Caledonian Canal 01463 725500
Clachnaharry Sealock 01463 713896 or mob 07920237331 VHF 74
Corpach Sea Lock 01397 772249 or mob 07917 348025 VHF 74
If you are entering the canal from Inverness you are coming into the beginnings of what the Western Scots believe is God’s own Country so prepare to be slowly amazed for the next week or so (until you become used to it!) If you are entering from Fort William you will already have become accustomed to the beauty of this part of the world but you will be leaving it at Inverness so make the most of your temporary licence and travel slowly.
If you have come from England you may have found difficulty in pronouncing the “ch” in the word “Loch” which is an Anglicised version of the Gaelic (and written “Lough” in Anglo-Irish). Add to that its combination in such bodies of water as Loch Lochy and Loch Oich and you will have been having fun. Then you arrive here at the sea locks at either end Clachnaharry Sea Lock and Corpach Sea Lock; here the “ch” is the soft-back-of- the- throat Scottish sound and the “ck” is the hard English sound; all we can say is best of luck, we manage it, but then again we were born to it!!
The Caledonian Canal was built by Thomas Telford, finished in 1822 and much of what was built then is still in place today. One lock was added later in the century at the Laggan locks but all the rest of the structure and design is as it was two hundred years ago. The only real change has been the mechanical operation of the lock gates themselves which are now controlled electrically.
The “Canal” spans a distance of nearly 60 miles but is, in fact a series of canals joining three large inland fresh water lochs and one small one: Loch Dochfour, Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy. The topography was formed in the ice ages when the ice cap scoured out the weakness caused by the Great Glen Fault (which still occasionally causes minor quakes); the highest point is Loc Oich which is 106 feet above sea level so from Inverness to there you lock up and from there on you are locking down. From the point of view of buoyage the stream is deemed to flood North for the whole canal (although there is little, if no, stream at all) so the red buoys are on the North side and the greens, the South side of any buoyed channel.
You will have to pay a licence fee for passage through the canal and these come at various prices depending on your size, the length of time you want to stay in the canal and whether (and how soon) you want to return. Tha licence prices are on the Scottish Canals website but a bit cryptic. To expand - it's the same as it used to be if you are going out for the summer and coming back through at the end of the summer you can use a return licence (ie the 7 day limit doesn't count for the return) Once you have paid your licence fee you are covered, not only for passage but free use of the showers/toilets en passage, overnight mooring (except for a couple of privately owned ones) and free water supplies.
There are places you can anchor along the edges of the lochs and some pontoons at places along the canals. All the locks have waiting pontoons where you can stay overnight before continuing through the lock the next day. Be warned; the hours of operation for all the locks and bridges are from 0800 to 1800 in the summer, 0830 to 1730 Spring and Autumn and Mon to Fri 0900 to 1600 in the winter. In addition the Sea Locks only operate 4 hours either side of HW. There is a waiting pontoon at the Corpach Sea Lock but that can get fairly crowded; at the Clachnaharry end there is no pontoon to wait on and the entrance is piled in a way that is unsuitable for yachts. If you arrive outside the operating hours at the North end there is obviously Inverness Marina or you could find somewhere to anchor in the Beauly Firth (fairly impracticable due to the currents) and at the South end if there is no room on the pontoon you can anchor on the other side by the islands.
The "Approach" section now describes the passage from Inverness to Fort William; we have photographs of every lock and bridge on the passage which are laid out in the sequence you encounter them. (We suggest you right click on our gallery and open it in a new window - saves clicking back and forwards!)
Caledonian Canal Website:
Through the canal from Inverness to Fort William:
Once through the Clachnaharry Sea Lock (where you will pay for your licence if you have not already paid ahead) you will pass through the railway bridge and its associated lock. There is communication between the bridge and the sea lock so they will be expecting you. From there you enter the Muirtown Basin which is home to the Seaport Marina. This is a fully equipped marina where you can hook up to shore power and there is water on every berth. The opportunities for shore power along the Canal have improved over the years and it is now available here, Dochgarrock, above the Fort Augustus Flight (but not below), above the Lagan Lock, above Gairlocky Lock and at Banavie above Neptune's Steps. You should be charged at £3.00 per night for a hook up. If you arrive at Clachnaharry late in the afternoon and it looks as though the Marina Office might be closed when you get to Seaport Basin ask the lock-keeper to arrange for power to be supplied to a specific pontoon/finger because it's all computerised and without the office you cannot get a connection.
