Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park: Scotland’s Playground!

Most visitors to Scotland will be keen to travel the castle trail, the whisky trail or visit the many historic sites and areas or soak up the culture of the big cities. Many will be keen to immerse themselves in the highland landscapes and possibly seek out those places their ancestors came from. There is nothing wrong with these activities – many visitors will have a wonderful time exploring Scotland.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/But what about the native Scots? What do they do, where do they go for their ‘staycations’? Well, one of the most popular areas in the west of Scotland is Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Loch Lomond lake (the largest loch in Britain by surface area) is Scotland’s premier water sports location.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Yachting, power boating, paddle boarding, kayaking, water skiing and angling (both game and coarse fishing) can be had on the loch and anglers can be sure of a varied catch with Loch Lomond fishing since Loch Lomond has more species of fish than any other loch in Scotland). And to answer a fairly common question from non-Scots, on whether the Loch Ness monster is found in Loch Lomond – the answer is no. It is said to be found in Loch Ness and you can read about that here.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Loch Lomond contains about thirty islands (a few of which are seasonally inhabited) and boat excursions are available around some of them. Balloch, a town on the southern shore of the loch, has a large marina and is the base for several boating tours which range up and down the loch. It is also the place to go for boating enthusiasts who simply wish to admire the huge range of small pleasure craft which use the marina.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Balloch is also where you will find the ‘Maid of the Loch’, a paddle steamer which used to sail Loch Lomond but is now moored at Balloch Pier whilst funds are raised to, hopefully, return it to its previous life carrying passengers and sightseers up and down the loch. In the meantime she serves as a restaurant, bar and events venue. If you’re in the area and feeling a bit peckish you could do worse than visit her.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Getting around Loch Lomond is surprisingly easy since a waterbus service runs on the loch. If you need to get from one place to another or just want to take in the views, the waterbus allows you to enjoy a relaxing journey and also have time onshore to enjoy a scenic lunch stop. Scheduled services depart from various piers and pontoons strategically placed on the loch allowing you to take in the stunning scenery at your leisure – and feel free to bring your four-legged friends along for the trip!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Of course not everyone is into water sports but don’t despair; Loch Lomond lies within the 720-square-mile Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Established in 2002 this was the first of Scotland’s national parks and it covers a large portion of the western part of the southern highlands. It is the fourth largest national park in the British Isles.

Included within its boundaries are many other lochs (although none as large as Loch Lomond) and no less than 21 of Scotland’s Munros (mountains over 3000 feet) one of which is Ben Lomond, Scotland’s most southerly Munro, which towers over Loch Lomond from its eastern side and, if you have the energy to reach its summit, is a magnificent viewpoint for the entire 22-mile length of the loch.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The entire area of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park offers wonderful opportunities for outdoor adventures. Apart from the water sports there are opportunities for mountaineering, hill walking, orienteering, mountain biking and more and the range of wildlife to be seen in the park both on Loch Lomond itself or around its shores and in the wider park is astounding – the water birds alone make for spectacular sights both summer and winter.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/After visitors have indulged themselves in their favourite outdoor activities there is also the opportunity to try some indoor activities. At the southern end of the loch, close to Balloch is Loch Lomond Shores. With excellent views over the loch this upmarket shopping experience is a relaxing way to unwind after a hard day’s exploring.

The nearby Drumkinnon Tower is home to the Loch Lomond Aquarium whose 26 exhibits contain mainly native Scottish species. It features touch pools, ray tanks and a tropical ocean tunnel. Drumkinnon Tower also has a 350-seat cinema and a cafe. Don’t forget to visit the National Park Gateway Centre where lots of information about the park can be found including its history and the background into its establishment in 2002.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Loch Lomond is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city and the wider area of the Trossachs National Park is also easy to reach from most of the central belt of Scotland making this one of the most popular ‘staycation’ destinations in Scotland. Surely it’s worth a visit if you happen to have a day or two to spare?

For those who do decide on a longer stay the area has a plethora of hotels and guest houses ranging from small and cosy to big and beautiful and there are numerous camping and caravanning sites available so you’re bound to find something to your liking.

Loch Lomond Map and Information:

YouTube Video: Watch a video of the Loch

One of the most famous Scottish songs is about Loch Lomond. Here is a beautiful version of it.

