Scotland and Ireland
The British Isles are home to some wonderful rivers and canals, most notably in Scotland and Ireland. Both destinations tend to offer upmarket barge-cruising holidays. A cruise on the Caledonian Canal in Scotland provides some majestic and traditional sights, steeped in legend and myth and bloody battles, with rugged landscapes typical to the Scottish Highlands. A trip on the River Shannon typifies the friendly atmosphere of villages and towns in the Irish midlands.
Caledonian Canal- Scotland
At the heart of Scotland’s Great Glen, a series of lochs formed due to a geological fault in the Earth’s crust splitting the Scottish Highlands, the Caledonian Canal connects the east coast of Scotland to the west. Considered a masterpiece of engineering, the part man-made canal and part natural waterway travels from Inverness, a diverse and bustling city and the capital of the Highlands in the northeast, to Corpach, near Fort William in the West. A Caledonian Canal cruise will often include a visit to some of the lochs and islands of the west coast of Scotland as well as the length of canal from Fort William to Inverness. A cruise on these Scottish waterways offers spectacular mountain scenery, amazing wildlife (including the Loch Ness Monster), famous castles, whisky distilleries, and an abundance of golf courses, woolen mills, and friendly and welcoming locals.
Providing a first glimpse into the beauty of Scotland’s scenery in the north, the fishing port of Ullapool is nestled on the shores of the sea loch, Loch Broom. The main attractions in town include the Ullapool Museum, providing informational and educational explanations on the local traditions and customs, such as crafting and fishing. A bit further a field is Inverewe gardens, which has a tremendous amount of stunning flowers and shrubs, and the Victorian Spa town of Strathpeffer.
The groups of islands, known as the Summer Isles, lie approximately 1.5 miles from Achiltibuie at the mouth of Loch Broom. The islands are full of history, beauty, wildlife, picturesque cottages, otters, seals, and dolphins. Tanera Mor is the largest and only inhabited island, with a unique, but tiny post office, and a history reaching back to early Viking raids.
Surrounded by the steep, bare mountains in the western Highlands of Scotland is Loch Torridon, a sea loch with breathtaking scenery and the gateway to the Torridon highlands and ancient red sandstone rocks. Located at the edge of Loch Shieldaig, an inlet of Loch Torridon, is the pretty village of Shieldaig, which was constructed to provide housing and train soldiers of the Royal Navy.
Eigg, Iona, and Mull
The three islands of Eigg, Iona, and Mull are typically offered as shore excursions during a cruise on the Caledonian Canal. Eigg is a beautiful Hebridian island, characterized by An Sgurr, a jacked rock outcropping, affording spectacular views. Characterized by a turbulent past, the island has been a desirable place to settle since the Bronze and Iron ages.
The tiny island of Iona is thought to be the first Christian site in Scotland. The Iona Abbey is a very popular pilgrimage destination and many come to visit the graveyard, where numerous Norse, Scottish, and Irish kings are buried, the most well known among them being Macbeth.
The Isle of Mull is a large and unspoiled island with a large coastline. The Island is famous for its scenery of hills, waterfalls, caves, and beaches, as well as the popular 13th century Duart Castle, with lovely stateroom and dreary dungeons, where prisoners were held captive. The brightly coloured waterfront houses in the village of Tobermory provide a lovely backdrop to the charming narrow lanes and lively seafront.
The Caledonian Canal from Fort William to Inverness
From the Isle of Mull, the waterway enters Loch Linnhe and passes Lismore Island, entering an area where mountains rise steeply on either side on the way to Fort William and Corpach. Neptune’s Staircase, a series of eight interconnecting locks, begins at Corpach, marking the beginning of the Caledonian Canal. As the canal passes Loch Lochy, Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, looms into sight providing some enticing views, especially when still snow-capped in late spring or early summer. Continuing on, the canal enters another man-made section, called Laggan Avenue, and then enters The Laggan Locks, where in 1544, the feuding McDonnel and Fraser clans allegedly fought each other without their shirts due to the sweltering heat, resulting in the battle becoming known as the Battle of the Shirts. After the Laggan Locks comes Loch Oich, where the ruins of Invergarry Castle can be seen. The castle provided shelter to Bonnie Prince Charlie before and after the raging battles at Culloden Moor and was burned down in 1746 after the second Jacobite Rebellion. The canal passes through another five locks before Fort Augustus as it enters deeper into most famous loch in the world and Britain’s deepest body of fresh water: Loch Ness. Surrounded by mountains, the scenery is breathtaking, but the loch owes its fame to the legendary inhabitant, Nellie, the Loch Ness monster, which has been the subject of many tales, myths, and legends since the 6th century. In addition to the monster, a main attraction is the romantic ruin of the 13th century Urquhart Castle. Built on a strange rock outcropping, the castle is one of the most widely photographed places in Scotland. The canal then continues on to Inverness, Capital of the Highlands, which is a lively and bustling town with plenty of shopping, pubs, and delicious restaurants. Recently chosen as one of the fastest growing cities in the West, Inverness offers some interesting sights, such as Inverness Castle, St. Andrews Episcopal Cathedral, The Town House, The Kessock Bridge, and the very modern Eden court Theatre.
