They say that Scotland only has about three “Highs” per summer, and by “Highs” we mean a period of high pressure where the sun is shining most of the time. We were lucky to experience one of them last year, but now, perhaps because of the election, and the loss of seats by the SNP, Scotland is experiencing a series of “Lows”. It’s teasing weather – the sailer’s windfinder app seems to be the most reliable – it predicted sunshine this morning at 7am and sure enough, we awoke to sunshine and made an early start to visit Urquhart Castle. Ian had tried to walk there the evening before, but gave up, as there were no coastal paths and the road was busy with traffic, which spoilt the feeling of isolation and remoteness you get when on a boat.
Urquhart Castle looked impressive from the Loch. It was once one of Scotland’s largest castles, it saw great conflict during its 500 years as a medieval fortress. Control of the castle passed back and forth between the Scots and English during the Wars of Independence. The power struggles continued, as the Lords of the Isles regularly raided both castle and glen up until the 1500s.
The last of the government troops garrisoned there during the Jacobite Risings blew up the castle when they left. Urquhart’s iconic ruins remain, offering glimpses into medieval times and the lives of its noble residents.
Urquhart castle from Loch Ness
Sun turned to cloud and then turned to rain as our dress turned from jeans to full wets and eventually bluff and hood. Ros, when we started, tried a bit of sunbathing while listening to the “Andrew Marr” show – the ongoing politics were still intriguing us.
No sailing yet – the light wind was again from the south west exactly “on the nose” so we set the autohelm to track toward the canal entrance at Fort Augustus and both put our feet up – there was not much traffic on the Loch and we did not see any monsters. While Ros “Andrew Marr’d”, I whipped a few ropes and wharfs to prevent them fraying.
Motoring head-into-wind SW down Loch Ness
Radioing through to Fort Augustus Lock we were told we were ahead of 3 cabin cruisers and that we should berth on the pontoon to wait for them and then they’d let us through. But after we’d berthed the lock keepers (there were two of them) told us they had a problem – the top lock hydraulics had failed and they had a number of boats “stuck” in the top lock, so first they had to get them down, then get an engineer to fix the broken pipe and then we’d be on our way – which is why, for a change, the twins, Skye and Vyvyan got post cards and we were able to send letters to other friends in the old-fashioned way. Eventually after a three hour wait and time to provision, post letters/postcards and have lunch we were told we could go. The lock keeper though was a bit like a film producer trying to stage manage the entrance to the lock. First the large yacht on the starboard side followed by the cruiser in front of us and then the large cruiser behind us on the port side followed by us behind her.
What was amazing in Fort Augustus was that the raising of four boats through the four locks in the staircase was like theatre in the round. There were crowds of people surrounding the locks and taking pictures from atop the lock gates. Even prior to departing we felt like pop stars for Chinese tourists, holding their hands boat-to-shore for their pictures to be taken for their folks back home.
Proceeding up the Fort Augustus staircase lock in the rain – Ros distinctive in her yellow
Finally, we berthed on a pontoon at the top of the Fort August staircase locks – planning to relax rather than rush – visit the butcher and wine merchant the next day and set off with a well provisioned boat – ready for anything. Great meal again on the boat with the rain beating intermittently on the roof making us feel warm and secure – not quite strong and stable, but near enough, and much more sustainable!