The song itself is about a Scottish soldier who is to be executed. Legend has it that the spirits of Scots who die abroad return to Scotland by the “Low Road” and the singer says they will return by the “low road”.

Castle of Mey Scotland – – Royal Holiday Home

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Stefan Serena Flickr Public Domain

In 1952, just after the death of her husband King George VI, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, better known as ‘The Queen Mother’, bought the 450-year-old abandoned Barrogill Castle in the far north of Scotland as a place where she could relax away from prying eyes. She oversaw the restoration of this remote castle on the north coast of Caithness just six miles from John O’Groats for use as her holiday home. Stefan Serena Flickr Public Domain

Choosing many of the fixtures and fittings herself she returned the castle to its original name of The Castle of Mey and took vacations there for three weeks in August and ten days in October each year until her death in 2002. Some years before she died she had the foresight to establish the Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust to oversee the future affairs of the castle and it’s because of her forward-looking attitude that it is possible today for the public to visit the castle and explore the wonderful gardens which she designed.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The Castle of Mey is the northernmost castle on the British mainland and, protected by a 12-foot high wall known as ‘The Great Wall of Mey’, is now under the care of The Prince’s Foundation, an educational charity established in 1986 by Charles, Prince of Wales. The castle stands on a slight rise about 400 yards from the sea with magnificent views over the Pentland Firth to the distant Orkney Islands. Once the seat of the Earls of Caithness the castle is open every day from the beginning of May to the end of September with a break of 10 days in July/August when His Royal Highness Prince Charles (president of The Prince’s Foundation) and his wife Camilla Duchess of Cornwall often visit.

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Edward Tenny Flickr Public Domain

A new visitors centre was opened in 2007 and, in its first year, some 29,000 visitors explored the castle and the extensive gardens, particularly the shell garden where the Queen Mother used to sit with her corgis in the afternoons, and sampled the home-grown fare in the award-winning tearoom – much of which comes from the castle gardens and adjacent lands. In the walled garden you will find a lookout tower which is a great place to take in the scenery. There is also a small museum and quite a large gift shop.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/
Edward Tenny Flickr Public Domain

The castle is still very much as the Queen Mother restored it and has seen little update since then (her motto was ‘if it works don’t fix it’!). The knowledgeable guides will do all they can to make your visit interesting and enjoyable and are happy to answer any questions you may have. It must be kept in mind that the Castle of Mey is an historic building and disabled access is not possible to all parts of it although the shop, tearoom and toilets are fully accessible.

A big part of the castle’s attraction, especially for children, is the animal centre. Its relaxed and welcoming atmosphere can be enjoyed by adults and children alike and gives the opportunity to see how animals should be cared for. https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Visitors to the animal centre in the east woods can interact with some of the animals, providing an enjoyable and educational visit. There is a colourful collection of unusual and eye-catching poultry breeds, various waterfowl including ducks and geese and unusual sheep breeds in the paddock. The different sizes, shapes and colours of all these creatures make a curiously wonderful display. At the right time of year bottle-feeding of young lambs is a highlight and, with a little luck, your visit will coincide with a new hatch of chicks – fluffy, yellow balls of new life!

Two unusual features of the animal centre experience is the opportunity to try your hand at spinning fleece from the castle’s flock of cheviot sheep or attempting to milk Daisy the wooden cow! These are both popular activities and, depending on how busy it is, you may have to wait a while for your turn. Demonstrations are normally held three days a week during opening hours.

A ROMANTIC WEDDING VENUE

For a romantic wedding with a difference the castle visitor centre offers itself as a wedding venue with facilities for up to 60 guests in the grounds of the castle overlooking the Pentland Firth. Photographs can be taken in the visitors centre, the castle or the gardens. It is also possible to hold the wedding ceremony elsewhere and have the photographs taken in the castle and gardens. Weddings are confined to those months when the castle isn’t open to the public but, considering that the castle is only open for part of the year, that still leaves a good choice of dates.

THE CAPTAIN’S HOUSE

Only a few hundred yards from the castle the Captain’s House offers quiet self-catering accommodation. It is the only property on the castle estate which is used as a holiday let and was a favourite picnic spot of the Queen Mother. A large conservatory overlooks the enclosed garden and gives excellent views over the Pentland Firth. It’s a great place for reading, painting or simply chilling out and appreciating the solitude and the breathtaking views.

