A glimpse of the Caledonian Canal


I went to Fort Augustus to play the fiddle, so the Caledonian Canal was merely incidental (this time) – but I certainly wasn’t complaining about having something so nice on my doorstep – the shop and hostel were on one side and the classes and the pub on the other, so there was plenty of crossing over!

This section was more or less the last part to be built, as the canal started at both ends and moved towards the middle – Fort Augustus is just where the link between Loch Ness and Loch Lochy enters Loch Ness.

A little ‘pepperpot’ lighthouse marks the entrance to the canal – these are the smallest lighthouses in Britain.


There is a little canal centre where the road crosses over – cafe, shop and information. I especially liked the poster of Telford as the Colossus of Roads – sadly these don’t seem to be on sale!


The especially exciting thing about the canal was that they had taken all the water out of the locks for repairs and to replace a pair of gates.


This puts all the stonework on display, which really was quite an impressive sight. The workers have been finding original masons’ marks, although they don’t seem to have recovered anything particularly odd from the canal!


(There are plenty more pictures on Scottish Canal’s and other people’s twitter – this seems to have been fascinating everyone!

Further along it’s more of a broad pool – I’m not sure I understand how the water stays in, but then part of this section uses the original course of the River Oich, and water stays in rivers…


Music in wartime

I went to a Celtic Connections thing on the last weekend which sounded more exciting than it actually turned out to be – reviving Beethoven arrangements of various Scottish and Gaelic songs that he’d worked on. It was clever enough, but in the end I agreed with the judgement of audiences at the time who found all quite unsatisfying – neither really Scottish nor really Beethoven.

But we did get a couple of glimpses into effects of the war which I hadn’t realised came into this story – Beethoven started off working in Bonn for the Elector of Cologne, and went to Vienna with his help, intending to return, but while he was gone the French came in and took over the city and the electorate.

And while the work on the songs was going on, Austria was formally allied with France for a time and always more or less surrounded by its territories, leading to difficulties in communication – letters between Vienna and the publishers in Edinburgh would go sometimes via Stockholm and sometimes via Malta, and sometimes go missing entirely.

I’m not sure now whether there really wasn’t much of a concept of life in wartime, unless you were unlucky enough to have fighting on your doorstep, or if it’s just that I don’t know much about it.

The Forth and Clyde Canal – Glasgow to Bowling


I started my last day along the canal not at the junction where I had left it, but at the end of the branch line into Glasgow, at Port Dundas.

For a place I’d never known existed this isn’t far at all from the city centre – quarter of an hour’s walk north of Queen Street station, but on the other side of the various ramifications of the M8.

Regeneration around the Port Dundas basins was one of the things that the Millenium project which reopened the canals would have liked to do but couldn’t get funding for – the basin was reconnected to the rest of the canal, after having been cut off by the construction of the M8, but it’s just a quiet ghost at the back of various company’s yards – some of what’s here has been filled in, and I think some of the original site is under the motorway.

Port Dundas

Using the quiet water for watersports is quite a good bit of initiative, however!

The entrance to the basin does have a good example of the canal’s original bascule bridges, almost all replaced elsewhere.

Bascule bridge

When this was built, it would have been still slightly to the west of a city based around the old High Street and only just spreading west into the Merchant City.

The view towards the west end shows you just how high up above the city, and in particular the river, this is – there hasn’t been a lock since the summit of the canal, and there are long flights to descend before the canal reaches the river way to the west.

View to the west end

After the neglect of Port Dundas, it’s quite a surprise to come round a corner and find Speirs Wharf stretched out ahead – again, I never really knew this was here, and I’m not sure why not.

The first building was built around 1812 to house the canal offices, until they moved to Edinburgh when the Union Canal opened 10 years later.

Canal offices

The warehouses are a bit newer, maybe early Victorian rather than Georgian, although there had been storage buildings on the site since at least the 1820s.

Speirs Wharf warehouses

Half a mile or so on again is the ‘Old Basin’ at Hamiltonhill, the terminus of this end of the canal for a time while the last section was built. The buildings here are the oldest remaining on any Scottish canal, but if it really still belongs to the canal authorities, as a sign here suggests, then they should be ashamed of themselves.

Old basin

It’s another couple of miles to where the branch joins the main line of the canal at Stocksfield junction – somewhere up behind Maryhill Road, if you’re trying to get there by land.

Canal junction

When the canal was in use, a floating bridge at the junction took horses – and people – across from one towpath to the other, but these days you have to slip down to road level and through a tunnel under the canal, to climb back up at the other side.

Under the junction

The flight of locks at Maryhill was built with basins to allow boats to pass when the locks were busy. This is the first and longest of three main flights along this stretch, but there are other odd locks as the canal drops towards the sea.

Maryhill lock basins

The Kelvin aqueduct, although quite tame in comparison to later creations, was the largest in Britain (or possibly even Europe) when it opened in 1790, and sent ships sailing past 70 feet above the river, becoming a tourist attraction. It’s not easy to get a good view of it, because of all the trees along the river banks!

Kelvin aqueduct

I made it to the end just as dusk was falling, so I’ll have to go back to Bowling some time for a better look at the old harbour – although I think that every time I go past Bowling on the Waverley, and haven’t managed it yet!

Bowling at dusk