The Spirit of Scotland

<strong>The Spirit of Scotland</strong>

By Robert Scott

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Alas, my Scottish vacation is fading into memory, a wonderful memory but over just the same. The worst days were the first and the last: the inconvenience and downright discomfort involved in commercial airlines. With over ten hours in the air plus another six or eight sitting, waiting, at various airports, I can only say that air travel has gone way down hill since the airlines were deregulated during the Carter administration, almost 50 years ago.

But boat travel has, if anything, improved – at least such boat travel as my six-day, luxuriously slow-paced journey aboard The Spirit of Scotland, the passenger barge (flat-bottomed and only drawing about four feet) currently plying the Caledonian Canal through the Scottish highlands. I had the foresight (this wasn’t my first rodeo) of spending a few days in Inverness before and after the cruise, insulating my memories from the interminable airlines at either end. The cruise itself was marvelous.

Both the east and west coasts of Scotland are marked by what would be called fjords in Norway, but firths in Scotland. The Caledonian Canal and the Great Glen that it follows lie across the Highlands. linking the Moray Firth and Inverness on the North Sea to the east, with the Firth of Lorne and Fort William on the Atlantic to the west. The natural beauty of the Great Glen is stunning, including Loch Ness and its fictional monster Nessy as well as several smaller lakes and a number of towns with scenic canal locks, all dating from the 1800s when the canal was dug through. The Great Glen was the highway across Scotland during the 18th century Jacobite wars, when members of the ousted Catholic Stuart royal line from Scotland tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to regain the British throne from their Protestant cousins William (III) and Mary (II), Anne, and the three Kings George (George I, II, and III). The Glen is punctuated by castles and fortifications from that era, overlooking Loch Ness as well as other lakes and rivers. Since that rebellion was the last time opposing armies fought one another on British soil, the castles are still there in picturesque but very romantic decay. 

The Spirit of Scotland itself is like a floating four-star hotel, especially during before-the-season cruises like this one. The crew outnumbered the guests, so service was personal and pampering. At each of our six stops, the tourguide, a member of the crew, either took us to a castle or brought entertainment aboard. One night it was a bagpipe musician who by day was a professional tailor and wore a kilt he had made and socks his mother had sewn. Another night, two singers of Scottish ballads.

I’ll wrap it up on that note. If you can travel, visit Scotland. If you are very lucky, you will enjoy it as much as I did. And insulate yourself from air travel with a few days just to relax!