Castle Of Mey Video

For those of a more active nature the Captain’s House is perfectly situated for walking, bird watching or fishing with sheer cliffs and sandy beaches all around and Gills Bay, from where you can take a ferry to Orkney, is just a mile away. Equipped to a very high standard the Captain’s House has one double and two twin rooms and can sleep six people.

THE GRANARY LODGE

Opened in 2019 the Granary Lodge offers luxury bed and breakfast accommodation on the castle grounds. This is an ideal place to witness the impressive sunsets visible here and, if you are lucky, the evening sky may be enhanced by an appearance from the ‘Heavenly Dancers’ – also known as the Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis to help make you stay just that little bit more special. Be it a day trip or a longer visit, the Castle of Mey and its surroundings cannot fail to impress!

Corrieshalloch Gorge Viewpoint

Corrieshalloch Gorge: ugly in name but not in nature!

Some 12 miles or so southeast of the west highland town of Ullapool you will find that deep slash in the landscape known as Corrieshalloch Gorge. https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/This narrow, mile-long box canyon demonstrates how erosion by meltwater from glaciers can lead to the formation of deep gorges. The river Droma runs through Corrieshalloch heading towards Loch Broom, tumbling over the 150-foot high Falls of Measach on its way, as well as numerous smaller waterfalls. For once, visitors to this breathtakingly deep gorge will be glad of Scotland’s rainy reputation. There aren’t many outdoor attractions in the highlands best seen after heavy rain but Corrieshalloch Gorge is certainly one of them – the cloud of mist produced by the waterfalls when they are in full flow almost obscures the view!https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Corrieshalloch Gorge, whose name means the ‘ugly gorge’, is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It’s sheer walls have protected it from incursions by Man making it a refuge for rare species of plants which have largely disappeared from the surrounding areas due to human activities. The dark, humid walls of the gorge form a habitat for ferns, mosses and several species of plants which are otherwise rare in this part of Scotland. The more sunlit slopes higher up the gorge support many types of tree and there are insect species here which are rarely seen elsewhere in Scotland. In springtime look for the ravens which nest on a ledge near the bridge.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/There are two ways for visitors to explore the gorge. A descent must be made down the fairly steep (but well-maintained) gravel path from the car park on the A832 on the south side of the gorge. This leads to the Corrieshalloch Suspension Bridge, a 25-metre-long footbridge spanning the gorge downstream of the Falls of Measach – but only cross that bridge if you have a good head for heights! The bridge doesn’t look all that solid and, in fact, it has a tendency to sway when anyone is crossing. Visitors’ confidence isn’t helped by the sign which has been erected at the bridge – it warns that no more than six people should cross at one time!

Those who suffer from vertigo may struggle here but crossing the bridge is a thrilling and rewarding experience as the Falls of Measach thunder down below. Once over the bridge turn left and it is but a short walk to a viewing platform which juts out over the gorge and gives a magnificent view of the waterfall and along the gorge. Again, anyone who suffers from vertigo may not be entirely happy here!https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

The other option (some would say the more level-headed option) is the one-kilometre or so long trail (known as Lady Fowler’s walk) which starts from the suspension bridge (before you cross it) and wends its way along the gorge to a viewpoint from where it is possible to see Loch Broom, into which the river Droma flows, in the distance. This trail continues on through woods for a bit and then loops back around to the suspension bridge via the gorge viewpoint.

Over 70,000 people visit Corrieshalloch Gorge every year and we can be pretty sure that none of them would describe it as ‘ugly’. The gorge can be a treacherous place especially after rain so do supervise children closely and if you take the family pooch it’s best to keep it on a leash at all times.