The River Shannon - Ireland
The river Shannon is the longest river in the British Isles and has been an important river since ancient times, helping shape the country’s social, economic, and political history throughout the ages. Flowing from north to south, starting at the foot of Tiltinblane Mountain in County Cavan and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean in the long estuary below Limerick, the river is a natural dividing line through Ireland. At the core of a vast network of inland waterways, including the Shannon-Erne Waterway and the Grand Canal, the river is home to over a dozen lakes and more than one hundred islands. As it winds its way through the country, the landscape abounds with marshes and meadows, castles and cottages, peat bogs and eskers (ice-age ridges found across Ireland), bridges, and Victorian locks. A cruise on the River Shannon and its labyrinth of waterways is a journey through the heart of Ireland, bringing to life Celtic myths and legends, and epitomizing the mystery, warmth, and charm of the Emerald Isle. The enticing highlights on a typical itinerary usually include: Athlone, the flourishing 13C garrison town; Banagher, Terryglass, Lough Ree and the perched village of Mountshannon; Galway - the lively and colorful university city and center of culture; and Killaloe.
Destination highlights on a River Shannon Cruise
Located on the banks of the River Shannon, Athlone is the capital of the Midlands and at the geographical center of Ireland. It has been used for centuries as a strategic crossing point and has had somewhat of a turbulent past. Athlone offers some lovely and interesting sights including the 13th century Norman castle at its center, Saint Peter and Paul’s Church, and the Abbey. The mooring point for Athlone is often at Clonmacnoise, an ancient monastic site with the ruins of a cathedral and eight churches as well as some spectacular Celtic crosses. Destroyed by the English in 1552, this historic site has been of religious importance since 545 AD and many kings of Connaught and Tara are buried here.
Happily situated on one of the prettiest stretches of the River Shannon between Lough Ree and Lough Derg, Banagher is a town with deep literary connections, having been home to Charlotte Bronte, Anthony Trollope, and Oscar Wilde’s father, William. Built to guard a crossing point of the Shannon, the town is still overlooked by the solid Martello towers and walls. Banagher is now one of the biggest boating centers on the river, with a large marina and plenty of shops and pubs. Surrounding the town is the Callows a vast tract of wet grasslands and water meadows, which are comprised of reed banks, green pastures, hay fields, and peat bogs. The area is just lovely in the summer when the meadows are covered with wild flowers and provides fascinating bird watching in the winter when it serves as a Congregating point for wading birds.
Located on the shores of Lough Derg in County Tipperary, is the picturesque and award-winning village of Terryglass. Popular for boating, the colorful and quaint town has a variety of craft shops, inns, and pubs, serving pints and pints of Guinness. It is a lovely destination and a great base from which to explore nearby Galway.
Galway is a medieval city, nestled in a scenic bay, an easy excursion from the River Shannon. One of the most impressive buildings in the city is the Hiberno-Romanesque Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and Saint Nicholas, which was built on the site of a former jail. An interesting testimony to the fusion of new and old in Ireland is Lynch’s Castle, which is considered one of the finest examples of a town castle in Ireland. Additionally, St. Nicholas Church, supposedly where Christopher Columbus prayed before setting off to discover the New World in 1492 is worth a visit, as well as an excursion to the 17th Portumna Castle. Galway also has a solid literary history and has been home to the likes W.B. Yeats, Patrick O’Connor, and Nora Barnacle, the wife of James Joyce. There are many things to do in Galway, among them, visiting an Irish crystal factory, perusing one of the many museums, or partaking in the many social events and festivals.
Situated at the southern end of Lough Derg, the largest of the Shannon lakes, is Killaloe, birthplace of the Irish High King, Brian Boru, who during his rule (1002 – 1014), routed the Vikings out of Ireland. The main attraction is the 12th – 13th century St. Falannan’s Cathedral. The town is joined to its twin town of Ballina by a bridge over the River Shannon. Together, these towns are steeped in history and provide some interesting sights, as does the Shannon Basin with its rolling hills populated with tiny villages.