Travel bucket list idea:
Cruise the Scottish Highlands
Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)|
The ‘Great Glen’ is a geological gash that slices across the Scottish Highlands from the west coast to the east; the 60-mile, 19th-century Caledonian Canal follows its course, linking a string of lochs and canals to form a convenient watery highway – brilliant for cruising.
A voyage along this extraordinary waterway takes in some of Scotland’s most dramatic Highland scenery, from dun-coloured mountains to dense pine forest and shimmering lochs.
There are atmospheric sights like the dark, brooding waters of Loch Ness and the craggy ruin of Urquhart Castle; and there are opportunities along the way for hiking, cycling, kayaking and, of course, gin and whisky tasting.
Most Caledonian Canal cruises start from the West Coast port of Oban, the jumping-off point for the Hebrides, taking in Duart Castle and quirky, colourful Tobermory on the island of Mull, then sailing the length of Loch Linnhe before entering the canal at Fort William. Others head further north still to the Isle of Skye, combining the sea lochs of the West Coast with the canal transit.
Some itineraries include a trip on the dramatic West Highland Railway, too, regarded as one of the most scenic in the world.
This former medieval fortress, on the shore of the loch, once was the home of Scotland’s Grant Clan. Built in the 13th century, it was subsequently destroyed by the English in 1692 following the crushing of the Jacobite Rebellion at Culloden. You can watch a film of its history in the visitor centre.
Adult price: £10
Best for ages 13+
Getting there & doing it
Voyages along the Caledonian Canal through the Great Glen sail between two major and readily accessible Highland towns, Inverness and Fort William. Many start or finish further west, at the sea port of Oban, often exploring the Inner Hebrides and the sea lochs of the west coast for a couple of days before the canal transit.
Getting to either start point is part of the fun; the train journey from Glasgow to Oban is especially beautiful and a wonderful way to set the scene for the voyage to come. From Inverness, it’s an easy train ride to Edinburgh to add on a few more days in the vibrant Scottish capital.
Itineraries range from five days to a week, depending on destinations visited on the West Coast. The transit of the canal itself only takes three days, with ships mooring up at night.
When to do it
The main season for cruising Scotland runs from April to late September. Pack insect repellent for voyages for June onwards, when midges can be a nuisance.
Our writer’s recommended tour operators to book with
Fort William, Scottish Highlands, United Kingdom (UK)
Explore the Great Glen in the more informal setting of a 12-passenger crewed barge. Optional activities include hiking, cycling and kayaking, while occasional themed cruises are led by wildlife experts or walking guides.
Datchet, Berkshire, United Kingdom (UK)
Sail the Caledonian Canal on one of European Waterways’ two luxury barges, offering fine dining and activities such as castle visits and whisky tasting.
Hebridean Island Cruises
Scottish Highlands, United Kingdom (UK)
Hebridean’s Lord of the Highlands sails the Caledonian Canal, with variations including a few days exploring the islands of Mull and Skye before venturing into the canal. The all-inclusive ship takes 40 in luxurious style.
Dunoon, Argyll, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)
Operates tiny and very comfortable converted fishing boats out of Oban along the West Coast and to the Hebrides. Superb food and a house party vibe.
Destination guides including or relevant to this experience