NTS Gorge website

Smoo Cave – Subterranean Scotland

In a dramatic location on the north coast of Scotland, near the small town of Durness you will find Smoo Cave. Lying just off the North Coast 500, that picturesque touring route which is becoming ever-more popular with visitors to Scotland, Smoo Cave is one of the many spectacular sights Scotland has to offer. An unusual combination of sea cave and freshwater cave – partially carved by the sea and partially carved by the Allt (river) Smoo, the name is thought to come from an old Norse word which meant a hiding place.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Largest Sea Cave Entrance

It is the largest sea cave entrance in Britain and the sea approach to the cave is quite breathtaking. The cave entrance and main chamber have been considerably enlarged by sea action to nearly 130 feet wide and 50 feet high and the entrance is located at the end of a nearly 700 yards long tidal gorge (Geodha Smoo) which, before that section of the roof collapsed, was once part of the cave. If the weather is clear (not always guaranteed in Scotland!) then following the path above the gorge is well worth the effort for the view it gives down its length.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Three Chambers

The cave consists of three chambers and you are free to explore the first two by yourself by means of a wooden walkway but the third chamber is generally inaccessible. Don’t worry about the tides. Over time the cave has undergone a certain amount of uplift and today it is only at the highest of spring tides that the sea encroaches into the entrance. Unfortunately, access to the cave can be problematic. There is a steep path from the car park on the A838 which leads down to a bridge over the Allt Smoo and thence to the cave entrance.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Occupation Back To Mesolithic Age

So what will you see inside Smoo Cave? The first chamber is impressive – 200 feet long, 130 feet wide and about 50 feet high at the entrance. This chamber was formed by the sea. Archaeological investigations have unearthed Neolithic, Norse and Iron Age artifacts here. It is believed that human occupation of the cave extends back to the Mesolithic age and, given its size, it’s easy to imagine that a fair-sized community could have made its home here.

SinkHole And Waterfall

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/From the first chamber a walkway leads to the second chamber where you find the 60-foot waterfall of the Allt Smoo dropping into the cave through its sinkhole with a gushing roar – really spectacular after rain! This is as far as most visitors can go but, during the summer months when the water level is low enough, it is possible to take a boat tour to the third chamber which includes a short walk and an interesting talk on the geology of the cave. Both the second and third chambers were carved by the action of the Allt Smoo.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Near the car park a wooden bridge has been built across the Allt Smoo at the point where it drops into the sinkhole giving a safe view of this most impressive feature. There are many stories of the cave being a smugglers’ hideaway or the location of an illicit still or even the dumping ground for murder victims some of whom were (allegedly) dropped down the sinkhole of the river to be washed out to sea. There are also tales of the supernatural – ghosts, ghouls and devils have been, at various times, said to inhabit the cave. It has even been claimed that the cave is an entrance to hell and, on dark and stormy evenings when the river is roaring at its loudest and the waterfall is foaming and surging at its most violent, one could well believe it!

No tour of northern Scotland can be said to be complete without a visit to Smoo Cave. In fact, for anyone travelling the North Coast 500 it’s practically mandatory!

Smoo Cave Website

YouTube Video of Smoo Cave

North Coast 500: Explore Scotland by Road

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North Coast 500 Passing Place

Thinking of visiting Scotland but don’t really know where to start? Or maybe you’ve already done the castle trail, the whisky trail, and the city experience and now you want to see more of the real, wild Scotland. So what’s the best way to see Scotland’s amazing scenery without confining yourself to one or two relatively small areas?

How about the North Coast 500? A 500-mile road route around the coast of Scotland the North Coast 500 has been called ‘’Scotland’s Route 66’’ after the iconic highway in the USA which no longer exists as a complete route.

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Inverness

Beginning in Inverness this circular route can be done in either direction depending on which order you want to see the magnificent scenery it reveals to you. From narrow, single-track roads with passing places to long stretches of lonely road where, at times, you will hardly meet another vehicle, the North Coast 500 winds its scenic way around long, narrow, sea lochs where well-positioned parking places offer stunning views of cliffs, sandy almost inaccessible bays and misty views of distant islands.

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Applecross

From numerous vantage points around the route you will have the chance to see dolphins and whales of many different species, ever-present seals and many species of seabird as well as the recently reintroduced white-tailed sea eagle (the largest bird of prey in the UK and the fourth largest in the world).

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/
Glen Docherty

Although mainly a coastal route the North Coast 500 does loop inland in places and there is a 60-mile cross-country section from Inverness in the east to the Applecross peninsula in the west giving you the opportunity to see some of Scotland’s beautiful inland lochs and mountains (you must pause at the head of Glen Docherty to gaze in awe at the view west to distant Loch Maree) as well as the chance to spot Scotland’s iconic bird, the golden eagle, soaring its way along the flanks of a hill and disappearing into the mist.

