By Gerald Bailey
The Caledonian Canal really is a marvellous engineering feat – and to think that it was constructed at the beginning of the 19th century, when there were none of the mechanical aids we take for granted!
We left Corpach by a structure called Neptune’s Staircase, actually 8 locks one after the other, that take an hour and a half for the boat to negotiate. Naturally, cameras were working overtime.
There were other series of locks along the route, I think 29 in all. Navigating through them required precision on the part of the captain because the boat was just about the biggest that the canal could accommodate – there were literally only centimetres to spare on each side of “The Lord of the Glens”. The manoeuvring of the boat continued to attract an audience throughout the voyage.
We had a side trip to view a steam train crossing a viaduct – and again, the cameras were out in force. Funny to reflect on the fascination with steam trains nowadays when we’re old enough to remember a time when all trains were steam trains!
Yesterday we reached Inverness, at the end of the canal, and did a side trip to the battlefield of Culloden, where Bonnie Prince Charlie met his comeuppance at the hands of the English. While he was smuggled away by someone called Flora McDonald – hence the Skye Boat Song, the English embarked on vicious reprisals and the Highland Clearances began.
Since our 1993 visit to the battlefield, a fantastic visitors’ centre has been constructed, with parallel time lines through the building – the Scottish version of history on the left side and the English on the right. In between is a particularly graphic video presentation showing a rather motley collection of Highlanders being overwhelmed by the far better prepared English forces.
Coming as it did at the end of the tour, this was a helpful way of filling in the cracks in our knowledge of Scottish history.
There followed our farewell Captain’s Dinner, replete with a piper leading in the haggis, the ceremonial cutting of the haggis with a large sword and various crew members attired in kilts.
So that’s the end of what’s been one of the best tours we’ve had – varied experiences, good company, magnificent food and (considering Scotland’s reputation) reasonable weather.