EASING through the lock, we wave back at the cheery lock keeper and sail into the wide waters of another cobalt Highland loch. Mountains soar on both flanks as we set a course for the mooring where we’ll cook burgers over an open fire while we enjoy a wee dram.

Welcome to the Caledonian Canal, the remarkable historic waterway that is celebrating its 200-year anniversary and stacks up brilliantly for a self-guided boating holiday.

Thomas Telford’s Caledonian Canal really is an engineering marvel. It vaults for 60 miles from Fort William on the Atlantic Ocean, right across to Inverness. It’s not just canals, as it uses controlled rivers and a series of four great lochs – Oich, Dochfour, Lochy and – of course – Loch Ness.

In total there are 29 locks and 10 swing bridges. That sounds daunting, but they never let you leave Le Boat hire base at Laggan Locks until you’re set. Our instructor Brian teaches us the ropes – the engine, electrics and navigation buoys too.

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“Even complete beginners can take a boat and enjoy a holiday on this wonderful canal. Learning how to handle the boat is easy and all part of the fun,” he says.

We push west under big Highland skies, the only boat on Loch Lochy. Settling in, we explore our Magnifique-class vessel. It’s spacious with an open-plan galley and dining area. There are four cabins, ideal for our two families, with the adults in double cabins fore, the kids in en suite twins aft. You can steer down below but we found you can see much more on the upper deck – it has its own helm and a table with chairs, plus a wee drinks fridge.

The lock is closed by the time we arrive at Gairlochy, so we head off for a splash about on the stand-up paddleboards we hired from Le Boat. You can hire bikes too, with the towpaths ideal for cycling, walking and early-morning jogs. Our first night ends in what becomes the week’s rhythm – an end-of-cruise beer, followed by dinner aboard and then a wee dram on the upper deck.

One of the most enjoyable attractions of cruising the Caledonian Canal is that there is so much to do en route. On our second day, it is dreich, so we moor up by the spectacular Neptune’s Staircase flight of locks and take a taxi into Fort William to see a movie at the swish new Highland Cinema. Handily, they also do mean Neapolitan-style pizzas in their genuine Italian oven. On a sunnier day, we could have hiked up Ben Nevis, or taken a trip on the Jacobite steam train across Glenfinnan Viaduct.

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Heading back east, the cruising starts in earnest as we take on the locks and swing bridges. It’s all straightforward as the lock keepers work them both. You just approach and wait for their instructions, throwing them your ropes when they’re ready and holding fast as the lock levels rise or descend.

I recommend having three adults aboard for this – one on the helm and one each at the bow and stern.

Every night we moor, choosing spots to suit our mood. One night, it is busy Fort Augustus where we enjoy fish and chips by the famous flight of locks and a pint in the Lock Inn.

Another evening, we moor in Urquhart Bay Harbour, eking around Urquhart Castle, which looks at its best from low down in the water, foreboding and powerful as it surveys the deep waters of Loch Ness. All the water in all the lakes in England and Wales put together wouldn’t fill epic Loch Ness.

Our favourite mooring is Invergarry. We spend two nights in this wee inlet on Loch Oich. There is no electricity, nor a pub – but we do have a castle ruin just above us, a shipwreck to paddle around and a protected bay to relax in.

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There is a fireplace onshore, too, so we enjoy a barbecue, followed by a singsong around the campfire. On our other night here we hike half an hour up to Emily’s Byre for a superb Indian dinner.

The biggest choice of the week is whether to forge all the way east to Inverness or stop short. If you do go all the way, it means a lot of sailing time and the risk of having to battle back across the expanse of Loch Ness into strong winds. We enjoy the best of both worlds, by popping into Inverness for an afternoon by bus from Urquhart Bay Harbour, saving ourselves a whole day’s cruising.

Our last night is back at base at Laggan Locks, as we don’t want to rush in the morning. We savour a last dram by the campfire, raising a toast to Telford’s remarkable piece of Scottish engineering, wishing it many happy returns for its 200th anniversary year, vowing too to make our own return to cruising this truly remarkable aquatic artery.

A week’s cruising with Le Boat (www.leboat.co.uk) on the Caledonian Canal in a Magnifique houseboat on August 6 for seven nights currently starts from £3769, based on eight passengers, not including collision damage waiver and moorings fees. Le Boat is currently offering deals with up to 25% off during July; 15% in August