Along the route you will pass through scattered settlements and villages often with only a handful of houses and a couple of dozen inhabitants as well as larger towns although the biggest still does not exceed 10,000 people. Although it’s only 500 miles the North Coast 500 can’t be done in a couple of days. To do so would miss out on much of what the route has to offer.

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Dunrobin Castle

There’s the Black Isle (not an island at all), John O’Groats at the tip of Scotland, unforgettable mountain scenery including Ben Hope (Scotland’s most northerly Munro), the bizarre-looking steep-sided ridge of Suilven, the fairytale castle of Dunrobin, Ardvreck castle ruins and Achmelvich and Dornoch beaches both of which, when the sun shines, will rival any caribbean beach. These are places to savour, not whiz past in a rush.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/
Single Track Road

Spreading your journey over several days will give you the chance to sample the best which Scotland has to offer in the way of cuisine and accommodation and offers opportunities to divert a little from the route to visit places of special interest to you. It’s no wonder that the North Coast 500 route is regarded by many to be one of the best coastal trips on the planet! You may also wish to take some time to explore your starting place, the city of Inverness with its wonderful bridges over the river and its informal coffee shops and cafes. Inverness is also the place where, allegedly, the clearest English in the United Kingdom is spoken!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/
Lonely Road Along the NC500

If you would love to experience this route but don’t want to organise it yourself or are reluctant to drive yourself (those single-track roads can be awkward if you’re not used to them or to driving on the ‘’wrong’’ side of the road) then don’t despair because there are travel companies which can chauffeur you along the route – either part way or all the way – enabling you to devote all your time to marvel at the passing scenery. Travel itineraries vary and you can choose from full-on luxury hotels to basic camping, travelling by either four wheels or two – including by bicycle.

Whichever direction you decide to take out of Inverness –  north up the east coast or west to Applecross – you will have an unforgettable journey and if you are sufficiently impressed by the North Coast 500 (and you won’t fail to be) then maybe you’ll come back next year and do it the other way around!

The North Coast 500 website has suggested itineraries, where to go, what to see and do and a very useful interactive map which shows accommodation and attractions all round the route. You really must take a look.

North Coast 500 Website:

North Coast Video on Youtube

All pictures courtesy of Pixabay.com CC0

Cruising on the Caledonian Canal

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Want to see Scotland from a different perspective? How about hiring a motor cruiser for a leisurely cruise across the country? Opened in 1822 the Caledonian Canal runs from Fort William on the west coast to Inverness on the east coast stretching for some 60 miles (97 km) from one side of Scotland to the other and a cruise along its length is a magnificent way to see some of the best of Scotland’s scenery for the Highlands provide a backdrop of incredible beauty for your cruising holiday in Scotland.

Only about a third of the canal is man-made, the rest consists of four lochs – Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour. These four lochs and the entire length of the canal lie within the Great Glen, a geological fault in the Earth’s crust which pretty much cuts Scotland in half diagonally from south-west to north-east. The canal (which is actually a Scheduled Ancient Monument) was built as a way for small boats to get from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean without going all the way up and around the top of Scotland thus facilitating commerce between the two coasts.

Because it’s an inshore waterway the canal never really gets rough – certainly not as rough as the sea can get – no matter what the weather and this makes it ideal for beginners who have never contemplated cruising on a motor boat before and fancy a chance to be the skipper of their own motor cruiser.

There are several companies which offer charter boats for canal boat hire on the Caledonian Canal and they all operate in a similar way. You can choose from one of the many four-berth cruisers all the way up to 10-berth boats with dual steering positions – one on the upper deck for sunny days and one in the cabin for those not-so-sunny days.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

All the Caledonian canal boat charter companies offer training before they let you loose on the canal and I don’t mean a quick ‘this lever does this and this lever does that’ run through. Everything on board will be explained to you, and your tutor will spend as much time as you feel is necessary for you to be comfortable with running the cruiser including lessons on berthing at a pontoon, how to refuel, how to top up your water supply, etc., and what to do in an emergency.

