The day started off quite cool with a thick mist, but before the morning was even halfway through, the mist lifted, and we were treated to the most glorious sailing through the Caledonian Canal. The reflections on the water, the buzzards overhead, the rolling mountains around us, and the cheerful children waving to us from shore made for a wonderful, sunny, and peaceful transit through multiple locks and swing bridges. The fireweed (known locally as rosebay willowherb) added splashes of pink to the verdant fields.

We learned about Thomas Telford and the engineering behind the canal from expedition leader Jess Todd-Marrone, which made it all the more interesting to pass through Neptune’s Staircase, eight consecutive locks that make up the longest staircase lock in Britain. The lock system was built between 1803 and 1822 and is still a marvel – lowering our ship 64 feet! From here, Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in Scotland, came into view, and we hopped off to meet our coach to Glenfinnan.

We had two main reasons for heading to Glenfinnan. The first was for a visit to the Jacobite Memorial, a 59-foot-high monument built in 1815 in memoriam to the Highlanders who gave their lives to the Jacobite cause. Eight months before the Battle of Culloden and in this spot, 1,200 clansmen pledged their allegiance to Prince Charles Edward Stuart, otherwise known as Bonnie Prince Charlie. The monument sits at the head of Loch Shiel, forming a lovely backdrop.

Our other reason for visiting this site is the viaduct across the way, which is the longest concrete railway bridge in Scotland and carries the West Highland steam railway. The viaduct and the steam train were more recently made famous as Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter films. At this time of year, the hillside is colored with bell heather.

A very sporty subgroup did the full hike from below the viaduct, above the 100-foot-high arches, and onwards to the train station for a ride back to Lord of the Glens and delicious refreshments and recap in a lively lounge setting in Corpach, looking out at Ben Nevis.