Scotland, sailing on the Lochs

Discovering the most beautiful landscapes of the Scottish Highlands from the waterways is a journey out of time. Embarkation aboard the Caprice of the company Le Boat for a week of navigation.

Latest edition : 29 July 2014

Either way, it is more complicated to arrive at the base of the company Le Boat in Scotland than at its bases in France. But after having piloted “our” boat on the Canal du Midi, in the Venetian lagoon and on the canals in Brittany, we wanted to broaden our experience and explore Scotland. Why ? But to go and meet Nessie, of course!

Two flights with EasyJet further (Basel-London, London-Inverness), we land at the small Inverness airport where our private shuttle is already waiting for us. The 1.5 hour transfer leads partly along the famous Loch Ness.

We arrive at the base at Laggan Locks just as a barge passes the lock to the sounds of a bagpipe. Welcome in Scotland. Le Boat's office is housed in a typical small house, whitewashed with flowers. The holidays can begin !

Andy, one of the base technicians, quickly shows us the boat (as it's our 5th trip, we're getting to know it). As the pub next door is closed, he advises us to leave immediately, to enjoy the good weather. Crossing Loch Lochy would only take an hour and a half, after which we could moor for the night.

Here we are. In the small fridge, the beer "Loch Ness" delivered at the same time as other provisions ordered via the internet, are being refreshed. Barely out of the small port of Laggan Locks, the magic of the Highlands takes hold of us.

The late afternoon light creates an incredible palette of green hues to the right and left of the lake. Large expanses of meadows are punctuated by fields of foxgloves and rhododendrons. Sheep form white spots. Here and there, a house testifies to the human presence. Time passes, and we almost have the impression of being alone in the world. A small concern seizes us: it's been a long time since we exceeded the announced time ... But as in this month of June the sun is slow to set at this latitude, we are not too afraid ... Here we are finally the fish farm shown on our map and shortly after we turn right to the little lighthouse to moor in the tranquility of Gairlochy Locks.

All around, meadows, hills, mountains where the snow still persists. First small dinner on board with delicious Loch Ness beer as an aperitif. Worth a gourmet meal! The "midge", formidable mosquitoes of the region, must make the same reflection ... Pleasant surprise: the service house is very clean: showers and toilets are even heated. Luxury !

In the morning, surprise: a thick fog covers everything and it feels like the middle of nowhere. Wrapped up in our sweaters, a hot cup of tea in our hand, we watch the slow removal of this fluffy coat, while breathing in the air that scents the trees. Everything is peaceful ...

When the lock keeper arrives to allow us to continue our journey, the view is almost completely clear. After passing the lock and then the movable bridge, we sail on the Caledonian Canal. Dug from 1804 to 1822, 96.6 km long, it links Inverness and the sea .... to Fort William and the sea .... It is also the terminus for our small boat and we moor at Banavie , just before the impressive ladder of 8 locks.

To go to the small town of Fort Williams, you have to take the bus: at the bottom of the locks, turn left, cross the main street and take the 1st small street on the right. Wait at the bus stop and, above all, signal to the driver of N ° 46 to stop! Ask to exit at the Nevis Sport stop. It is the beginning of a pleasant pedestrian street where one meets many walkers: Fort Williams is the starting point of many hikes in the massif of Ben Nevis. Before taking the N ° 46 bus (direction Corpach), we do some shopping in the Tesco mini-market. On the way back, possibility to visit the local distillery. As for us, this "walkabout" was enough for us and we can not wait to find our boat and Loch Lochy, our favorite lake! This time, we cross it at full speed - that is to say royally at 15 miles an hour!

We spend the night at the base of Laggan Locks in the company of a few other boaters. You have to moor in reverse, under the sly gaze of others. But their smug smiles do not last, we know how to handle these barge boats! Not like this other couple coming at full speed, put the boat askew to the point of partially lifting the pontoon. We rush to their aid while the others giggle stupidly ..... Most of the time, there is a spirit of solidarity and mutual aid between the captains of a week, but hey, there are exceptions. Too bad for them, we will not invite them to the aperitif.