You will be supplied with charts of the canal, and their use will be explained to you but don’t worry, if you can read a road map you will have no problem reading a chart. Once you are confident with everything then it’s time to explore the canal! https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/There are 29 locks on the canal all of which are manned by a lock keeper so all you have to do to safely navigate a lock is follow their instructions. You are free to roam up and down the entire length of the canal from Banavie just outside Fort William to the Muirtown Basin Marina just outside Inverness. Chartered boats are not allowed beyond either of these limits.

Sights To See Along The Caledonian Canal

Once you start to explore the canal what can you expect to see? You can expect to see sights like ancient castles, quiet towns, cosy lochside pubs and restaurants and to hear the sound of bagpipes drifting over the water and, of course, you can expect to see some magnificent scenery along the way. Since you are in complete control of where and when you cruise on the canal you will have the opportunity to take a whisky distillery tour or a tour of an historic castle. You can indulge yourself in fishing, wildlife and bird-watching all from the comfort of your cruiser and there are many other activities available along the length of the canal and, if you choose to traverse Loch Ness, you never know what you might spot! It’s entirely your choice as to what you do – you could even find a quiet spot to tie-up your cruiser and simply enjoy the peace and quiet for a few days.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Those stretches of the canal which connect the four lochs together can be quite narrow and during the height of the season it gets quite busy. You must be prepared to meet oncoming traffic which could be anything from a cruiser the same size as yours to surprisingly big cruise boats and barges carrying dozens of passengers to small sailing yachts and even canoes. The rule when passing oncoming traffic is ‘keep to the right’ ie: when passing oncoming traffic they must be on your left. These narrow stretches of canal widen into the broad, open waters of the lochs where navigation is easy.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Boat decks and pontoon surfaces can be slippery when wet so suitable footwear must be worn. Highland lochs are cold, even during the height of summer, so try very hard not to fall overboard! Your cruiser will be equipped with a lifejacket for every person on board and it’s a good idea to wear one whilst you are on deck. Be aware that lifejackets MUST be worn whilst negotiating locks – if anyone on deck isn’t wearing a lifejacket then the boat won’t be allowed into the lock. Your tutor will demonstrate how to properly wear a lifejacket.

Unfortunately, cruisers aren’t really suitable for disabled persons or those with mobility problems. Internal stairways are steep and simply getting on and off a boat can be problematic. Young children should be supervised at all times and should definitely wear lifejackets whilst on deck – including getting on and off a boat.

There is a speed limit on the narrow sections of the canal of five knots for all craft. That’s about a brisk walking pace. There is no speed limit on the open lochs but your cruiser won’t go much faster than that anyway so take your time and enjoy the scenery.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/There are plenty of berthing points along the canal especially close to the locks. Not all berthing points are equipped with fueling or watering points but the larger ones are. Shore power (240v) is also available at some berthing points.

You may need to run your cruiser’s engine whilst berthed to make sure the batteries are topped up but please do not run engines after 9 pm or before 7 am and do keep noise to a minimum late in the evening – there are many residential properties close to the canal and, of course, there will be other boats berthed close to you so be a good neighbour and keep the noise to a minimum.

If you have ever wondered what it is like going through the locks on a boat, as the water goes down and the lock gates swing open, watch this speeded up video of navigating the locks.

If you’re not impressed by the thought of captaining your own cruise boat then you could try one of the several cruise companies which offer cruises on larger boats on the canal. This is a great way to see the canal and experience the sights and sounds along the way without having to lift a finger! Whichever option you choose I’m sure you will have a great time motor cruising on the Caledonian Canal.

The (Rail) road To The Isles On The Harry Potter Jacobite Train

‘’It’s by Shiel water the track is to the west,
by Ailort and by Morar to the sea.’’

These lines are from a well-known traditional Scottish song ‘’The Road to the Isles’’ describing a weary travellers’ journey and the long road he must travel to reach his home on the Isle of Skye. You can hear this song in a video at the bottom of this article.

Today that journey is far easier and perhaps the best way to see what is surely the most scenic part of that long road home is to take a different kind of track – a railroad track – from the west highland town of Fort William to the west coast fishing port and ferry terminal of Mallaig.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The West Coast Railways Jacobite steam train will take you in comfort from the foot of Britain’s highest mountain, to the mouth of Europe’s deepest sea loch. The only timetabled steam rail journey in the UK, the Jacobite passes picturesque coasts, mountains and glens on its spectacular 42-mile journey west.

