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Caledonian Canal

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Caledonian Canal, a line of inland navigation, partly artificial, partly natural, through the ` Great Glen ' of Scotland. Glenmore extends right across the kingdom, directly south-westward, from the Moray Firth between the mouth of the Findhorn and the Sutors of Cromarty, to the island of Lismore at the northern end of the Sound of Mull; and it divides Inverness-shire, and the Highlands generally, into two nearly equal portions. Its NE end consists for 23 miles of the upper or narrow part of the Moray Firth; the SW end, for 32 miles, of salt-water Lochs Eil and Linnhe; and the intermediate part, with a total length of 60½ miles, is occupied for 38½ miles by fresh-water Lochs Dochfour, Ness, Oich, and Lochy, and is traversed, over nearly all the rest of the distance, by streams which connect these lakes with one another, or with the sea-lochs. This intermediate part, certain portions of the lakes, and localities at the Moray Firth and at Loch Eil, are the region of the artificial portion of the Caledonian Canal. The navigation was designed to carry large vessels direct from sea to sea, in lieu of their encountering the delays and perils of the route round the Pentland Firth; and it serves also for the direct transit of swift steamers plying regularly between Inverness and Glasgow. James Watt, of steam-engine fame, prepared designs for the canal in 1773; but, his estimate (£165,000) alarming the projectors, nothing was done till 30 years later, when Telford and Jessop were authorised to prepare new estimates. The work was begun in 1803; was opened, only two-thirds finished, in October 1822; was completed in 1843-47; and cost, up to 5 May 1849, £1,311,270, though the original estimates (exclusive of land damage) had amounted to only £474,531. A sea-lock commences the artificial part of the navigation at the Moray Firth; and this, in consequence of the shallowness of the sea-water and the flatness of the beach, is placed between the extremities of two artificial mounds, extending about 400 yards to the shore. The canal cut leaves the firth at Clachnaharry, about a mile WNW of Inverness; and goes 6 miles 35 chains to Loch Dochfour. A series of four locks is on it at Muirtown, about a mile distant from the stone bridge of Inverness; and a regulating lock is on it at Dochgarroch, near Loch Dochfour, was thoroughly repaired in 1869, and was then adjusted for the escape of salmon fry or smolt. A short deep cutting and five consecutive locks are at Fort Augustus, leading out the navigation from the head of Loch Ness; and a canal cut of 5 miles 35 chains, with locks at Kytra and Aberchalder, goes thence to Loch Oich. The summit-level of navigation, Loch Oich lies 105 feet above high water mark at Clachnaharry and Fort William; measures 3 miles 56 chains along the line of navigation; is, in many places, very shallow; and varies more than 9 feet in depth, according to the season. It thus presented great difficulties to the formation of a ship-passage-difficulties that were only overcome by the construction of a reservoir in Glengarry, for feeding it when low. A canal cut of 1 mile 65 chains goes from Loch Oich to Loch Lochy; and has two locks-the one a regulating lock to meet the occasional flooding of Loch Oich, the other having a fall of 9½ feet to suit the difference of level between the two lakes. Loch Lochy (93 feet) is 95/8 miles long; and, for the purposes of the navigation, was raised about 12 feet above its natural level, by closing up its effluence into the river Lochy, and forming a new outlet for it at a higher level, so as to send off its effluence into the river Spean. A permanent weir, partly constructed of masonry, partly excavated from solid rock, was formed across the new outlet; and occasions the effluence to fall into the Spean at a point about 600 yards SE of the exit of the navigation from Loch Lochy. A regulating lock occurs at Gairlochy, near the foot of Loch Lochy; a canal cutting, 61/8 miles in length, extends thence to Banavie; a series of eight locks, commonly called Neptune's Staircase, occurs at Banavie; and another canal cut, 1¼ mile in length, with a descent of two more locks, extends thence to the sea-lock at Corpach, in the vicinity of Fort William. The navigation from end to end is so direct as to measure but 4 miles longer than a mathematical straight line; and has been so well maintained in its artificial portions as to make wonderful resistance to the abrading action of storm and flood. Twenty-eight locks are on the line-14 between the Moray Firth and Loch Oich, and 14 between Loch Oich and Loch Eil; and each is 170 feet long by 40 wide. The depth of water, in the shallowest parts of the canal, at the standard level, is 17 feet. All the works, according to an official report upon them in 1879, were then in good order and efficient condition. The canal, though a magnificent public work, cannot be said to have ever satisfactorily attained its purpose. It affords great facility to the transit of the northern fishing boats, insomuch that 512 of them. in 1869 sailed through it in an almost unbroken line; it also has considerable value, both commercially and for tourists, in affording prompt regular transit to steamers between Inverness and the Firth of Lorn; it likewise has given important aid or impulse to several departments of local trade; but it never has answered well the grand design, for which it was formed, of carrying sea-borne vessels from sea to sea along Glenmore. The annual receipts, too, as compared with the annual expenditure, tell no very flattering tale. The receipts and expenditure amounted in 1867 to £6541 and £6698, in 1870 to £6944 and £6306, in 1873 to £6316 and £6057, in 1876 to £6742 and £9308, and in 1879 to £7356 and £10,490, the total number of passages in the last year being 1996.—Ord. Sur., shs. 83,73,63,62,53.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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