It should also be noted that, apart from the first night inbound which is free, your canal licence does not cover mooring here at Seaport Marina; there is an extra mooring charge to be paid. If you are heading outbound, given that you may have time left on your canal licence it is a good idea to check the weather in the Moray Firth before locking down the Muirtown Flight so that, if you are not going to be able to go straight out into the Firth on arrival or the day after, you can wait out the weather above that flight for free (until your canal licence runs out that is).
Alternatively, if you have no need of the marina facilities and you are there before the Muirtown Flight closes for the night, you could lock up the flight and tie up in the basin above there; two or three advantages, 1) it’s included in your licence 2) Inverness is just as close and 3) you can make an early start and be at the Tomnahurich Swing bridge before it closes for the morning rush hour and on your way to the Dochgarroch Lock by half past eight! There are obvious advantages to staying overnight for the first night, especially if you've had a long passage to get there; all you'll have to pay is £3 for the shore power and they have a very good laundrette. Add to that the fact that there is a large Co-op store just round the corner and a Liddls a little further away
The nearest petrol station is at a garage along the road on the west side of the Muirtown basin. Your next refuelling spot is at Fort Augustus and that is true for groceries (though there are minor shops with limited supplies along the route). Above the Muirtown Flight you will come to Caley Marine/Marina where they have chandlery and repair facilities; the banks are very crowded here and you are unlikely to find room to tie up; the area directly above the Flight although not very picturesque is more likely to have room.
As has been said, your licence fee allows you to moor on all the pontoons in the Canal and at most of those in the lochs; where there is an extra charge, that is mentioned on the charts in the Skippers Guide.
The Canal is well equipped with showers, toilets and fresh water and you will be issued with a key for access to those when you pay for your licence. There is diesel at Seaport Marina, Inverness Marina and Corpach. Availability of petrol is mentioned in the notes above. Gas and Gaz can be obtained at Seaport Marina but after that, if West bound you are entering bandit country; Gas/Gaz is available at the garage at Fort Augustus (at a price) and at the Lochy Holiday Park which is off the Fort William Road just before the Fort William High School. (It’s worth knowing that the Fort William bus goes part the way down that road to the medical centre!)
Chandlery is probably best dealt with at the Inverness end though there is rumour of a chandlery at Fort William.
The locks are electrically driven and the staff on duty will open and close the paddles and the gates. The only problems that occur are generally caused by wind – if you don’t get your upwind line ashore in reasonable order you are liable to end up athwart the lock (as has happened to this writer).The lock staff are ultra helpful, are the ones wearing life jackets and can be relied upon but there are only a couple on duty at each lock and at some locks there is only one.
If you have sufficient crew you need one on the bows to handle the bow rope, yourself at the stern looking after the stern rope and one on the shore to take the ropes.If you are short crewed you will know the problems and will know to have everything ready, fenders out, ropes tied to a heaving line etc.
The locks in this canal do not have internal pontoons which go up and down with the water level so the bow and stern ropes need to kept in hand maintaining tension.
1. Southbound you'll be entering "empty" locks and it can be a fair old way to chuck your ropes so consider a light throwing line to get your ropes ashore.
2. Fenders both sides as, especially in the high season, they will pack you in like sardines, one on each wall and one in the middle.
3. If there is not much traffic, tie up as soon as you get into the lock because the further back you are, the less you will be affected by the influx of water when they fill the lock (believe me – if you are the only boat they’ll open the paddles wide in order to fill the lock quickly and the effect is dramatic.
4. You will come across quite a few boats manned by holiday makers of varying degrees of competence. They are generally cream coloured motor cruisers which show the signs of hard use.The best bet is to help them rather than gloat over their mishaps – no body goes until the last boat is in the lock so, the easier you make life for them the happier everyone will be.
5. Wear life jackets; it’s not compulsory but just a good idea.Never fallen in the water? Watch this space!
6. Engines off once you have your boat under control in the lock.
7. Take your time!
We found the Great Glen Water Park at the west end of Loch Oich was good but there are numerous hotels and restaurants along the other lochs; not so many beside the canal itself except at Fort Augustus which is well equipped for the tourist trade.
There was an interesting gem stone museum at Corpach in 2008. Lots of walks and cycle paths; if you have bicycles on board you can send the crew on ahead!!