Creeping along the Caledonian Canal

Corpach Basin to Laggan locks – 16.2 miles in 6 hours and 40 minutes

Moored in Corpach Basin

We started along the Caledonian Canal proper today. We left Corpach Basin around 8.30am once they had locked a fishing boat in through the sea lock and we then followed him for the next few hours. From the basin we went straight into a double lock, then after a short stretch of canal, straight into a road bridge and a rail bridge and then Neptune’s Staircase. We had to wait for a while at the bottom while they finished bringing two yachts down the staircase and then, along with the fishing boat, we headed up the 8 lock staircase. The whole process took around an hour and three-quarters before we were at the top. Then we had about a five mile stretch of canal, a swing bridge and another 2 locks before we were in Loch Lochy – an eight mile open water stretch. Finally we went through the two Laggan Locks and tied up to a pontoon just after them. Given that the rain started around 10.30am and had been fairly constant, we were quite glad to get waterproofs off and to get dry.

The Caledonian Canal was started in 1803 and the work was overseen by Thomas Telford. They started from each end to enable them to use the completed outer sections to transport materials into the middle as they worked. However, the work was fraught with problems – not least that it took longer than expected and cost a lot more than expected. There were problems with workers as well. One of the key aims of the project was to reduce the unemployment that had resulted from the Highland Clearances, but Telford had great problems finding sufficient workers particularly at the time of the potato harvest and the peat-cutting season. So, he brought in Irish navvies leading to more criticism. The canal finally opened in 1822 and came in over double the original estimates. Cost cutting meant that they decided to reduce the draft to 15 feet from the original plan for 20 feet. In the meantime shipbuilding had moved on and the bigger ships that were starting to be built wouldn’t fit through the canal – a familiar story for British infrastructure projects!

By 1843 the impact of the cost cutting was starting to become apparent and Corpach double lock collapsed that year. As a result the canal was closed and at the same time they increased the draft to 18 feet. However, it was too little too late and ships still didn’t come back in the numbers expected. In 1873 Queen Victoria did her bit to boost tourism by taking a trip along the canal and giving it the Royal Seal of approval. If it’s good enough for the royals then it was clearly good enough for us and this boosted leisure traffic.

The canal is now a scheduled ancient monument and attracts around half a million visitors a year.

See the Caledonian Canal picture gallery for more photos.

In Corpach double lock
In Corpach double lock