We had much to celebrate on our return to Milo on the June 9th, 2017. First was Ian’s “all clear” on the cancer front; second was joining the twins in Edinburgh for their 10th birthday celebrations on June 6th and third was the surprise meeting up with Ken and Gina Falcon on Tiftie on our first day starting on our journey back through the Caledonia Canal.
The transformation of Ian’s 8-year-old Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) cancer from the slow growing to the fast growing variety meant 3 months of a rather aggressive chemotherapy for Ian starting in January and a delay to our plans for joining the boat in late April, sailing to the Orkney’s and returning to Lyme Regis via the East Coast by the end of the season to guarantee that we kept our mooring. Dorset CC and the harbourmaster at Lyme Regis came up trumps and allowed us an extra year away, so the plan changed – if Ian was well enough we’d return through the Caledonian Canal to the Western Islands – Why? We’d been advised by Ian’s consultant to take it easy, to begin with, as it could take Ian 3 months to get back to full strength. So, doing a week through the canal would be a gentle lead-in to sailing again. And, who knows, by September when both of us will be fully retired, we may have the time and energy to round Cape Wrath and circumnavigate Sutherland and Caithness, a long-term aim of Ian being to visit the land of his forefathers.
Receiving the “all clear” at the end of May, we flew to Edinburgh to help look after the twins, Hugh & Percy, and Skye while Andrew and Rebecca were on call. What a busy schedule the children have. With their sport, music, school fete and other extra-scholarly activities, they kept us really busy. The plan for their birthday had been a barbecue on the beach but the forecast was for heavy rain all day, so it was postponed and we went to see the fabulous Wonder Woman film instead, followed by a birthday meal at the Pizza Express culminating in a special birthday cake lovingly made and decorated by Rebecca in the form of a chess board (Percy’s passion).
A Chess Board Cake – it was sad to eat it after that first game of chess.
The following day we took the train to Inverness, but it arrived quite late, so rather than staying on the boat which would require a degree of decommissioning from its winterisation, Ros had found an interesting hotel, 2 miles out on the Beauly road called the Bunchrew House Hotel, looking more like a castle than a house and described on the web as “steeped in history, a 17th century Scottish mansion, offering excellent hotel accommodation and award-winning cuisine”. We had a room overlooking the Moray Firth and although facing north we had stunning views of the sunset in the NW and its rise again before 5am in the NE.
The Bunchrew House Hotel is steeped in history from its earliest settlement in the early 16th century, through the times of the Jacobite rebellion, the battle of Culloden and the Highland clearances.
The boat was much cleaner than we expected after being in the Marina for 6 months, particularly as it had been covered in an industrial dust at one point following an “incident” after which the Marina management had to arrange for the professional cleaning of every boat in the Marina. After cleaning, provisioning and having a last meal out in Inverness, we stayed up till 11pm to hear the first results come in from the election. We could not believe the exit polls, but when we woke in the night at 2pm we stayed up until 3:30am fascinated by what was developing and that the exit polls, predicting a hung parliament, were right after all.
We eventually left early the next morning for the sea lock of the Caledonian Canal, half an hour later than expected and made good progress through the initial staircase locks to Caley Marina, but they had no berths available and so we headed on through Tomnahurish Swing Bridge toward Dochgarroch lock where we planned to berth. Two miles on from Tomnahurish Swing Bridge, we passed another yacht, Tiftie, going in the opposite direction – they gave us a friendly wave and Ian thought the helmsman looked rather like Ken Falcon who he was at university with – Ros immediately looked up “Ken Falcon Tiftie” and found their blog “TIFTIE – around mainland Britain and beyond” so we did an immediate “U” turn and tried to call them on the VHF radio on the Canal channel 74 to no avail. Ian then called up the Swing Bridge operator at Tomnahurich to ask him to give the crew of Tiftie a message that they’d just passed the Sutherlands and that we were coming back to rendezvous with them.
Tiftie – best restaurant on the water we’ve been to for a long time!
Meanwhile at the swing bridge, Tiftie and her crew were waylayed by the swing bridge operator who kept the bridge closed – “friends of your are coming back to meet you”. Ken said later, “we knew some Sutherlands, but they were in Bristol – they could not possibly be up here, I thought it may be some Sutherlands who knew the previous owner as our boat was well known in the area”. But then we turned up and all became clear. A great reunion took place and a wonderful improvised meal and lots of wine was enjoyed by all. They tried to persuade us to turn round and join them on the way to the Orkneys. It was tempting, but we decided to take the easy option of heading west.
Sunset from Tomnahulich Swing Bridge after a wonderful meal on Tiftie
Next day Tiftie left early at 8am and had already passed under the Moray of Firth Bridge by 10am. They continued all day arriving in Wick at about 10:30pm in the evening. In contrast, we left in the afternoon after the rain stopped, had wind on the nose in Loch Ness and had to motor all the way to our planned overnight destination of Temple Quay, one third of the way down Loch Ness near Urquart Castle. We arrived at 4pm, both had a nap and then enjoyed a leisurely meal.