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ACTIVE OUTDOORS: Trip down memory lane on waterside wheel taking in Carnarc Point, Merkinch nature reserve and the Caledonian Canal in Inverness

By Hector MacKenzie

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A view across to the city's harbour.
A view across to the city's harbour.

This water-fringed jaunt from South Kessock's Carnarc Point to Dochgarroch Locks on the famous Caledonian Canal can be completed on foot or bike.

I opted for wheels because I was unsure how long it would take and was aware of commitments back at home later in the day – and because I wanted to road test repairs made to my ancient Claud Butler Virago, bought second-hand from a lovely bloke in Elgin for £50.

Carnarc Point is nicely interpreted with signs inviting the modern-day stroller to reflect on days gone by. Some 2500 years ago, our distant relatives may have built a crannog there on one of many wee rocky islands in the mouth of the River Ness.

The tide made it hard to get to the crannog unless you knew the secret path through the mud, often covered by the sea. Over time, the word 'crannog' became 'cairn arc' which turned into 'Carnarc'.

The start of the adventure at Carnarc Point in South Kessock.
The start of the adventure at Carnarc Point in South Kessock.

Thoughtfully provided picnic tables and benches feature carvings pointing to land use in days gone by with views over to the bustling Inverness harbour.

My ponders were first interrupted by a doleful cooing pigeon (let's call him Percy) and then an exuberant dog named Dexter, being chased by a young girl. They were both happy and so was I with this fine starting point.

Before reaching the old ferry pier just a few hundred metres away, pause for a moment to reflect on the scene of the South Kessock Ferry Disaster of February 23, 1894 in which six men – amongst them three coastguards – lost their lives in a storm.

Raised on the Black Isle, it brought back for me memories of car and bicycle journeys across on the wee Eilean Dubh ferry from North Kessock before the landmark bridge now dominating the scene was opened in 1982, the familiar clank of ramp on pier as she was expertly manoeuvred into place coming back to me.

The Merkinch Local Nature Reserve is well signposted at the Beauly Firth viewpoint next to the ferry pier and is, I suspect, a still under-appreciated local asset within the city. It's a short 1km to the start of the canal along a well-constructed path with tempting side trips into the reserve.

I cycled part of the path where I could see there were no walkers ahead. Call me old fashioned but I dislike being buzzed by cyclists I can't see coming behind me (I can be an angry walker and driver too... just depends!).

The main path along Merkinch Nature Reserve.
The main path along Merkinch Nature Reserve.

Twitchers with long lenses trained on mudflats looked excited. That made me aware of beautiful birdsong around me, all I could hear apart from the gravel under my feet. An elderly couple passed the time of day as I wheeled past them. The simple little exchanges you savour on a solo jaunt.

After negotiating the railway crossing at the end of the reserve, there was time to pedal around the Muirtown basin, encountering more walkers enjoying a Sunday stroll. I perused signage pointing to the 60-mile Great Glen Canoe Trail and considered its call to "skill, strength, determination and above all, wisdom on the water". Flashbacks to iffy capsize rolls in the swimming pool let me think this was one for another day.

And so down the Caledonian Canal towpath from Clachnaharry to Muirtown Locks and onwards towards Dochgarroch. It's a lovely way to escape the city without the need for motorised transport and to get a feel for the game-changer this piece of engineering was.

Twenty-one years from first survey to its opening in 1822 with 22 miles of artificial cuttings that connected lochs along the Great Glen to create an inland shipping route. Not bad going. That's about the going timespan to get a pothole filled these days.

You pass atmospheric Tomnahurich Cemetery – the Fairy Hill of Inverness – along the way. As I made may way by allotments at Dalneigh and toward the clinking masts of Caley Marina I encountered a very happy angler who was clearly away with the fairies, clutching a tin of lager in one hand and a rod in the other, possibly fabricating tales of the one that got away.

Loch Dochfour and Loch Ness ahead as Dochgarroch marks the end of the line.
Loch Dochfour and Loch Ness ahead as Dochgarroch marks the end of the line.

The bright flowering whin bushes were a pleasant companion along the way, the silence broken only by birdsong and the occasional panting of a jogger or chatter of walkers. The path is a little bumpy in parts but nothing my bone-shaker couldn't handle.

A long line of berthed boats gradually announces arrival at Dochgarroch Lock after what was a very pleasant trundle along a generously wide path with room for all. It's fascinating to see how the River Ness and Caledonian Canal relate to one another en route with notorious Loch Ness looming large just a little ahead.

I savoured the moment, enjoyed the only apple I had brought as a snack (never has a Pink Lady tasted better) and headed back on the other, bumpier, side of the canal. With meanders and time to absorb info along the way, it had only taken a couple of hours one way. Next time, I'll hoof it – and bring a picnic.

There's no chance of getting lost.
There's no chance of getting lost.

Route details

Merkinch Nature Reserve and the Caledonian Canal

Distance 11 miles / 19km

Terrain Canal towpaths and path through nature reserve

Start/finish Carnarc Point, South Kessock, Inverness

Map OS Landranger 26

A gentle jaunt looking back at 200 years of history along the Caledonian Canal in Inverness

From South Kessock looking out to the bridge.
From South Kessock looking out to the bridge.

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