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Caledonian Canal

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Courtesy Flag

Flag, Red Ensign

Waypoint

None

Charts

AC 1792 , SC5617, BW Scotland Skippers Guide

Rules & Regulations

Speed limit 5kts in the canals. Boats may be spot checked for Boat Safety. (requirements; no fuel or gas leaks; no damage to electrical cables; no imminent danger of foundering or capsizing. If over 28 days in the canal will need a full BW Boat Safety Certificate. Life jackets to be worn by children at all times and they would like adults to as well. No swimming in the waterways. Usual harbour rules on waste disposal. Refuelling is not permitted within the locks

Hazards

The main hazard is other boat users, some of who may be novices

Tidal Data Times & Range

Non tidal but watch out for the usual surges when lock gates are operated.

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General Description

Contacts
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!!

https://www.scottishcanals.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/60326-BW-Scottish-Canals-Caledonian-Skipper-Guide-WEB.pdf

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: 

https://www.scottishcanals.co.uk/activities/boating/caledonian-canal/

Approach

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.

 
NB The direction of the buoyage for the whole canal is NE. So, going Inverness to Fort William leave SHMs to port


Once past Caley Marine you will come out into the country and fairly quickly arrive at the Tomnahurich Swing Bridge; this is on a busy road so you’ll have to wait for them to stop the traffic before they can open the bridge and during peak hours you’ll just have to wait. The bridge swings towards Inverness so don’t tie up too close to it to wait, use the pontoon on the starboard side about 50 yards short of the bridge and when they do swing the bridge don’t waste time getting through.  At this stage, if you overnighted in Seaport Marina you will have joined the first pod of boats up though that flight and still be with them at this stage and remain with them, through Dochgarroch Lock, until you reach Loch Ness.

Be patient; once through Dochgarroch and Loch Dochfour and into Loch Ness you’ll find the pod splits up, some to continue under sail, others to charge on under power and still others to tarry and take in the view. Remember as you pass down Loch Dochfour that, as far as buoyage is concerned, you are going against the stream so red to starboard and green to port!! The channel is quite narrow as you pass out into Loch Ness

As you chug through the canal at the Dochgarroch Lock (by now the “ch”s and “ck”s will be beginning to hurt!!) you will become aware of the mountains up ahead and the promise of things to come.

Then you come out of the canal by Bona Ferry Light house and there it is in all its glory, Heaven; in the form of Loch Ness. Mind you, it being Scotland it could well be raining and if your wind gods are anything like the writer’s the wind is Sou’west!! In all probability it will be near lunchtime and just round the corner is the Dores Inn with a little bay to anchor. The Loch is about 20 miles long so it’s three or four hours (or even five in a wee boat) so you may want to crack on to Fort Augustus (remember the locks close at 1800, earlier spring and autumn) to try to get through before the evening.  It’s worth making the point here that, if you give yourself a tight time table, the Canal will frustrate at every turn. You will arrive at locks just as they are closing in your direction and it can be a good hour before they reopen to let the contra traffic out and you in; or even arrive to find that you are in a queue and have to wait for two cycles; best treat the canal as part of the holiday and not just the means to an end!!

There is much to explore along the sides of the Loch Ness and plenty of places to anchor but do note that it is very steep sided and it might be an idea to anchor close in and run a line ashore to moor fore and aft, Mediterranean style.

Then you arrive at Fort Augustus. On a Saturday afternoon at the height of the summer the canal below the flight of locks can be like those old photographs of Henley Regatta week in its heyday. It is teeming. And the village is also packed with bus loads of tourists who delight in watching novices struggle to negotiate the locks which the Canal Staff pack in like sardines (if you value your topsides use plenty of fenders and have the boat hook handy to fend off boarders). A word to the wise here; there is shore power available on the pontoons on the West side of the flight and the toilets here are much closer than those below the flight.

A word here; you will be expected to handle your own boat and lines so you need to put some one ashore to take your lines and pass the bitter end back down; if you are single handed, liaise with the lock staff so that they know to take your lines and pass both bitter ends back to the cockpit for you to adjust. Once you have your lines ashore switch off the engine or everyone will have carbon monoxide poisoning by the time you reach the top! You will find that with a small boat it is much easier to turn off the engine and walk the boat up the whole flight, and if single handed then that most certainly the option to go for.

It’s all good fun as long as you approach it in the right frame of mind; if you are in a hurry and try to get pushy you will not enjoy one minute of it. Best tip? Arrive here midweek and be prepared to help the novices in the hire boats instead of cursing them.  You will also have a chance to stock up here and there is a garage in the village. There are toilets, showers, a laundrette, fresh water and pump out facilities here but no shore power in the approach creek (there is above the lock on the pontoons to port as you leave the flight)

The next part of the Canal, along Fort Augustus Reach, through Kytra Lock, the Colliry Reach, Cullochy Lock and Aberchalder Swing Bridge has no large scale chart so is a voyage of discovery; stick to the buoyed channel and you’ll be ok.  The Canal joins and separates from the River Oich along this stretch but, in general the buoyed channel stays to the port (east) side of the wider stretches of water, so if you see an island up ahead you will be normally leaving it to starboard, Southbound; but do check the buoyage! It’s only four miles so you would normally expect to cover it in an hour, plus an hour and a half for locks and bridges; don’t bank on it because, although it only takes half an hour to go through any choke point, that can be doubled with waiting time so instead of an hour and a half for locks and bridges, you could be talking three to four hours on a busy day.

