Forth and Clyde Canal

Forth & Clyde Canal at Falkirk
©2023 Gazetteer for Scotland

Forth & Clyde Canal at Falkirk

Stretching 35 miles (56 km) from the village of Bowling on the River Clyde in the west of Scotland to the large town of Grangemouth on the River Forth, the Forth and Clyde Canal was built during the later part of the 18th Century (begun on 10th June, 1768) and operated until 1st January, 1963. The canal was re-opened by HRH Prince Charles in 2001, having been the subject of a major restoration as part of the Millennium Link project. The centre-piece of this project is the Falkirk Wheel, a spectacular boat-lift built to transfer barges between the levels of the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals at Falkirk.

The Forth and Clyde was the first canal built in Scotland, linking its two major waterways for trade and transport and providing an additional three-mile (5 km) branch to central Glasgow at Port Dundas, which was later linked to the Monkland Canal.

Created to accommodate sea-going boats, its 39 locks are over 18m (60 feet) long and nearly 6m (20 feet) wide; its highest point of 48m (156 feet) is between Banknock (Wyndford Lock) and Glasgow (Maryhill). The engineers who built the canal included John Smeaton (1768-73), Robert MacKell (1773-79) and Robert Whiteworth (1785-90), with no work carried out in the period 1777-85 during much of the American Revolution. The first steamboat, the Charlotte Dundas, carried out trials on the canal in 1802, and the Forth and Clyde was also one of the first canals to carry vehicles such as carts and railway wagons. In 1868 it was bought by Caledonian Railway, passed to the British Transport Commission on the nationalisation of the railways in 1948, to British Waterways in 1963 and to Scottish Canals in 2012.

The eastern end of the canal once terminated at Grangemouth Harbour but was truncated when the M9 Motorway was constructed in the 1970s. A diversion was built to reach the tidal River Carron, and traffic used that river to gain access to the Forth. Between 2012-14, a half-mile (1 km) extension, christened the Queen Elizabeth II Canal, was constructed to a new sea-lock further downstream on the Carron, overcoming the problem of restricted access to the canal with unfavourable tides.

The Forth and Clyde Canal links Grangemouth, Falkirk, Bonnybridge, Castlecary, Twechar, Kirkintilloch, Lenzie, Maryhill (Glasgow), Clydebank, Erskine and Bowling. In addition to the Falkirk Wheel, other notable structures include sea-locks at Grangemouth and Bowling, the Boghouse Locks, Castlecary Locks, Clobberhill Locks, Maryhill Locks, Temple Locks, the Dalmuir Drop Lock (which is unique in the world), the Castlecary Viaduct, Kelvin Aqueduct, Luggie Aqueduct, Possil Road Aqueducts, and the Roughcastle Tunnel.

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