The Forth and Clyde Canal
Although the normal route to the west coast of Scotland
from the east was invariably by the Pentland Firth (servicing
the northern lighthouses on the way through), in an emergency
there was an alternative route.
An old photograph showing the connecting
locks between the Union and the Forth and Clyde Canals -
probably taken over 100 years ago! The new Falkirk Wheel
now connections the two canals
In 1790, the Forth and Clyde Canal, designed by John
Smeaton, was opened, linking up the River Clyde at Bowling
to the Firth of Forth at Grangemouth. Even though this waterway
did have size limitations, it was, however, still able to
cope with at least some of the ships in the service of the
In 1814, Capt Taylor undertook the annual tour of the western
lights in place of Stevenson, who that year was taken up
with Walter Scott (at that time still without his
knighthood) on a separate voyage round Scotland. It is known
that he returned then to the east coast by the Forth and
By 1816, the Pharos had superseded the old Smeaton
(now considered unsuitable even for Bell Rock service).
This new ship (48 tons) was one of the most complete and
well-furnished vessels of her class, and carried a model
of the Bell Rock Lighthouse on her prow. In 1817 saw the
Pharos over in the west supplying the five lighthouses
there. This included two lights on the Isle of Man,
over which the Commissioners of Northern Lights had responsibility.
It is probable that Capt Taylor used the Forth and Canal
not infrequently, but as it took considerable time to make
the journey, due its 39 locks, its use may have been kept
to a minimum!
Scotland has only four canals - a mere "drop
in the ocean" compared with that of England and Wales:
the Caledonian (connecting the north-east of Scotland
at Inverness with the west coast at Banavie near Fort William);
the Crinan (which allows easy access to the Atlantic
from the Clyde); and the two canals in Central Scotland
(the Forth and Clyde and the Union). Whilst
the Union, with a relatively shallow draft of only 5 ft,
can only cope with leisure craft and barges; the Forth and
Clyde had a depth of almost double that, allowing it be
used in those days by substantial sea-faring ships.
Forth and Clyde had long since fallen into disrepair, and
was finally remaindered in the 1960s. Since then it has
been breached in many places along its length. However,
as part of the Millennium Link Project in Central
Scotland, the canal was once again re-opened, as well as
its sister waterway, the Union Canal (constructed
1818-1822). The Union Canal runs some 31½ miles from Camelon
(just west of Falkirk) virtually to Edinburgh's city centre.
In early times, both canals were linked by a series of 11
locks. However, these were infilled early in the 1900s.
they are linked again by what can only be described as exceptional
feat of modern engineering. The unique Falkirk Wheel,
the world's first and only rotating boatlift, opened
in May this year (2002), now lifts boats from the level
of the Forth and Clyde approximately 115 feet (35 metres)
to the Union and vice versa, making it possible to sail
from Bowling (near Glasgow) literally to the centre of Edinburgh!