It passes through an area which many consider to be one of the most beautiful in the UK (beaches in this area have been used in several Hollywood movies).https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

From Fort William and Ben Nevis (the highest mountain in the UK) it passes the southern end of the Caledonian Canal and Neptune’s Staircase, a series of eight locks (the longest staircase lock in the UK) allowing boats down to the sea at Loch Linnhe.

It then skirts the head of Loch Shiel with its monument https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/commemorating the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard to begin the ‘45 rebellion and passes over the imposing 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct (which any ‘’Harry Potter’’ fan will instantly recognise) and on to the small hamlet of Lochailort where commandos were trained during WW2.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Next comes Loch nan Uamh where there is another viaduct to carry the railway over the road and, on the shores of the loch, sits the Prince’s Cairn which marks the spot from where Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to France after the Jacobite army’s final disastrous defeat at the battle of Culloden in 1746.

A short distance further on is the village of Arisaig – another place involved in commando training and from where emigrants sailed to Canada and founded the small village of Arisaig in Nova Scotia in 1785.

Mallaig isn’t far now but before the Jacobite reaches it you can indulge in a little monster-spotting! Loch Morar, to the east of the railway line, is the deepest freshwater loch in the British Isles and is rumoured to have a rival to Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. Named ‘’Morag’’ the Loch Morar monster, is just as much an enigma as Nessie. She has (allegedly) been seen several times but no evidence has ever been found for her existence. Maybe she and Nessie have eloped together!

Finally Mallaig at the end of the railway line is reached but that isn’t necessarily the end of your journey. Mallaig (once the busiest herring port in Europe) is a bustling ferry terminal as well as a busy fishing port and onward travel by ferry is possible to the Isle of Skye, the inner hebridean archipelago of the Small Isles (one of Scotland’s National Scenic Areas) or south to Inverie a village on the mainland which isn’t connected to the rest of Scotland by any road and is home to Britain’s remotest pub. The only way to reach it is by ferry from Mallaig – or a long 17-mile hike over the hills.

As scenic railway journeys go, this ‘’railroad to the isles’’ certainly ranks up there with the best of them and any visit to the west coast of Scotland would be incomplete without a trip on the Jacobite steam train to Mallaig but book early because it is understandably very popular!

Here is the song “The Road To The isles”, sung by Kenneth McKellar:

WELCOME TO FORT WILLIAM

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Located at the western end of the Great Glen at the head of Loch Linnhe Fort William is often known as ‘The Outdoor Capital of Scotland’ because of its excellent position as a base for outdoor activities. With a population of about 11,000 this highland town is never quiet! Summer or winter thousands of tourists arrive in the area, many of them seeking adventure on the hills and mountains which surround the town.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/And what a collection of fine mountains there are! Ben Nevis (4413 ft/1345 m), the UK’s highest mountain, towers over the town – so close in fact that to get a decent view of it one has to travel a couple of miles outside of the town!

About two miles east of Fort William is Aonach Mòr (4006 ft/1221 m) where you will find the Nevis Range ski area which is well worth of visit even if you don’t ski since there is a gondola lift which operates all year round and is the easiest way to ascend the mountain.https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

Both of these mountains (and many others in the area) are known as ‘Munros’ – a term which is used to describe mountains in Scotland which are over 3000 ft/914 m. Ben Nevis has an abandoned weather observatory on its summit and the observations taken there in bygone days were important for our understanding of Scottish mountain weather and Aonach Mòr has played host to The Mountain Bike World Cup for several years in a row. Climbing the Munros is almost a national sport in Scotland and, since there are 282 of them there are plenty to choose from.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/There are many adventures to be had in the great outdoors in the area from hillwalking to rock climbing, ice climbing, kayaking, wildlife spotting (on land and sea), fishing, diving, off-road driving and motorcycling, boat hire and more and all of these can be indulged in by yourself (provided you have the necessary equipment and expertise of course) or under the supervision of one of the various guided tours available in the area.

