Route map
The Crinan Canal at Cairnbaan

The Crinan Canal between Crinan and Ardrishaig in Argyll and Bute in the west of Scotland is operated by Scottish Canals. The canal, which opened in 1801, takes its name from the village of Crinan at its western end. Approximately nine miles (14 km) long, the canal connects the village of Ardrishaig on Loch Gilp with the Sound of Jura, providing a navigable route between the Clyde and the Inner Hebrides, without the need for a long diversion around the Kintyre peninsula, and in particular the exposed Mull of Kintyre.[1]


The canal was built to provide a short cut for commercial sailing and fishing vessels and later Clyde puffers to travel between the industrialised region around Glasgow to the West Highland villages and islands. It was designed by civil engineer John Rennie and work started in 1794, but was not completed until 1801, two years later than planned. The canal's construction was beset with problems including finance and poor weather. Landowners demanded high prices for their land and navvies were reluctant to leave jobs in more accessible parts of England and Scotland. The construction cost £127,000[2] (equivalent to £10,290,000 in 2021).[3]

On Saturday 8 August 1801, the Carlisle Journal reported that:

On Monday, a boat laden with fish, arrived at the Broomielaw, Glasgow, from one of the Western Isles, being the first vessel that has passed through the Crinan Canal[4]

The canal bank near Lochgilphead failed in 1805 and the canal's course was diverted to avoid the marshy ground. The canal's reservoirs were finished in 1809 but two years later a storm caused one to burst releasing its water and sending boulders and mud along the canal in both directions wrecking locks, the canal banks and the nearby roads.[5] Repairs cost £8,000[2] (equivalent to £617,600 in 2021).[3]

The canal company, headed by the Duke of Argyll, had to seek help from the government, who asked Thomas Telford to assess the problems. He suggested improvements to the locks, and some parts of the canal were redesigned including the swing bridges which were replaced in cast iron in 1816.[6] The government paid for the work but the canal company lost control and it was handed to the Caledonian Canal Commissioners.[7]

Passage of Her Majesty on the Crinan Canal from the Illustrated London News 28 August 1847

Queen Victoria travelled along the canal to Crinan during a holiday in the Scottish Highlands in 1847. She was greeted at Ardrishaig and her boat was towed by four horses, two of which were ridden by postilions in royal livery. At Crinan she boarded the royal yacht Victoria and Albert.[8] Her journey made the canal a tourist attraction and gave the canal an added purpose. Passenger steamer companies operating out of Glasgow advertised the canal as the "Royal route" and by the late 1850s more than 40,000 passengers passed through Ardrishaig each year and were met by steamers to Oban at Crinan.

A disaster occurred on 2 February 1859 when the Camloch reservoir supplying the canal burst, and the ensuing torrent of water and rock damaged the banks of the canal and seven of the gates forming the locks which were swept into the valley below.[9] The canal was closed for through navigation until 1 May 1860 although the wider repairs to paths and road had not been completed. Although Parliament had authorised £12,000 (equivalent to £1,200,000 in 2021)[3] for repairs the company reported that the expenditure had exceeded the budget by around £3,500 (equivalent to £349,800 in 2021)[3] as the damage included large boulders of rock which were found in the bed of the canal.[10]

In 1866 a steam-powered passenger boat Linnet[11] replaced horse-drawn boats for tourists.[5][7] Linnet remained in service until 1929.[5]

Between 1930 and 1932, new sea locks were built at either end, making the canal accessible at any state of tide.[5] The swing bridge at Ardrishaig was installed at this time.[12] The canal became the responsibility of British Waterways in 1962. It closed for nine-week period in October 1987 to allow some refurbishment.[13] On 2 July 2012 the British Waterways functions in Scotland were transferred to Scottish Canals.[14]

Today the canal is a popular route for leisure craft between the Firth of Clyde and the west coast of Scotland, used by nearly 2,000 boats annually.[5] The towpath is part of National Cycle Route 78, which links Campbeltown, Oban, Fort William and Inverness.[15][16]

The canal is a two-part scheduled monument.[17][18] Loch a' Bharain, which serves as a feeder reservoir for the canal, is also a scheduled monument.[19]


Ardrishaig lighthouse
Ardrishaig basin.
Dunardry locks
Bellanoch Bridge
The sea lock and Crinan Lighthouse

The Crinan Canal has 15 locks and is crossed by seven bridges: six swing bridges and a retractable bridge. Stone for the 15 locks was brought from Mull, the Isle of Arran and Morvern. From Ardrishaig, three locks raise the canal's 4-mile-long (6-kilometre) east reach to 32 ft (10 m) above sea level. The 1,100 yd (1,000 m) summit reach, between Cairnbaan and Dunardry, is 64 feet (20 metres) above sea level. The west reach between Dunardry and Crinan is 18 feet (5.5 metres) above sea level.[1] The canal is 10 ft (3 m) deep, although the declared maximum draught for a vessel is 2.5 m (8.2 ft),[20] and has essentially no height limit.

