Early Scottish Canals
Forth & Clyde Canal
By 1790, the Forth and Clyde canal had
been built, linking:
- Glasgow and Bowling (on the Firth
- Glasgow and Grangemouth on the
Firth of Forth
and Grangemouth, the canal passed through a ladder of 11 locks
taking it down from 110ft above sea level down to the Firth of
Between 1817 and
1822, the Union Canal was built to link the centre of Edinburgh
with the Forth and Clyde canal at Falkirk.
Union Canal -
The Union Canal, linking Edinburgh to Falkirk, was built between
1817 and 1822, mainly to carry coal from Central Scotland to
Edinburgh. Later, it brought stone, chemicals and market
produce into Edinburgh.
Port Hopetoun -
There was also a passenger service by
canal between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
[The Glasgow-Edinburgh did
not open until 1840.]
During the day, Swift Boats were
pulled by two horses travelling at about 9 or 10mph.
At least two companies ran boats between the two cities
departing in the evening and offering a 'sleeper service'.
The evening boats took between 12 and 14 hours for the journey.
[In the 1720s travel between
Glasgow and Edinburgh was by stagecoach, pulled by 4 or 6
horses, taking between 10 and 14 hours.]
240ft Contour Line
The canal follows the
240ft contour line throughout its route from Edinburgh to Falkirk.
It has 24 aqueducts, many bridges and a 700 yard long tunnel,
locks in its 51 km course. The aqueduct over the River
Avon has 12 arches, each 26 meters high.
The Union Canal, as well as
providing transport, was an important source of water for the
brewery, North British Rubber Works and Cox's Glue Works in
However, the canal was closed to
through navigation in 1965, and sections of it were removed,
particularly through Wester Hailes in the western suburbs of
It seemed unlikely then that the canal would
A scheme was
approved to re-open the entire length of the canal between
Edinburgh and Glasgow was approved at a cost of £78m, as one of
Scotland's Millennium Projects in 2000.
The canal has
now re-opened. Sections that were lost have been re-built.
A large "wheel"
(a unique rotating boatlift) and visitors' centre has been recently built at Falkirk, at the
western end of the Union Canal. It opened in 2002. This
wheel enables boats to be transferred:
- between the Union
Canal (that links Edinburgh and Falkirk)
- and the Forth and
Clyde Canal (that links Falkirk and Glasgow).
There are now proposals to
spend £60m to redevelop the area around Lochrin Basin at
Fountainbridge, close to the view in the engraving above, to be
known as Edinburgh Quay.
This was once an industrial
area with a brewery and the North British Rubber Company Works.
It is proposed to create a mixed development with 30,000 sq ft for
restaurants and bars, 80,ooo sq ft for offices and 62 apartments.
Construction is due to
commence in summer 2002, with the first phase being completed in
News, 4 July 2002]
here for progress on
Edinburgh Quay - the development
at the Edinburgh end of the Union Canal.
Comments on Contour Canals
Iain Street added:
"The Edinburgh & Glasgow Union Canal
has been described as a 'contour canal' but I have to disagree.
There are major aqueducts, cuttings and embankments, which
straighten the canal considerably.
The canal was built late in the
canal age, and its engineers benefited from the experience of
the early canal builders
Had the canal been built in the
early 1700s, its route would have been very different, and much,
much longer. Instead of large aqueducts, it would have followed
the Water of Leith, Almond and Avon far upstream; there would be
no cutting west of Ratho, and no embankments at Linlithgow.
For a true contour canal, try the
South Oxford, or the unstraightened bits of the North Oxford."
Iain Street, Livingston, West
Lothian, Scotland: May 13, 2009