Section Index
A Short Biographical Sketch

The Forth and Clyde Canal

King George IV’s
Visit to Scotland

Capt Taylor’s
Retiral and Death

The Forth and Clyde Canal

The quick route from East to West

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 NLB.

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 Clyde canal.

By 1816, the Pharos had superseded the old Smeaton (now considered unsuitable even for Bell Rock service).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's canals

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.

The 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 31 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.

Now 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!

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