Along the Crinan Canal


While I was in Argyll I took the chance to walk the Crinan Canal – it’s only 9 miles long, so makes a nice trip.

The canal was originally built between 1794 and 1801, but ongoing problems meant that sections were being repaired and rebuilt for at least another 10 years.

The current buildings at Ardrishaig are a bit newer – the canal offices date from the mid 19th century, when tourist traffic was beginning to pick up.

Ardrishaig canal office

The steamer terminal dates from the heyday of steamer transport in the 1890s, and has been used as various things since the steamers stopped coming – at the moment it’s a cafe. I like the practicality of the doors, which recognise that passengers for a boat arrive as a trickle, but passengers from a boat come out as a flood.

Ardrishaig steamer terminal

As well as local transport to and from Glasgow, and tourist traffic on the canal, Ardrishaig was for a long time part of the sea route from Glasgow to Oban and Fort William and Inverness via the Caledonian canal, with passengers transferred to smaller boats and onto another steamer at Crinan.

The breakwater was built in 1800 and extended in 1817 to make it easier to enter the canal – there was never really a natural harbour at Ardrishaig, only a small bay.

Ardrishaig breakwater

Inside the sealock the basin is usually busy with small boats.

Ardrishaig basin

For the first part of its journey the canal runs close to the side of Loch Gilp, which is too shallow to allow access for boats.

Further up, a sharp bend before Craigglass marks the point where the banks of the canal collapsed in 1805 – it had originally been built across flat but unstable ground, and was rerouted much closer to the rockier hills.

Bends in the canal

From Cairnbaan, roughly halfway along the canal, two competing routes had been considered – the one eventually chosen, via Dunardry to Crinan, and a route across the Great Moss coming out at Duntrune Castle.


Dunardry, at the western end of the summit reach, was the most troublesome part of the canal with leak after leak, and the first part which Thomas Telford was called in to advise on.

Dunardry locks

The alternative route would have taken the canal around and across the Great Moss at Dunadd, and avoided Dunardry – although the ground here might not have proved any more stable than in the Moss at Craigglass!

The Great Moss

A great variety of ground was found to underlie the canal as it was being dug, and this was nicely visible a bit further – hewn rock turns into a bank built of brick.

Different edges

The final stretch of the canal runs along the side of the River Add and the shallow bay at Crinan Ferry, as it does with Loch Gilp at the eastern end.

The canal and the river Add

Across the water from Crinan is Duntrune Castle, the other possible western end.

Duntrune castle

Crinan is quite an idyllic spot on a sunny day, but there’s still nothing in particular there, and there was probably even less 200 years ago – as in Ardrishaig, the village grew up around the canal.

Crinan sea lock
Crinan basin

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