The Forth & Clyde Canal and the Union Canal – the Scottish Lowland Canals
The reopening of these two deep and wide Scottish Lowland Canals in 2001 recreated a 69 mile waterway route running from Glasgow to Edinburgh, from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. The large dimensions allow sea going craft and inland waterways craft to make a cross Scotland journey similar to Scotland’s other coast to coast canal, the Caledonian Canal. it also led to the construction of two iconic structures, the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies monumental sculptures. The canals are managed by Scottish Canals who provide a useful Cruising Guide on their website.
The Forth and Clyde Canal
The Forth and Clyde Canal was built to avoid small sea going ships having to take the dangerous journey around the northern coast of Scotland. It is a broad canal running from Bowling on the Clyde near Glasgow to near Grangemouth on the Firth of Forth, 36 miles long with 33 wide locks, all manned. There’s a short spur into Dundas Basin in Glasgow which is under redevelopment.
National Lottery Millennium funding provided almost 40% of the costs of recovering from the 1963 decision to close the canal, halting regular sea-to-sea passage of fishing boats and many pleasure craft. Major roads that cross it had allowed full mast headroom by using rolling or swing bridges and the minor roads used two leaf bascules but many have been renovated and modern masts may need some adjustment. The canal has big locks for small sea going craft (68 feet long x 20 feet wide).
The Kelpies are two huge monumental sculptures of horses’ heads in Helix Park near Grangemouth. 30 metres high and each 100 tons in weight they were inspired by the heavy horses which towed boats along the towpaths of the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals in their working heyday.
The Union Canal
The Union Canal stretches from Edinburgh to Falkirk. With thirty miles of lock free level towpath and spectacular river crossings, the 5 arch River Almond aqueduct, 12 arch River Avon aqueduct and 8 arch Water of Leith aqueduct, it finally dropped to the top of the Forth & Clyde’s 16 lock flight leading east to Grangemouth down a single flight of 11 locks, now replaced by the Falkirk Wheel.
The Falkirk Wheel is a significant and iconic landmark rising 115 feet (35m) into the air above the Carron valley. Although famous for its unique engineering, it has been also praised as a significant piece of sculpture. It has now been called become the Eighth Wonder of the Waterways.
Two boat caissons on the end of curving arms balance each other so that the half-rotation to change levels will take about 11 minutes and use very little energy. At the beginning of each cycle each is at the level of one of the canals whilst boats enter and leave. The tiny motors then turn the precisely balanced wheels through 180° and when each has come to rest gates in the caissons are opened and the boats are let out at the other canal level.
A ride on this magnificent structure, which is served by a new section of canal, two aqueducts, and a 476ft (145m) tunnel, is possible on a special trip boat departing from the Exhibition and Visitor Centre. A round trip of about 40 minutes gives passengers the same panoramic views offered to boatowners.