Crinan Canal

Locks on the Crinan Canal
©2023 Gazetteer for Scotland

Locks on the Crinan Canal

The Crinan Canal is some 9 miles (14 km) in length, linking Loch Crinan to Ardrishaig. It cuts a swath across Mid-Argyll on the West Coast of Scotland, isolating Knapdale and the Kintyre Peninsula but allowing passage from the Firth of Clyde and Loch Fyne to the Sound of Jura and the Inner Hebrides. This permitted the herring boats and other coastal shipping heading north to the Hebrides to avoid sailing round the dangerous Mull of Kintyre and saving a distance of some 100 miles (160 km). Both James Watt (1736 - 1819) and John Rennie (1761 - 1821) undertook separate surveys of the route and the reviewed the merits of the Crinan scheme over an alternative scheme between East and West Loch Tarbert, further to the south. In 1793, John Campbell, the 5th Duke of Argyll (1723 - 1806) was elected to run the Canal Company and appointed Rennie as chief engineer, but progress was slow. The engineering problems were difficult; because the canal was open to the sea at both ends, the effects of tides had to be taken into account and the water-loss was considerable and therefore a good supply had to be assured. Further the depth was not as great as intended and there were considerable problems raising the necessary funds. The canal eventually opened, with 15 locks and rising to a maximum height of 21m (68 feet), in 1801. The Glen Clachaig Feeder Reservoir System was built to supply water, comprising Loch an Add, Cam Loch, Loch na Faoilinn, Gleann Loch, Loch Clachaig and Dubh Loch.

However flooding caused damage and brought closures in 1805-06 and 1811-12. Thomas Telford (1757 - 1834) was commissioned to make repairs and improvements in 1816-17, with the help of John Gibb (1776 - 1850) and William Thomson (1783 - 1860) as resident engineer. The costs and repairs had bankrupted the Canal Company and government money was required to ensure its future - with the Caledonian Canal Commissioners taking responsibility from 1817.

The canal was eventually successful with, for example, Henry Bell's steamship Comet running regular service between Glasgow and Fort William until it was wrecked off Craignish Point. The opening of the Caledonian Canal in 1822 encouraged further trade, with service extended through to Inverness, as did Queen Victoria's passage through the canal in 1847. Schemes of 1857 and 1907 to enlarge the waterway to a ship canal were not funded and this has restricted its utility subsequently.

Ownership passed to the Ministry of Transport in 1919 and then to British Waterways in 1963. The canal remains in use today and, since 2012, has been run by Scottish Canals, an arm of the Scottish Government.

The vast majority of its traffic is now recreational.

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