Editors note: Edward Garrett and his 26-year-old son Will just returned from a week’s sailing on the Scottish Highlander. This is his report. His son is reporting on the trip from his perspective in a separate blog on this site.
Over the past several years an emergent group of travelers have found European luxury Barge cruises a way to solve their “Been there, done that” dilemma, and few do it better than European Waterways.
Established in 1974, European Waterways offers 27 luxury barges that cruise throughout Europe and Great Britain with air conditioned en suite cabins, gourmet meals, fine wines and interesting shore excursions. Each barge is unique in its furnishings and cuisine, and gently cruises from one peaceful mooring to the next through carefully selected rivers and canals.
For this trip we selected the Scottish Highlander, which cruises Scotland’s’ Caledonian Canal (including Loch Ness) from Dochgarroch to Fort William. The cruise passes by ancient castles and navigates numerous locks as it passes through the heather-covered Scottish Highlands and past Ben Nevis, Scotland’s’ highest mountain at 1,344 meters. It is an absolutely beautiful trip and an excellent way to enjoy these somewhat remote environs in comfort and leisure.
This is a barge, not a cruise ship
Let me put this experience into perspective. This is a barge, not a cruise ship. The Scottish Highlander is 117 feet long and a little over 16 feet wide. There are no climbing walls, casinos, movie theaters or dance classes here. No television or internet (a very good thing indeed), and even cell phone connections are spotty. Interior space and cabin size is necessarily small, and the boat carries a maximum capacity of up to eight passengers.
With these things in mind, a review comparing a luxury barge cruise to a traditional cruise ship simply does not equate. With this understanding, let me introduce you to the Scottish Highlander experience.
Guests are met by the cruise tour guide Loren at the Glenmoriston Town House Hotel (more about this lovely hotel later) located on the River Ness in Inverness, and taken to the ship’s mooring in Dochgarroch or Fort William, depending on which way your individual cruise is passing through the Caledonian Canal (the direction alternates weekly). My first impression of the Scottish Highlander is that she has a first-rate appearance. She is narrow, has large windows on both sides of the boat from fore to aft, and looks well maintained.
Once on board, there are five steps down into a mahogany walled saloon with brass fittings, furnished in comfortable leather seating over tartan carpeting. The room includes the aforementioned seating area, dining room table for eight and large windows with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Finished off with landscape paintings and tasteful wall sconces, the room’s effect is that of rustic comfort. Coffee, tea, fruit and cookies are always available on a sideboard, and a self serve bar including a very nice assortment of single malt whiskies is located at the far end of the saloon.
Interior space and cabin size are necessarily small
Traveling forward along a narrow passageway are three twin- or double-bedded cabins and a suite, each named after a Scottish clan: Macpherson, Mackintosh and Frazer cabins and the Cameron suite.
Each accommodation continues the brass fittings, mahogany and tartan decor and includes en suite bathrooms. To be certain, the cabins are small at 11’ 6” by 6’ 10”, with the Cameron Suite larger at 12’ by 12’ 4”; but high wide windows (that open) and a good continuation of decor from the main saloon diminishes the effect.
The bathrooms are fully tiled and a tight fit with a toilet, sink and shower. Water pressure is good and hot water abundant. A drawback for a person of large stature are the cabin showers, which are quite small. At 5”11’ and 195 pounds the fit was tight but feasible for me. A rotund 250 pounder would probably not fit within its confines. Shampoo, washing gel, hand soap, hair dryers, towels and bathrobes/slippers are provided. The barge is wired for 240 volts throughout except for one 110 volt socket in each bathroom. Converters and adapter plugs are necessary for all 240-volt outlets.
The single beds are 3 ft x 6 ft. 6”, and doubles are 6 ft x 6” with two usable foam pillows provided for each bed. A thread count of about 300 is utilized for sheeting making sleeping arrangements less than luxurious, but quite comfortable.
Housekeeping was excellent and unobtrusive, with linen changes and general cleaning done while guests are on excursions. In the saloon, tables were cleared immediately and the seating area cleaned regularly. In general, the boat was spotless during our entire cruise. We even managed to get a small amount of laundry done.
Guests are met upon arrival with champagne, canapes and an introduction to the crew of four: Captain Dan, Chef Dale, Hostess Christine and Tour Guide Loren. I found the entire crew very gracious and professional in their abilities throughout the cruise. In fact, guests were warmly treated the entire time with no exception, adding a great deal to the overall experience.
Next: Meet our traveling companions and hear about the fabulous food
A brief word about the Glenmoriston Town House Hotel in Inverness. This lovely property is located in a beautiful setting directly on the River Ness, a five minute walk from city center.
Its 30 guestrooms are elegantly decorated with soft wool carpeting, comfortable beds, flat screen TV’s and wi-fi internet connectivity. The hotel’s Abstract restaurant is stylish and award-winning, and its piano bar offers a huge list of malt whiskies. The hotel is absolutely perfect for overcoming jet lag prior to boarding the Scottish Highlander. Call well in advance for reservations.