Caledonian Raid :: Devoran GC test the water!

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Anne : “Hi, a little misunderstanding, we did not take part in the raid this year, we just rowed the canal there and back, the raid will take place again next year if anyone is interested.”

Devoran Pilot Gig Club to put the wind up Nessie!

At the end of May eleven rowers from Devoran Pilot Gig Club headed to the land of their tartan clad Celtic cousins to row the length of the Caledonian Canal across Northern Scotland.

The journey started at Inverness on the East Coast and progressed through Loch Ness, past Fort Augustus to Fort William.The return leg brought us back to the boatyard in Inverness. Obviously to complete such an epic voyage large quantities of fuel needed to be taken on board, and consequently a map of the pubs on route was carefully scrutinised. Evening wear, T shirts showing Nessie terrorising the Cornish raiders,were designed by Nick Brennan, a Devoran rower and freelance cartoonist.

The majority of the rowers slept on a cabin cruiser hired to accompany us on the trip. Others had volunteered to camp…. free camping being available along the canal and loch side.

We were the first Cornish gig club to attempt to row the length of the Caledonian Canal and back. Prior to departure we all sought sponsorship to raise money for Penhaligon’s Friends charity and equipment for the gig club.

We set out on Saturday 29th May and returned on June 5th.

On my return I recorded a few personal recollections from our trip.

“Have you got any more bright ideas”, I said to my wife Anne as at 3.40 on Saturday 29th May 2010 we set off in driving rain from the Caley Cruiser depot in Inverness to row the first stage of the Caledonian Canal. Three hours rowing into torrential rain brought us to the small private mooring of Urquhart Castle harbour near the village of Drumnadrochit. In the unfortunate absence of a loo or shower, we must have resembled bedraggled penguins on a detached ice flow as we huddled together on the Mother craft to plan our next move Apparently the village with facilities was only a short walk away. Two miles trudging into a Scottish monsoon as it transpired.

That night a lot of wet tired, steamy, bodies returned to our cramped vessel to try and find a space to lay their heads. Minutes later the ships loo suffered a mysterious blockage. By this time I was wondering if I had signed up to community service rather than a holiday and christened our new floating home, Highland Commander 1, the prison ship. Then, as we lay down to try and sleep the ship shuddered and rocked as a deafening roar descended from above. I presumed this to be a thunderstorm directly overhead. It was only on the second night under a clear sky that another explanation was obviously required. Steve Smith’s legendary snoring!

Well the weather improved, the lochs and hills revealed themselves in all their glory and we started to get into an effective rowing rhythm. The wind dropped away and the water assumed a glassy stillness. Only the click of the pins, the lapping of the oars, the sound of the gulls and Janet broke the silence. Lunch was prepared on the prison ship on an industrial scale and washed down with tea, coffee or highly potent ginger beer depending on taste. Once, rather quaintly the latter was served from the teapot.

Many of the party were experienced sailors and boatmen, Kipper Hughes ex lifeboat Coxen and Steve Smith ex trawler skipper shared command of the prison ship. Unfortunately not all of us had a nautical background and I stretched Skipper Kipper’s patience on several occasions when I got my foreads confused with my afts. At one point

Kipper kept referring to ‘windage’. I took this as a reference to Jenny’s post birthday cake burst of flatulence that could have downed a stag at 50 yards (apparently it referred to the effect of the wind on the prison ships mobility.

Legendary Cornish maid Jenny’s birthday proved a high point, celebrated as it was on a floating barge converted into a pub. A unique setting full of local characters who soon were entertained by a Cornish repertoire of humour ,songs and boisterous celebration Jenny wisely swapped her party frock for a life jacket to ensure her safe return.

As for the dreaded m word, banned by the Scottish tourist board, many of us never got bitten by a midge, others however like Sarah Treneer were treated like a Cornish takeaway. Jenny claimed that on her birthday night she got closer attention from the midges than from her husband Steve.

Steve, ‘you can take my wife

but you canny take ma paddle’ Smith ,was noted for his love of the local cuisine with the exception of one expensive steak meal that, shall we say, fell short of the mark. Anyway he took this solitary disappointment well and hardly mentioned it again( ‘oh Lord forgive me)

The highland culture was absorbed with Jenny and the girls jigging around to a tape of the bagpipes. I was fortunately rowing at this point as I appreciate the pipes more from a distance, preferably miles rather than yards. Daytime drinking of course was kept to a minimum although one day Steve, Rob and Kipper did manage a few bevvies,resulting soon after in Steve rushing around on deck claiming to have seen his old, Falmouth fishing trawler pass bye.After brief restraint he was dispatched below to sober up.

130 miles of water covered in 6 days, through 10 locks, past snow capped mountains, and through lochs of endlessly changing colours and mood. All completed with great company and in a good spirit.

(No, Anne, I didn’t say on the way home that one more day and I would have killed someone)

So a big thank you to Anne Williams for turning her inspirational idea into reality and for Rob and Steve for driving the gig all the way to the Highlands and back. I think it was their special Cornish fuel what did it.

As the Scots oft repeat, ‘you can take my wife, but you canny take my ginger beer’.

Dan Williams

Member of Devoran Pilot Gig Club and author of ‘Rowing with My Wife’.

UPDATE – 1/Jun Every gig rower should do this! As far as we know this is the first gig to row the Caledonian Canal! We are on our way back to Inverness. We did Inverness to Fort William in 13 hours now on our way back staying in Laggan tonight celebrating Jenny Smiths birthday on a floating pub. We have been on radio Cornwall and radio scilly.

28/May – From Anne @ Devoran GC – “Better late than never! I wanted to let you know about our very exciting trip to the Caledonian canal. As far as we know the first gif to do it. We wish Ralph was here to support Fear Not!
We plan to do a talk on our return and will have photos and video. If in future years there are 4 or 5 gig clubs who want to go up they will put on a class in the Caledonian Raid!

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  1. Jürgen Scheffler

    I am a member of the german rowing klub Homberger Ruderklub Germania,located in Duisburg Homberg near Düsseldorf, at the river Rhein.
    We have rowed at the continent of course, but also the river themse in UK and the river and louchs of the river shannon in Ireland. But we never had the possibility for rowing in Scotland.
    At my feasebility study for rowing the “lochness” and the caladonian canal I found your very interesting articel here.
    I am planing for 2012.
    wouldt it be possible to row with you or to rent gig rowing boats from your club? At that moment I can`t tell you how many people from our club are interested. I would be glad to hear some what from your side.
    best regards
    Jürgen Scheffler
    my email address :
    my club homepage :

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