Crinan Canal engineering achievement celebrated

The 200-year-old Crinan Canal has been honoured with plaque unveilings by the Glasgow Branch of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

Argyll & Bute Council Provost Len Scoullar and representatives from the Institution of Civil Engineers and Scottish Canals.
Argyll & Bute Council Provost Len Scoullar and representatives from the Institution of Civil Engineers and Scottish Canals.

Originally designed by civil engineer John Rennie and completed in 1801, the canal created a vital link for the area between Glasgow and the River Clyde and the villages and islands of the West Highlands.

Often called 'Britain's most beautiful shortcut,' the canal boasts 15 locks and seven bridges along its nine-mile length and links Ardrishaig at the Firth of Clyde with the picturesque village of Crinan and the world-class sailing of the west coast.

The plaques at Crinan and Ardrishaig were unveiled by Argyll & Bute Council Provost Len Scoullar and representatives from the Institution of Civil Engineers and Scottish Canals.

Alan Frew, Chairman of the ICE Glasgow and West of Scotland Branch said: "The engineering achievement of the Crinan Canal cannot be underestimated, particularly in light of the many problems overcome by the project during its inception.

"On a personal level, I have visited the canal every year for the past 50 years, and recently achieved a lifetime ambition by bringing my boat 'Weird Fish' through the canal, with my father watching proudly. The Crinan really is a magnificent feat of engineering and, on behalf of the Institution of Civil Engineers, I'm delighted to mark that achievement with the unveiling of these plaques."

The volunteers from the Glasgow-based committee were assisted by Scottish Canals, the custodians of the nation's inland waterways, during the project.

David Lamont, Director of Operations at Scottish Canals, said: "The Crinan Canal is one of the world's most iconic inland waterways and countless visitors, from Queen Victoria to Para Handy, have paid a visit to the canal since it was carved through the heart of the region more than 200 years ago.

"The Crinan remains a vital destination for leisure and tourism today and we're delighted that the Institution of Civil Engineers has honoured the incredible engineering achievement of its construction."

The story of the Crinan Canal began in 1771 when James Watt surveyed the district to find a course for the canal, originally planned by John Rennie. The Crinan Canal Act was passed by Parliament in 1793, with renowned engineer Thomas Telford appointed as superintendent of the build.

In 1801, the Crinan Canal was officially completed – but its glory was short-lived. In 1811 a violent storm burst the banks of the main reservoir, with millions of gallons of water and hundreds of tons of rock, boulders, peat and mud wrecking locks, pounds, public roads and canal banks. Despite numerous setbacks, the waterway recovered and by 1854 more than 33,000 passengers, 27,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle had been transported through the canal.

In 1847, the canal received the royal seal of approval when Queen Victoria was among those to sail 'Britain's most beautiful shortcut' with her family. Her visit transformed the waterway into a key tourist destination, with around 44,000 passengers each year arriving in Ardrishaig to take the 'Royal Route.' A specially designed steamer, 'The Linnet,' was launched to cope with the demand and to replace the horse drawn barges operating on the route.

The Linnet wasn't the only unique vessel on the waterway. For many years, some of the most prominent sights on the canal were the Clyde Puffers - little cargo vessels specially designed to fit the dimensions of the Forth & Clyde and Crinan Canals. The puffers delivered coal to the West Coast, bringing back whisky and other produce.

Today, the Crinan Canal is primarily used for tourism and leisure, attracting visitors from all over the world keen to sample the magnificent scenery and wildlife, relaxing sailing, and unique attractions of the waterway and the surrounding area.