Caledonian Canal – Training Exercise


Oar Blimey chose to row through the Caledonian Canal as their first training exercise because the waters are generally sheltered, they’re not tidal, the prevailing winds are consistent and if help was required, it was never too far away.

Ultimately, the plan was to get George and Russ familiar with:

  • The boat
  • It’s layout
  • Balancing and moving around
  • Trimming and weight distribution 
  • Functioning as a team in a confined space
  • Cooking, sleeping and performing other daily essentials (such as using the bucket)!

The Caledonian Canal was constructed in the early nineteenth century by Scottish engineer Thomas Telford.  At 60 miles long, it connects the Scottish east and west coasts at Inverness and Fort William (Corpach) using natural lochs in the Great Glen including Loch Ness and Loch Lochy. One third of the entire length is man-made with locks used to raise and lower water levels to 32 metres above sea level.  There are 29 locks (including eight at Neptune’s Staircase, Banavie), 4 aqueducts and 10 bridges across the canal’s length.

Day 1 - Travelling

At 6:00am Team Oar Blimey were met by George (Judda) Kirkwood, the campaigns transport manager.  He drove the team 380 miles from Mansfield to Fort William, stopping only for breakfast and to refuel next to the famous Glasgow Rangers Ibrox football stadium. After 10 hours, Judda deserved his well-earned dinner and a pint!


Crossing the border into Scotland
A quick refuel stop and photo of Ibrox stadium
Stunning scenery at Glen Coe
Judda enjoying his well-earned dinner

Day 2 - Climbing Ben Nevis

Team Oar Blimey at Ben Nevis summit

At 1,345m high, Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles. Conquering the Ben was a bucket list item for Russ, so the boys took the opportunity to pull-in this climb before they started their training row.  The weather was glorious sunshine, and the boys took 4 hours to reach the summit which was completely snow covered.

Day 3 – Caledonian Canal - Corpach to Laggan Lock

Oar Blimey were the first customers to launch a boat from the newly built slipway at the Thomas Telford Marina at Corpach – before it was officially opened! This was really fitting because this was Team Oar Blimey’s first launch also.  Princess Anne will be opening the marina on the 18th of April.

It was a beautiful sunny morning, and the surrounding scenery was post-card picture perfect.  Russ and George’s legs were aching from the mountain climb, but they were excited about getting their rowing exercise started.

They launched the boat and rowed it around the marina pontoons and into the first canal lock. George couldn’t contain his smile as the water from the higher lock level swished and gushed past the boat.  Once the water levels had equalised, they rowed into the second lock and met a lovely couple Mick and Caroline.  They were sailing their boat (Vicharmon) which they recently purchased following Mick’s retirement.  With military backgrounds, Russ and Mick hit it off immediately and Mick let Oar Blimey raft up to Vicharmon  (join together) to pass through Neptune’s Staircase locks.

Judda provided coffee and cakes as it took 3 hours to get through this section of the canal.

The Scottish Canal staff were extremely helpful, and George commented that ‘they had the best office in the world’.  At that, they allowed George to operate the canal lock sluices and gates on Neptune’s Staircase!

Travelling through Neptune's Staircase rafted to Vicharmon

The boys rowed along the peaceful canal and tranquil lochs for approximately 22 miles, stopping at Laggan Locks where they spent their first night onboard. 

With newly blistered hands…Russ and George also realised they had forgotten their sun protection…ouch! However, the Eagle Barge floating pub provided some comfort to the boys and Judda drove along to meet them.

Team Oar Blimey setting off on the Caledonian Canal

Day 4 – Laggan Lock to Fort Augustus

After a poor night’s sleep due to high winds blowing waves into the boat hull, team Oar Blimey managed to use the canal’s washing and shower facilities to wake themselves up. It was another beautiful day with the early morning Scottish mist rising from the surrounding woodlands and hillsides, however the next wake up moment came when the boys realised they had no pegs to dry their towels! Mick and Caroline provided some comfort with hot coffees before the boys rowed a further 10 miles into Fort Augustus (wet towels and all)!

En-route, they charged their mobiles and played around with the electronics.

Russ powering through the tranquil canal
George monitoring the chart plotter course

The wind gusts were predicted to reach 30 knots in Lock Ness that afternoon, and with 26 miles to row across the full length of the loch, the boys decided to stay put until the winds had passed.

George’s Aunt Nanette, Uncle Alex, cousin Brian and his wife Ali, rendezvoused with Oar Blimey at Fort Augustus and caught-up with the campaign progress over fish, chips and curry sauce….yum yum…mmmm!

Afterwards, Judda drove George and Russ to Inverness to assess the potential slipways where the boat could be recovered from the water…they also took the opportunity to hunt for Nessie, the elusive Lock Ness Monster!

Day 5 – Fort Augustus to Dockgarrock (across Loch Ness)

Waking up to a dry morning, the clouds were closing in fast and very heavy rain was forecast.  Foul weather gear was required from the start of the day to protect the boys from the anticipated conditions.

Rafted up to Vicharmon again, the boys negotiated the locks and descended down towards Lock Ness.  As soon as George started rowing, the rudder slipped, and the boats steering was lost leaving only oar power to steer the boat – which is not easy!  Luckily, the boys managed to reach the safety of the last pontoon before they ended up out in the vast open water of the loch.  Russ improvised by inserting a screwdriver through the rudder shaft and then tied it off with some rope to get the steering mechanism working again…clearly this will need attention before the next training exercise out in the Irish sea.

Russ steering across Loch Ness
A full rainbow between downpours
Big smiles after getting across Loch Ness

As the rain poured down, George and Russ rowed out into Loch Ness to start the marathon distance row. The weather was mixed with torrential rain, gorgeous blue skies and rainbows and the boys were concerned they would end up rowing in darkness by the end of the day. However, they rowed as a pair and with the tail wind behind them, they averaged 5 knots and crossed the loch in 5.5 hours.

Pot Noodle - Yum Yum Yummy!

When arriving at the Dockgarrock locks, it wasn’t long before the jetboil and pot noodles were out.  The weather eventually calmed down and the boys opted for an early night after completing their longest row so far.

Day 6 – Dockgarrock to Inverness (Caly Marina)

The clear night skies caused the outside temperatures to fall to around freezing and the cabin was much cooler.  The confined space and toasty sleeping bags made getting up difficult, but once the coffees and teas were made, it was all systems go.  Team Oar Blimey were the first boat through the lock gates at 8:30am as they made their way into Inverness which was only a couple of miles away.  Judda also had an early rise and transported the trailer from Fort William to Caly Marina at Inverness where the boat was safely recovered. He then had a further 470-mile drive back to Mansfield which he took in his stride. 

Recovering the boat at Caly Marina
Job done...Mission successful!


Scotland’s scenery is made up of diverse landscapes, dramatic mountains and glens, forests and moorlands. Seeing it from the aspect of the Caledonian Canal was breathtaking.

The objectives of the training exercise were fully met.  The rudder problem and steering loss tested George and Russ’s problem-solving abilities (and their relationship; another first)!.

The post exercise debrief meeting saw around 50 suggestions on how Oar Blimey can improve life on board the boat. George and Russ are now even more motivated to row across the Atlantic and Help People live with Dementia.

Oh…and one last thing…when George was watching the sun set across Lock Ness, he said he noticed something quite strange on the water….!