Scotland is an interesting place, one minute its cold and rainy the next it’s warm and sunny. That didn’t stop our team completing our gold Duke of Edinburgh’s expedition. On 28th July, we set off along the Caledonian Canal starting at Loch Dochfour (Dochgarroch) heading to Neptune’s Staircase at Banavie. The aim of the expedition was to creating a leaflet to show our advertising parts of the canal.
Day 1 was relatively simple. Lunch at Urquhart Castle with dinner at the trail blazer campsite at Foyers. The castle was built around 580AD to give you an idea as to its age. It was interesting looking at everyone’s lunch choices. Tuna pouches to chocolate spread wraps. Where we parked our boats was also where the Jacobite Queen also parked. It was impressive watching such a large boat just nudging into the bank. Our campsite was a trail blazers site with the luxury of a compost toilet and permanent fire pit.
The primary aim for day 2 was to get to Fort Augustus before all the shops closed. Not that we could buy anything due to the rules. Along the way we stopped for lunch to have some more of those wraps. It was here we discovered the persistence of the midges and their immunity to all our insect repellent. By the time we arrived at Fort Augustus the wind had picked up. We had a choice of the river Tarff or the canal itself. After a brief discussion we opted to go up the river. It had a shorter portage journey. A short while later we had our camp set up at a fantastic campsite with flat soft grass. We made our way to the locks and to the Caledonian Canal Centre. The Centre had lots of information about the construction of the locks, the industries in the local area, and lots of souvenirs.
At this point we were aware of a change in the weather. We also knew of the massive distance we had to cover before the wind went beyond our limits. The first challenge of day 3 was packing all the kit away and moving the boats some 300meters without waking the other glampers (camper vans). We soon learnt that canoes on portage trolleys don’t do speed bumps or traffic. After a short time portaging we set off to Loch Oich. We had lunch just after we passed the Bridge of Oich. Our final campsite was at the ruins about halfway down Loch Lochy. Here we had an unofficial fire building competition with another group of paddlers. We let them win when we heard one of them chopping down a tree branch. We never found the ruins but we did find that the midges had made it into our tent overnight.
Day 4 started at 0500 with a lot of bite itching. The plan was to pick our supervisor up and to be off the loch by 10:00. We made it to Gairlochy just after 09:00 where we stopped for lunch. It was a little strange having lunch 09:30 but you have to go with the flow. We had a very tame robin join us for lunch. Clearly we were not the first group to have lunch there. After lunch we were confronted with a twisty stretch of canal with quite a strong headwind. Still we pressed on trying to find a viaduct. We never found it. Eventually the wind wore us down slowing the pace to that of a crawl. We rafted up and pressed on. We eventually came to Neptune’s Staircase in the same weather we started in, cold and rainy.
Neptune’s Staircase marked the end of our expedition and was a welcome sight.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Ulysses Trust and the RAF Charitable Trust for their generous grant to help facilitate the organising, planning and participation for the 2015 Gold Duke of Edinburgh Expedition. Also all the support from all the staff over the past couple of months getting the training done. Without your support this amazing experience would never happened. Thank you.