From outer space, the Great Glen Fault appears as a straight dotted line transecting Scotland. On maps and charts, too, there is a dominant gash that attracts the eye; it stands out and immediately elicits the question “Why?” For us, the fault is a watery highway leading us westward through glacially-sculpted lochs connected by Thomas Telford’s ingenious series of canals and locks. How fortunate it was that geological processes did half the work of creating this shortcut across the countryside.

Mornings are a quiet and contemplative time before the early-riser’s coffee and before the engines roar to life. The village of Fort Augustus was slow to stir, its surrounding green hills washed clean by frequent showers. Once underway we continued our watery climb to Loch Oich, the apex of our transit (106 feet elevation). En route we learned of the amazing journey that geological puzzle pieces known as terranes took as they assembled to create the foundations of this land.

Once over the divide, it was time to start our transit to meet the sea, but first an unexpected honor guard of lush and verdant vegetation surrounded us as we traversed narrow Laggan Avenue. We popped in and out of the lounge to watch our passage downwards. First Laggan Locks, then Gairlochy, and finally Neptune’s Staircase eased us lower. And just as the salty sea seemed within our reach, the ship paused, allowing most of us to disembark and partake of our afternoon adventures.

A very select few guests chose to beat the rest to the intertidal zone, where they enjoyed a leisurely kayak adventure. Most guests set out on a visit to Glenfinnan, for years famous as the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived from France, but the poor Prince has now been surpassed by J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Crowds are drawn to the long and arching viaduct hoping to glimpse the real train, which, in the movie, was filled with imaginary characters en route to Hogwarts School. Many of us hiked along a meandering trail to view the viaduct in its entirety and savor the fascinating vegetation of the higher elevation. Heather was in bloom, painting the hillsides in patches of color; many species of fern were abundant, and bog myrtle emitted a pleasing fragrance. The balance of the group chose to stay on flatter terrain near the monument honoring the clans who joined with Bonnie Prince Charlie. Thanks to Anna, we gained a better understanding of the clan system.

Upon our return to the edge of the glen, we found our vessel moored at Corpach, where we boarded once again to enjoy a quiet evening.