Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Walking on the Caledonian Canal

Although you can certainly have a good adventure and a wonderful cat by setting out intentionally to find them, I believe the best adventures and best cats find us. We had a few minutes to fill before getting to the hospital, so we drove into Inverness a route I had never seen before. And by serendipity, the roadway had just given way to allow three boats to pass. The last time I saw something similar, I was a girl of about 10 visiting Chicago. I left behind a hot fudge sundae to see a drawbridge rise up to let a tall masted boat slip through. I was expecting the same sort of thing here.

Morris grinned as he suggested that I take a closer look as he sat with the car in the line of traffic waiting. As I walked toward the masts sliding along the horizon, I kept expecting to see the road rise up. My landlubber mentality had room for only one method of removing a road to let boats pass. I got there and watched with a few other bemused pedestrians as the road pirouetted on a massive girding. The supports and asphalt surface rolled back into place and snapped in much like a snug-fitting Tupperware lid. The teeth that had recently opened wide enough to let out a Balrog were now lined up like well-behaved jack o lantern teeth. I had just seen my first swing bridge.

Once the boats had safely passed by, I noticed that there were a series of locks. The three boats huddled closely together as they waited for the water to rise. I expected to see huge jacuzzi water jets or fire hoses pouring the water in like filling a swimming pool for the opening day of the summer season. Instead, the water roiled up from the bottom, the only indication of its power in its swift ascent reflected in the movement of the boats.

Alongside the canal, the two sailors on the smallest boat, a "smack", were working to keep it from veering away from the edge or being pulled too closely into the steep black walls. It was not easy. The woman on the front of the boat seemed new to this procedure. I have been on boats a very few times, but I hastily put down my camera and grabbed the line when I saw her struggling with the bow line. And then, in proper British, but too late, "Mind your fingers!" as she tangled them under the line around a little bollard designed to hold boats steady. She got her fingers free without serious injury, but her hand was sore and bleeding. That mishap provided the opportunity for Morris and another observer to take the rope in hand and help them walk their boat along the canal. Getting the boat to move forward was easier than getting it to stay still in the rising water.

As Morris and the other spectator (more about him in a minute) hauled the bow line for the lassagie, I went to the car to see if we had a bandaid (an "elastoplast" in local parlance) or some other first aid. Alas, all that was in the other car, but I picked up a copy of my husband's book and took that back with me. On the front I wrote our names and address and email information. I handed it to the young woman and said that when they came sailing north on their way to Orkney, they should stop by. I think they might actually do it, but at least it took the attention away from her hand.

By now the other spectator had joined our party but we had not yet spoken, so I asked about him and discovered that he was a hillwalker and had been with a group but a member of their party had fallen 150 feet off a cliff and so the party, as you could well imagine, came to a halt. The climber who fell was safely in hospital with a broken rib and other damage but expectations for a full recovery in time. So the hillwaker, the farmer, and the transplanted American hauled this small boat along a lock of the Caledonian canal and then we all went our separate ways with a few hugs and handshakes and waves. Perhaps that's the end of the adventure.

P.S. Parish Life on the Pentland Firth is the title of the book. I first made acquaintance with Morris at the local highland games where I bought a copy of his book. In my travel diary that night I wrote simply, "Met a local farmer-author and bought a copy of his book." But that's another adventure for another day.