Fort William is also one end of two well-known long-distance walking routes – the West Highland Way, a 95-mile long route which has its other end in the town of Milngavie, near Glasgow, and the Great Glen Way, a 78-mile long walking/cycling route whose other end is the city of Inverness, on the east coast of Scotland. Many hundreds of people travel one or other of these routes every year.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/For those whose interests don’t lean towards outdoor activities Fort William still has much to offer. The gaelic name for Fort William is An Gearasdan which means ‘The Fort’ and many local people still refer to it by that name today and the remains of the original fort are still worth a visit. This was built by the English in an attempt to pacify the clans during the turbulent period of the various Jacobite rebellions which culminated in the Scottish army’s defeat at Culloden in 1746. In the town’s High Street the West Highland Museum is a great place to go to find out more of the history of the town and surrounding area.

Scotland’s ‘national drink’ and its most famous export, whisky, is represented in the town by the Ben Nevis distillery and no visit to the area would be complete without a tour of the distillery followed by a visit to the distillery shop and a tasting of the product itself, whose gaelic name is uisge beatha – the ‘water of life’. The huge water pipes which supply the distillery with pure, clean, highland water, can be seen running down the side of Ben Nevis. There are many pubs and hotels in the town and surrounding area which will supply visitors with a good variety of Scotch whiskies – so don’t be shy, sample a few!

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/ https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Fort William lies at the western end of the Great Glen, a huge gash in the land running between Inverness on the east coast and the town of Corpach, close to Fort William, in the west. Within this gigantic trench lies the Caledonian Canal – a fully-navigable series of lochs and connecting channels which offer an easy way for small boats to pass from the north sea to the sea loch of Loch Linnhe and thence into the Atlantic Ocean. It is possible to hire a small cruiser and sail up and down the Caledonian Canal. There are several locks to negotiate along the length of the canal but none are difficult and the lock-keepers are on hand to help.

https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/The surrounding area offers spectacular views of mountains, lochs and rivers as well as some fascinating history and, if you chose wisely, you will be treated to the finest Scottish cuisine available in one of the several former castles (yes, that’s right, castles) which dot the area and are now hotels. Some of them take a little trouble to find but a visit to Fort William and the surrounding area will reward you with sights and experiences (and tastes) which will live in your memory for a long time.

Want to know more? Then take a look at these websites:

Undiscovered Scotland – Fort William

Visit Scotland – Fort William

Fort William is also the starting point for Britain’s only scheduled steam train, The Jacobite, which runs along the West Highland Line to the port of Mallaig from where a ferry can be had to Eilean a’ Cheò, the Misty Isle, better known as the Isle of Skye. This luxurious train passes over the Glenfinnan viaduct, a spectacular 21-span curved viaduct near the head of Loch Shiel which will be familiar to any ‘Harry Potter’ fan. This 41-mile heritage train journey is not to be missed but book early – understandably, it’s very popular!

Travel Scotland

 How to Plan Your Scotland Tour

There are many attractions that will take your breath away when you travel to Scotland. You’ll travel through some breathtaking scenery, see the historic towns and castles, and enjoy the food and drink of Scotland. Visitors have many options to choose between when planning their Scottish vacation. There are so many things to do when you travel to there.

Your first stop might be in the famous Inverness region. https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/Inverness is a city in the Scottish Highlands and is regarded as the capital of the Highlands. It is the most northerly city in the United Kingdom and lies within the Great Glen where the River Ness enters the Moray Firth. https://www.scotland.greatraveling.com/

This area has many forests that are easily explored, some even with the use of mobility scooters. The six main forests are Reelig Glen (with Big Douglas, at one time the tallest tree in Britain), Craig Phadrig, the nearest to Inverness and with an Iron Age hill fort, Ord Hill, with another Iron Age fort and arguably the best views over the Moray Firth, Little Mill, a small wood with features formed in the last ice age, Daviot Wood, which is accessible by mobility scooter and has wide paths suitable for cycling, and Culloden Wood, which lies over part of the battlefield of Culloden and includes a wishing well for healing.

If you would rather go by water, you can cruise the Caledonian Canal, and sail on Loch Ness, though there is no guarantee that you will see the Loch Ness monster! This trip also takes in Urquhart castle.

A day trip you can take from Inverness will take you to the famous Isle of Skye to see Eilean Donan Castle and the Old Man of Storr.

For more information on what to do and see in Inverness, check out this site.

All images are available under the Creative Commons CC0 licence