Then in to Loch Oich and it’s all downhill from here!! What impression Loch Oich leaves depends an awful lot on the weather; on a misty morning if you believe in witches and fairies you’ll see them here, the sides are steep and wooded, the islands have their trees; there’s a very enclosed, moody, secretive atmosphere about it in the early morning and evening; on the other hand it could be a sunny afternoon and teaming with wild life and you’ll wonder what the blazes I’m talking about!!

There are lots of buoys and narrow choke points and unless you have a very small boat and a tail wind you’ll probably have to motor. Down past Adrishaig, which those of you who are familiar with Loch Fyne & the Crinan Canal will recognise as not the only place with that name in Scotland, to the Laggan Swing Bridge. In Loch Oich just North of the Laggan bridge at is a set of pontoons which is a nice place to stop for the night especially if you have children who need a run and exercise ashore. There is a good pub, good food and lots of things for kids to do (adults as well!!)

You will then pass through the Laggan Bridge and on to the Laggan Locks and out into Loch Lochy. This Loch is nearly 12 miles long so you can motor it in two or three hours; if you are lucky and have a tail wind you can romp down it, goose winged, or, if you feel like it and there is a Sou’westerly blowing it is wide enough to tack down. Depends on your time, the author once tacked to the Letterfinlay Lodge half way down on the East bank (it has a small pontoon); tied up for the night and in the morning there was a Nor’easter so he was able to continue goose winged to Gairlochy!  As you approach the South end of Loch Lochy you’ll be able to see the white light house there from quite a distance so just head for that until you pick up the buoys leading back into the canal.

 


There are two locks at Gairlochy one of which has a swing bridge co-located with it and once you have negotiated them you’ll be on the last leg of the canal with only five miles of canal and one swing bridge (Moy Bridge) to negotiate before Benavie and Neptune’s Steps. But what a five miles! Ben Nevis, often still with snow in its lofty corries well into the summer looms over you from the South; and you will soon be able to see the peaks overlooking Loch Linnhe towards Oban, telling you that there is still more beauty to come.

Once you reach Benavie it is time to take stock; find out what the weather is doing outside, work out how many days you have left on your licence and what supplies you need for onward passage. The shops and garage are a fair old hike away (best part of a mile to Corpach Co-op) but there are buses every quarter of an hour from Corpach to Fort William and back; last bus back is just after midnight and terminates in Caol (near the Railway bridge).

You will be able to get diesel in the seabasin before Corpach Sea Lock but petrol is a bind as the petrol station in Corpach closed years ago; the nearest petrol is at the end of the dual carriage way in to Fort William near the hospital. If you want a ride out to Oban on the Steam train you will have had to book tickets before you left home in the spring (in 2008 they were fully booked for three or four weeks ahead!!) Of course, for the more energetic of you there is always Ben Nevis to climb. When you are ready and the time’s right for the tides outside Sea Lock you just make your way down Neppie’s Steps along the Canal to the locks above the Sea Lock Basin (they’ll be expecting you) and through the Sea Lock into the top end of Loch Linnhe.

The first time you do this you suddenly realise that, overwhelming as the scenery has been, it’s just a beginning and, as you look South West down Loch Linnhe, there’s even more of God’s own country ahead. 

Berthing, Mooring & Anchoring

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.

Facilities

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.

More Info

Negotiating Locks

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!  

Eating, Drinking & Entertainment

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!!

Links

Your Ratings & Comments

7 comments
UPDATE SPRING 2021
Written by Don Thomson 3 | 20th May 2021
I reviewed these notes in May 2021. They are open - hooray. I can't find their ready reckoner for licence prices but you can find their basics on their website.
Update Spring 2019
Written by Don Thomson 3 | 25th Apr 2019
As of late April 2019 the canal has re-opened for coast to coast transits
UPDATE SPRING 2018
Written by Don Thomson | 9th Apr 2018
Nothing to report. The hyperlinks have been updated for this year and the charts remain the same. The observant among you will notice a red paragraph re single handing; this has been copied and pasted from the Crinan (where you have to wind the gates yourself) and has very little relevance for the fit under seventies sailor with a smallish boat!! We haven't changed the chart 'cos the chart hasn't changed.
Update Spring 2016
Written by dononshytalk | 4th Apr 2016
These notes were reviewed by Don in April 2016. No major dramas over this winter so all remains pretty much the same. I've given links to the new prices for this year
2 of 2 people found this helpful
Update 2015 Further
Written by dononshytalk | 28th Apr 2015
Just seen a report that they are well ahead of schedule and intend reopening Thursday 30th April 2015
Update April 2015
Written by dononshytalk | 16th Apr 2015
Those of you who have heard rumours re the closure of the Caledonian Canal can find information by going to the Canal website (there's a link to it in the General Description above) and follow the links Home/Customer Hub/Canal Works and Updates/Caledonian Canal Works and Boaters Updates/Stoppage at Cullochy Weir. It looks as though it's all going to plan and they are hoping to open the Canal for sea to sea transits from the beginning of May
Up the Cally.
Written by Barbados Billy | 25th Jun 2014
What a brilliant trip. We spent our ten day pass and then added another three. The staff were excellent, the facilities were top notch too. There was wind aplenty in Loch Ness but thirteen days without rain must surely have been a record. Fort William and the Harry Potter Train and plenty of shops and hostelries. Inverness is a fine town with plenty to make one's stay a happy one. Have a look round if you have time, the ten day pass is no more expensive than ten nights in a marina I thought.
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