Clyde to Caledonian Canal
The best cruise in Europe?
Increasingly the trip to the Caledonian Canal from the Clyde is becoming a “must do” for boaters of all types and experience levels hence we thought we should give our tips for this iconic trip.
We should add that at the time of writing this we have done most of the journey with the Crinan Canal still to do, so we don’t have in-depth knowledge of that small part. The good news though is there are lots of guides online for that can help you with that part of the trip, at https://www.scottishcanals.co.uk/canals/crinan-canal/
The Clyde Estuary is well worth exploring so although the trip starts here you might want to spend a day or so having a closer look around this area.
For those of you who are sailing up from further south, a short sail/ motor into Glasgow under the Erskine bridge is one option and if you have young children (or are young at heart) then tying up at the Science Centre in the city is a great way to spend a few hours.
Note: The Clyde does get narrow at this point so most sailing boats will be under power when passing under the Erskine Bridge.
In the opposite direction we would recommend the short trip down Loch Long and then down Loch Goil. As you turn into Loch Goil the views are stunning and make this small detour an absolute must. Please note that around this area, Helensburgh, Rhu etc you will also notice a lot of naval activity due to the Faslane Naval Base so just be on the lookout.
There are numerous marinas that are great to start this journey from but some of our favourites include Inverkip ( good slip, launching crane etc) Rhu Marina (friendly and only a short walk of around 2 miles to Helensburgh) or Largs which probably has the best facilities of the Marinas and best local shops.
Wherever you start your first stage if around the Kyles of Bute and the rest of the route there are many places to stop but one of our favourites is Tighnabruaich. This is a lovely little town with a few great pubs that do local seafood. Please note that there is a local shop but we would recommend getting any supplies in Tarbert, on Loch Fyne.
Heading round the corner up Loch Fyne towards the start of the Crinan Canal you have a choice of where to stay. On your port side you will find Tarbert Marina which is ok and does have a nice town to explore, with some good local restaurants. The best thing though about Tarbert is the fish shop that is hidden on a back street on the other side of the harbour from the marina. Your other option is to call in at Tarbert if you need supplies but stay at probably one of the best marinas in the UK, just across the Loch at Portavadie.
Tarbert Marina on Loch Fyne
Portavadie is simply stunning and looks like something out of a film set. The spa swimming pool must have some of the best views of any pool in the world, straight up and over the Loch, and the food in the restaurant is top notch. The Marina itself is immaculate and the staff could not be more helpful, making it one of the jewels of Scotland’s west coast.
Please visit http://www.portavadie.com/ for more information
Leaving the marina is a short trip to the very scenic Crinan Canal where we suggest you look at the following link for navigation details.
Crinan Canal details http://www.waterscape.com/media/documents/21281
For those of you with a bit more time and fancy a nice lunch/ dinner then the Oyster Catcher at Otter Ferry is well worth a look and is only about a mile away from the entrance to the Crinan on the other side of Loch Fyne.
Having navigated through the canal you arrive at Crinan itself which is a small sleepy village popular with tourists and boaters alike. Before you leave the Crinan basin we strongly recommend you head towards the jetty where the main boats are at the westerly end and look for the path that climbs up a steep but short hill giving stunning views of the lochs.
Leaving the Crinan we suggest another small detour to Ardfern and have a look at the amazing houses on the islands. Ardfern Marina is also nice and friendly and has a very laid back feel. The village is a 5 minute walk away and the local shop does sell the basics and ice cream for those who have sweet tooth.
Either way when you leave the Crinan you enter some of the best boating location anywhere in the world with a huge number of options.
Our tip would be to head to Craobh Haven and spend a few days exploring the amazing waters and make trips to Colonsay or into the bay just south of Ardnacraig and tie up at the jetty for a short walk to Tayvallich. Please note that there are longer ways round to Colonsay if you are not feeling brave or you can avoid the worst of Corryvreckan by staying close to Jura. For those of you unfamiliar with this stretch of water please see http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/glasgowandwestscotland/hi/people_and_places/nature/newsid_8495000/8495954.stm
Just exploring round Craobh Haven is a great way to spend anywhere from a few hours to a day and this is when you will wish you had far more time than you have; even with good weather planning what time you have left sitting in the pub next to the marina is not a bad way to spend the night. If you are looking to eat there though we would suggest getting in as early as you can as the seafood sells very quickly.
Once you head to Kerrera, Lismore and up past Oban, like most people call in at the famous Pierhouse Restaurant at Port Appin ( you will need to book in advance) for some of the best seafood anywhere in the area. If time permits you might want to look at the south of Mull and head to Lochbuie. This is a very short detour and is a great place for a stopover or late lunch due to the stunning landscape. Lochbuie is small place but is well worth a visit but it’s not the best place for shelter if the winds get up. For more information on this isolated village please look at http://www.lochbuie.com/
Another magical place to visit is the castle on Lismore. This is a personal favourite of ours due to this being where we first learned how to sail and the very short trip around this island, passing close by Castle Stalker and watching the many seals still brings back happy memories.
Just past Lismore on the most northern side is the Kingairloch Estate and if you are a fan of wild venison this will become a place that you will remember for the rest of your life. The wild venison here is the best I have eaten and incredibly cheap. This estate is typical of this route i.e a hidden gem that is tucked away but will give you memories that will last a life time.
At this point you are not far away from Fort William but once again this magical route gives you options and though Loch Eil is beautiful our tip would be Loch Leven that sits below the mountains of Glencoe. Along with the usual tourist attractions there is also an indoor ice wall centre, good fishing and the pubs have a mixt of walkers, tourists and boaters all sharing stories.
Arriving in Fort William you will find several places you can stay before heading back or going into the Canal but before you do it is well worth enjoying the local hospitality, stocking up on provisions and for those of you feeling fit why not take a bus to Ben Nevis and climb the UK’s largest mountain. For more information please visit http://www.visitfortwilliam.co.uk/
For those returning back to the Clyde most people stop off to see more of the many interesting attractions that they passed on their outward journey or go back via a slightly different route.
For others who have more time then we would recommend heading further north to Ullapool and beyond stopping at places like Plockton and our favourite area of Shieldaig and Torridon.
Whatever you do, we hope that this has inspired you to go and visit some of the most amazing coastline in the world.