In 2017 Emma Jane proved to be the perfect vessel in which to explore the many wonders of the Caledonian Canal and the Great Glen. The cruise is one-way, departing from either Oban or Inverness, with the option of a transfer back to the departure point. Our Wildlife Guide, Lynsey Bland provided a review of Emma Jane’s first Caledonian Canal cruise on September 2017, departing from Oban
“After setting out from Oban, the first highlight of the cruise is the steam up magnificent Loch Linnhe. The mountain views are spectacular and we enjoyed good sightings of harbour porpoise and a number of seabirds, including common guillemots, black guillemots, kittiwakes and gannets. The Isle of Lismore in Loch Linnhe is a popular stopover because of its scenic walks and wildlife, especially otters, seals and hen harriers. As we approached iconic Castle Stalker located on a tidal island, our Skipper, James, took the vessel close in to shore to give everyone a clear view of the castle to be able soak up the atmosphere.
The first night’s delicious dinner was served anchored in Loch Leven with the dramatic backdrop of moody Glen Coe. Chef Ross served up Loch Spelve Mussels in a cider, leek and bacon sauce, followed by Balmoral chicken and raspberry cranachan which set the culinary standard for the rest of the cruise.
The journey along Thomas Telford’s Caledonian Canal from the west starts with Neptune’s Staircase - a series of 8 locks which allow the vessel to ascend 500 feet. Guests could choose to enjoy the spectacle from onboard the vessel or a stroll along the canal bank. After a delicious lunch, guests went ashore for the first guided walk of the cruise - a gentle, level, 6-mile walk along the towpath to the first overnight mooring at Gairlochy. This is also a great route for cycling and 2 guests took advantage of the bikes stowed on board. Two further locks were navigated before the vessel entered Loch Lochy, the first of the three inland lochs in the canal, with an opportunity for a shore walk in Achnacarry Estate at Bunarkaig Bay. The scenery was beautiful, enhanced by the autumn colours in the trees. The Estate also has historical significance as it was the site of commando training of 25,000 soldiers during World War 2 and some of the original obstacles can still be seen. A small museum half way round the circuit provided a fascinating stop, with the option of a cup of tea too! The walk is very good for spotting wildlife and highlights were red squirrels and a golden eagle.
Back on board our vessel, the cruise continued along beautiful Loch Lochy in glorious sunshine. The stretch of water to Laggan Locks provides excellent opportunities for spotting red deer in the midst of the annual rut.
At the Laggan Locks mooring, guests enjoyed walks through the woods, a dram in The Eagle Barge and a spot of mushroom foraging along the banks of the canal. The hot tub was also put to good use with an excellent view of Laggan Avenue in fabulous autumn colours, one of the most scenic stretches of the canal.
More locks and swing bridges were navigated to reach the town of Fort Augustus at the start of Loch Ness, the second deepest loch in Scotland (Loch Morar being the deepest) and of course, home of the legendary monster. Some guests opted to go ashore for a guided walk from Cullochy (the highest point on the canal) to meet the boat at Fort Augustus.
Fort Augustus has a great atmosphere and the speciality shops, pubs and cafes are worth exploring, with the chance to chill out on the banks of the lock staircase and watch a variety of shipping go up and down. Some guests took the guided walk through the woods to the north of River Oich where they enjoyed great views of a pair of mischievous red squirrels scampering up and down the Scots pines trees. Dinner that night was typically superb - king prawn cocktail, roast breast of lamb and sticky toffee pudding.
The following day the cruise entered Loch Ness and the Falls of Foyers on the eastern shores of the loch provided another opportunity for an excellent walk. Everyone marvelled at the waterfalls and superb autumn colours, while keeping a lookout for pine martens and red squirrels. An unmissable experience was to cruise slowly alongside Urquhart Castle on the western shores of Loch Ness. Guests then went ashore to take in the spectacular views and the information tour of this 13th century castle with 1,000 years of drama and history to discover.
The final stopover on the canal cruise was Dochgarroch, a very picturesque spot with many private boats and yachts with opportunities for a relaxed cycle or walk along the canal tow path. Our last evening on board was blessed with a stunning sunset to the sounds of the roar of the rutting stags, and shrieks of tawny owls.
The next day, after breakfast, we had a leisurely cruise to Inverness, mooring at Muirtown Basin where most of the guests disembarked. However, two guests enjoyed the cruise so much, they opted to stay on-board for the return journey!”