Forth & Clyde Canal

History of the Forth & Clyde Canal

A canal barge on the Forth & Clyde Canal

Forth & Clyde Canal near Glasgow Bridge

The Forth & Clyde Canal connects the Firths of Forth and River Clyde, and was opened for traffic in 1790.

The Canal was built from East to West being started on the 10th June 1768 at the Eastern Sealock. From there, via 16 locks, the Canal rises through Falkirk to the village of Camelon on its outskirts from where it runs level through Bonnybridge to 4 locks at Underwood and Wyndford. These locks take the Canal up to its highest level of 156 feet (48m) above sea level and from there it runs level through Kilsyth, Twechar and Kirkintilloch to Stockingfield on the then northern outskirts of Glasgow. From Stockingfield the Canal commences its 19 lock drop through Maryhill towards Bowling on the River Clyde. From Stockingfield a branch canal was dug which terminated in the centre of Glasgow at Port Dundas. The Forth & Clyde Canal took 22 years to build, including 7 years during which no work was done due to a lack of funds. Water was first let into the Canal in 1773, when it was filled as far as Kirkintilloch which became

the terminus until 1775 when the water was taken as far as Stockingfield. In 1777 funds ran out and it was not until 1784 that work resumed towards Bowling, which now was to become the terminus on the River Clyde as opposed to Dalmuirburnfoot, and which was finally reached in 1790, with the Canal being opened to through navigation in the summer of that year. The first vessel to transit the Canal from Grangemouth to Bowling did so on 31st. August 1790, a total distance of 35 miles (56 km) through 39 locks.

The Canal served three main purposes, firstly it allowed seagoing coastal ships to transit between the East and West coasts of Scotland without having to undertake the hazardous voyage around the North of Scotland. Secondly it provided a good inland waterway to transport imported and locally manufactured products from one coast to the other, and the towns in between, and thirdly it allowed passengers to travel across the Country, as many coach services linked up with canal services. In 1822 the Union Canal joined the Forth & Clyde Canal at Lock 16 in Camelon and this provided a direct route between the main cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. A shipbuilding industry also sprang up on the canal side, in some instances it was to build and repair lighters and canal craft for firms located on the Canal, and in others it was to build fishing vessels and the ships known as Puffers which traveled all round the Scottish coast and became famous in films like “The Vital Spark” and “The Maggie”. One thing is certain, the completion of the Canal opened up Central Scotland to both domestic and international trade and the towns and cities within the reach of the Canal boomed.

It continued in operation until 1st January 1963 when it was closed. The canal was re-opened by HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, 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 boats between the levels of the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals at Falkirk.