The next day, the lock being already occupied by another boat, our captain has difficulty facing the lock while waiting for the boat to leave. The wind pushes us back badly. Impossible to moor along the pontoon while waiting for the lock to open, so we go around in circles on the water ...

From now on, reading the map is essential: avoid shallows, backwaters, rivers ... We scrupulously follow the passages indicated by red and green buoys, even if this sometimes seems incongruous. We moored at the dock of the Seven Head Store to say hello to the nice team who had delivered our first provisions. It is also the occasion to buy back beer, water, bread.


A little further on, on Loch Oich, we moor in the shadow of the ruin of Invergarry Castle and a stranded sailboat. It is the ideal place for a romantic picnic and a little stroll. There is a very good gourmet restaurant nearby, but in our rather casual outfit, we prefer the picnic version! The rest of the navigation is again magnificent. Lots of small islands, meadows, forests, rhododendrons .... Finally we arrive at the top of the lock ladder of Fort Augustus. Little moment of panic: all the moorings are taken, what to do, where to go?


We are lucky. From the bank, a lock keeper asks us: do you want to go down? Then go right! So we move forward in the lock, fearing at any moment to be insulted by other boaters who seem to be waiting. But everything is going well. Unlike the other locks, you then have to turn off the engine and two of us have to get out, grab the ropes fore and aft to guide – and pull – the boat through the 5 locks. It is impressive and the spectators are numerous.

During the small hour that this strange journey lasts, we find that we are the only ones not to have respected the instructions of the boat rental company: always keep your life jacket when you are on the bridge .... These French people then ... .. At the bottom, a long pontoon allows all the boats to moor for the night.

As there really isn't much to visit, we settle in at The Bothy pub. This is the opportunity to taste whiskey, local beers, the famous haggis (less worse than we feared) and excellent fish. Afterwards, we sit at the bar, watch the end of the football match (the defeat of Spain at the World Cup!), Observe the locals (even a grandmother is perched on a bar stool). It's friendly and warm.

But we can't wait to be in the morning and finally start crossing the legendary Loch Ness. Okay, the monster may be just a legend, but ..... Everyone scans the surface of the water to hurt their eyes. Nothing.

So we stop at Foyers to stretch our legs in the mountains. Take the small road to the right, then, at the crossroads, take the road that goes up. Turn right, say hello to the papi sculptor of Nessi in wood, then take the forest path on the right just before the hotel. A beautiful trail climbs up to the Foyers Falls waterfall. At the top (but no waterfall view) there are some great snacks and amazing giant cakes.

Back on our boat, we set sail for Urquhart Bay and the ruin of its castle. After having circumvented the point where the remains of this fortress stand, we arrive in the small port of Drumnadrochit. In terms of port, there are only mooring points. One of the few places without sanitary facilities - and one of the few where you have to pay to stay overnight. Ten pounds is a lot.

No matter, since we want to visit the Nessie Center to learn more about the monster and the legend. On a poster, two taxi numbers: bad luck, none is available. There remains the possibility of reserving a table in a restaurant near the center and then taking advantage of a shuttle service. As we don't like to be “forced”, and to stretch our legs, we decide to walk to the village. Except that, no sign to point us in the right direction, to the right or to the left? It's on the left, 2.5 miles along a busy state road.

The visit to the Nessie Center is very informative - and in French! We learn everything, or almost, about what turns out to be ultimately a myth: between testimonies, false and authentic scientific research and beliefs, we are obliged to face the facts, Nessie does not exist. ... We therefore take the way back a little disillusioned ... Still, in the evening, when everything is calm on the lake, we cannot help but observe the surface of the water again ...

The next day, we push to Inverness. Impossible to go further: behind the lock, there is the sea. Here too, the lock keepers are very helpful, giving us a map of the city, good places to eat. In the evening, we walk along an arm of the sea to the pub ..... for dinner. It's football night: France against Switzerland. Needless to say that we are a little worried: the "Frenchi" were immediately spotted in this haunted pub (!), As long as our little blue-white-red guys play well! What they did, at least that night!

The return trip to the base of Laggan Locks is going well .... On Loch Ness, still no Nessie in sight, but we took full eyes of the Scottish landscapes!