The Crinan Canal in Argyll, Scotland, links the Inner Hebridean Islands with the river Clyde, Glasgow. For many years it was the only way of transporting goods to and from the Islands.
Building began in 1794 but was not completed until 1801. However, due to many issues with the locks, Thomas Telford, the famous civil engineer responsible for the Forth Bridge, was called in and it was fully functional by 1816.
The canal begins in Ardrishaig, a village that sits on Loch Fyne (although this part of the loch is shown as Loch Gilp) and passes through Lochgilphead (the administrative centre of Mid Argyll), the villages of Cairnbaan and Bellanoch, and finally pours out into Loch Crinan at the village of Crinan, nine miles from Ardrishaig.
The canal is maintained by British Waterways, who have made it walker and cycle friendly and it is a beautiful, meandering walk in good weather, relatively flat all the way along. Due to its beauty there have been several films and television programmes made on the canal, including The Vital Spark and Para Handy.
This waterway is also part of the West Highland Yachting Week, which begins in the Clyde, heads to Ardrishaig, passes through the canal and ends in Tobermory, Isle of Mull, as the Tobermory Boat Race. This week takes place once a year and sees hundreds of (the smaller) yachts pass through the canal, by far it’s busiest week of the season. This almost always occurs at the end of July.
The wildlife along the canal is vast and varied, from rare wild flowers to common weeds (that are often actually healing herbs), stunning butterflies and other unusual insects to the very occasional sightings of voles, mice, rabbits and a wide array of birds.
The Crinan canal too played a role in the Highland Clearances, when many Argyllshire families sailed from Crinan (after passing along and through the canal) to America in the nineteenth century.
Robbers Glen, just north of the canal, was the location of a gang of smugglers, who used the canal as a means of transporting goods, but it was mostly used for looting boats along it.
The local Glendarroch Distillery of Ardrishaig opened in 1831 and used the canal to ship their goods to market. It finally closed in 1937.
Finally, a note on the supernatural side of the canal. A monk is said to haunt the canal’s banks at the Ardrishaig end, walking towards the basin at the beginning of the canal, where he is said to vanish. Also, a Grey Lady is known to haunt the area of the canal and hotel at Cairnbaan.
John Roy, Former Senior Sealock Keeper, Crinan Canal, Ardrishaig