this trip.



The Harbour Master had efficiently left us a key & welcome pack as promised so we were able to go & explore the town.

We had not intended to move on on thursday (1st Aug) because of the wind forecast.  It also turned out wet, so we caught a bus to Elgin, the local town, ex city, as its 13th C cathedral was fought over & ruined over the centuries.  However it was an enchanting surprise as the main towers still stand, one can go up them & the view from on top is fantastic, even in the damp.



Having strolled the medieval town centre we visited the little museum, with its medley of exhibits including a shrunken head & a mummy.

Fri 2nd Aug.  A prompt start & sailing as soon as we cleared the harbour.  Just cracked off, quick & quite a big swell.  Mid morning the weather started a game with us – wind up & down in strength, switches of direction, sometimes needing the engine on.  At 10am it rose so we put the first reef in, 20 mins later we were motoring & so it continued & although it kept us on our toes it made for exciting sailing.  At 11.30am we reached Whitehills, another small port with, this time, a right angle turn (narrow) into the shelter of the harbour.  22.8 nm.


We did our usual recce of the town.

Saturday (3rd Aug) was another day we had planned not to sail because of the forecast strong winds, so we took the bikes on quite a hilly route (national cycle route 1) west back to Portsoy, a very small & picturesque port (but not deep enough for us).



We then returned past Whitehills to Banff, & after a look around there, to McDuff, very much a port for large fishing boats.  The wind was still howling when we returned to the boat at tea time.


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