The retractable bridge at Lock 11 replaced the original swing bridge in 1900. It is operated by a rotating handle and a cogged wheel which causes the bridge deck to roll forwards and backwards on rails and comes to rest across the lock chamber.[21] The canal has towpaths on both sides from Ardrishaig to Crinan Bridge and horses assisted unpowered craft until 1959.[22]

Feature Location Type
Lock 1 (sea lock) Ardrishaig Lock
Ardrishaig Swing Bridge Ardrishaig Swing bridge
Ardrishaig Basin Ardrishaig Basin
Lock 2 Ardrishaig Lock
Lock 3 Ardrishaig Lock
Lock 4 Ardrishaig Lock
Lock 4 Bridge Ardrishaig Swing bridge
Oakfield Bridge Lochgilphead Swing bridge
Lock 5 Cairnbaan Lock
Cairnbaan Bridge Cairnbaan Swing bridge
Lock 6 Cairnbaan Lock
Lock 7 Cairnbaan Lock
Lock 8 Cairnbaan Lock
Lock 9 Dunardry Lock
Lock 10 Dunardry Lock
Lock 11 Dunardry Lock
Dunardry Bridge Dunardry Moveable bridge
Lock 12 Dunardry Lock
Lock 13 Dunardry Lock
Bellanoch Bridge Bellanoch Swing bridge
Bellanoch Marina Bellanoch Marina
Crinan Bridge Crinan Swing bridge
Lock 14 Crinan Lock
Crinan Basin Crinan Basin
Lock 15 (sea lock) Crinan Lock

Popular culture

A song sung by Dan MacPhail in The Vital Spark:

Oh! The Crinan Canal for me,
I don't like the wild raging sea,
It would be too terrific to cross the Pacific,
Or sail to Japan or Fiji.
A life on the Spanish Main,
I think it would drive me insane,
The big foaming breakers would give me the shakers,
The Crinan Canal for me.

See also



  1. ^ a b Burrows 1981, p. 4
  2. ^ a b "Busting of the Crinan Canal". Glasgow Herald. Scotland. 3 January 1860. Retrieved 17 October 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  3. ^ a b c d UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 11 June 2022.
  4. ^ "Edinburgh. August 5". Carlisle Journal. Scotland. 8 August 1801. Retrieved 17 October 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  5. ^ a b c d e History of the Crinan Canal, Scottish Canals, archived from the original on 12 August 2014, retrieved 3 June 2014
  6. ^ Hutton 2003, p. 18
  7. ^ a b Hutton 2003, p. 3
  8. ^ Hutton 2003, p. 9
  9. ^ "Partial Destruction of the Crinan Canal". Inverness Courier. Scotland. 10 February 1859. Retrieved 17 October 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  10. ^ "Crinan Canal". Inverness Courier. Scotland. 2 August 1860. Retrieved 17 October 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  11. ^ "Screw Steamer LINNET". Scottish Built Ships. Caledonian Maritime Research Trust. Retrieved 17 October 2021.
  12. ^ Hutton 2003, p. 47
  13. ^ McCallum, Andrew (6 October 1987). "Canal will come to life as the money pours in". The Glasgow Herald. p. 11. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  14. ^ Our Structure and Governance, Scottish Canals, retrieved 19 June 2014
  15. ^ Route 78, Sustrans, retrieved 3 June 2014
  16. ^ "Lochgilphead to Crinan". Sustrans. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  17. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Crinan Canal,Crinan to Cairnbaan (SM6500)". Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  18. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Crinan Canal,Cairnbaan - Ardrishaig (SM6501)". Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  19. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Crinan Canal,Loch a' Bharain canal feeder (SM6502)". Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  20. ^ Crinan Canal Restrictions: Update 10 October 'The Crinan Canal is now operating as normal... maximum draft is 2.5m fresh water.' 10 October 2018, accessed 29 April 2021
  21. ^ Hutton 2003, p. 23
  22. ^ Hutton 2003, p. 33


  • Burrows, George W. (1981), Puffer Ahoy!, Brown, Son and Fergusson, ISBN 978-0-85174-419-3
  • Hutton, Guthrie (2003), Crinan Canal The Shipping Short Cut, Stenlake Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84033-257-5
  • Paterson, Len (2005). From Sea To Sea: A History of the Scottish Lowland and Highland Canals. Glasgow: Neil Wilson Publishing. ISBN 978-1903238943.

Further reading

56°03′32″N 5°28′23″W / 56.059°N 5.473°W / 56.059; -5.473