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Planning Retirement Online

Travels With Alice

September 2016


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

We have enjoyed our contributing writer Jeanne Davis’ regular Beyond the Headlines for some time.

Look out each month for the latest story in our exciting new series Travels with Alice. Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy her fascinating insights into human behaviour and great locations .

This is going to be a great addition to Laterlife that will become addictive…

To view all of Jeanne's articles visit the Interest Index.

Scotland: Cruising through the highlands and islands

Lord of the Glens navigating one of the 29 locks: Lord of the Glens

This year Alice comes my way across the Atlantic. She is eager to explore Scotland.

I make the arrangements for Edinburgh and Glasgow but Alice has discovered an alluring small boat cruise along the Caledonian Canal through the Western Highlands and on out to the Inner Hebrides and the islands of Iona, Mull, Eigg and Skye.

There are images of Scotland that speak to many of us. Heather moorlands, craggy mountains, rolling hills and grand castles. Long traditions of clans and monarchs and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s famed rebellion. We hear the music of the pipes and have heard mention of haggis. Many of us enjoy the peaty flavour of the finely crafted single malts. 

The boat we board at Inverness is the 48–passenger Lord of the Glens, purpose-built to be able both to navigate the locks of the Caledonian Canal and sail among the islands of the Inner Hebrides.

Jeanne minds the luggage at Inverness

On Board the Lord of the Glens

We don’t wait long for the images to come alive. Just as we sit down for dinner the first night, in march three burly Scotsmen, bagpipes piping, kilts and sporran flapping, followed by the chef bearing aloft a great platter on which sits something that looks like a leather pillow. It is haggis, Scotland’s national dish, a sheep’s stomach stuffed with ground-up liver, lungs and heart of a sheep, mixed with oatmeal, onion and spices. It was quite tasty.

And who but Scotland’s most famous engineer, Thomas Telford, would be commissioned to build the Caledonian Canal, a tremendous feat of civil engineering that slices through the Highlands from Inverness to Fort Williams to connect the North Sea to the Atlantic. Begun in 1803, four aqueducts let streams and rivers pass below the waterway, some 200 million wheelbarrow loads of earth were shifted over the next 19 years. There are 29 locks for boats to work their way through. 

Our Transit of the Caledonian Canal

Watching the captain and crew navigate the locks was one of the major highlights of the journey. Often there was no more than an inch on each side between the boat and the canal wall and only some very careful maneuvering would get us through without damaging the hull. We had to be very quiet while the captain gave his orders to the crew.

Just as fascinated with the Captain’s skill, were the people gathered above. And like lock- watchers everywhere, mesmerized as well by the rise and fall of the waters as each lock fills and as each empties for the boat to work its way through the system.

The Caledonian Canal is a series of canals linking some of the great lochs (lakes) to form a continuous waterway. We sail into Loch Ness, Britain’s deepest body of fresh water, surprisingly a deep dark blue. My memory is of murky waters in old photos and its legendary monster Nessie rising from its depths.

Lord of the Glens approaches Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness: Lord of the Glens

Trusting that Nessie is asleep in the deep, some of the passengers decide to explore the fabled lake, heading off in the kayaks that are carried on board. Bicycles are carried, too. We get off from time to time to bike along the pathways and explore the byways keeping up with the ship as it continues its journey.

Our last view of the mainland is of snow-capped Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak, as we exit the canal at Fort William and head out into the rougher waters of the Atlantic.

We explore the islands of the Inner Hebrides

Our first port of call is the Isle of Mull. Here we climb to the Duart Castle perched on a rocky headland like a fortress, the ancestral seat of the Clan Maclean. We are not the only visitors. In the Banqueting Hall a sizeable group of mostly middle aged men are milling about sporting kilts of the Maclean tartan. Each year clan members from around the world gather at the Castle. This group of Macleans is from the U.S.

Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull: Shutterstock

We climb to the ramparts of the castle. In centuries past it was the lookout point for the Macleans to watch for enemy forces, at times rival clans, English monarchs and at one time, in 1653, a warship of the parliamentarian, Cromwell.

In an even earlier time, in the 6th century, St. Colomba landed at the Isle of Iona across the Sound of Mull. The Irish monk founded the monastery here that turned this tiny island into  the centre of Celtic Christianity. Pilgrims are drawn here  from all over the world to seek spiritual comfort. I felt at peace, too, as I paused for some moments in the quiet cloisters of the restored Abbey. Close by is the royal cemetery, the last resting place of Scottish kings, including Duncan and Macbeth.

The cloisters of the abbey of St. Iona: Stewart Cohen

Back on nearby Mull, we walk through Tobermory, known as the prettiest port in Western Scotland, its tall, brightly painted houses fronting the harbour. But we don’t linger too long. There is the Tobermory Distillery to visit and see how their award-winning single malts are produced. Amongst the malts is one named Iona, only available from this distillery. In a few weeks I will be visiting my cousins whose daughter is named Iona. This would be the perfect house gift, I thought. And it was.

Step ashore at our next port of call, the isle of Eigg, and you step into the 21st century. This green jewel of the Inner Hebrides is known as one of the first self-sustaining places on earth. Solar panels, wind turbines and hydroelectric schemes sprinkled across the island meet the energy requirements of almost all of its 90 residents. Visitors flock here to see how it’s done.   

Our first view of Skye is of the island’s Cuillins Hills, with jagged ridges, mist-washed crowns and intimidating expanses of black rock, it is the British Isles most formidable mountain range. 

A hill-walkers’ paradise the range includes 12 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3000 feet). Dedicated walkers come here to “bag “the Munros, their goal all 277 of these formidable mountain peaks in Scotland.

Docking once more on the mainland, we board a bus for the drive back to Inverness. Having gained our sea legs, we must now adjust to the land, still feeling the swell of the sea and dreaming of highlands and islands, of castles and lochs, of bagpipes and haggis and single malts.


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