Researched and written by Jeannette Briggs
The Forth and Clyde Canal runs for 35 miles from the west of Scotland on the River Clyde, and just north of the great city of Glasgow, through the central Lowlands of Scotland to the large town of Grangemouth on the River Forth, just beyond Falkirk. The canal was one of the earliest to be built, and work commenced in 1768. It linked the two main commercial rivers of Scotland (the Forth and the Clyde) and commercial seagoing cargos were thus spared the long and dangerous route around the far north of Scotland.
The Forth and Clyde Canal was constructed to accommodate sea-going boats from the beginning and the locks are thus 60 feet long and 20 feet wide. A "canal boat" it isn't! The first steamboat ever built, the Charlotte Dundas, carried out trials in 1802 and later the canal carried vehicles on boats through the locks such as railway wagons. The canal operated until 1963, but then fell into disuse and disrepair, and it was not until the 1990's that it became the subject of a major restoration project. This included the design and construction of the now famous Falkirk Wheel, a spectacular boat lift at Falkirk which was designed as a civil engineering project rival the Anderton Boat Lift. This was necessary to ensure the transfer of the canal boats from the Forth and Clyde Canal upwards to join the Union Canal at Falkirk. This was necessary because the original 11 locks that used to do this job had become derelict and needed to be replaced. This boat lift enables canal boaters to complete the canal boat holiday journey all the way from the River Clyde near Glasgow up and in to the very centre of the city of Edinburgh.
The Forth and Clyde Canal leaves the River Clyde at Bowling, where it enters through the sea lock and into a large basin. Your canal boat holiday journey turns south east and hugs the banks of the River Clyde below for several miles, passing through the Ferrydyke bascule bridge, underneath the great Erskine Road Bridge over the Clyde, and through the drop lock at Dalmuir.
It then skirts around the town of Clydebank (in effect a huge suburb of Glasgow) and through Boghouse locks, past Bearsden and Anniesland. Once past these suburbs the canal passes through Netherton, Temple Locks and Maryhill Locks before reaching Stockingfield Junction, where a branch of the canal goes off due south to Port Dundas in the centre of Glasgow itself.
Leaving Stockingfield Junction the canal at last reaches some open countryside past Lambhill locks before you see the quaintly named Hungryside Bridge near the little village of Torrance.
The next feature on the canal is Southbank Marina at Kirkintilloch. Townsend Bridge and the Seagull Trust base are here. Beyond Kirkintilloch the canal reaches more open countryside and you see Hillhead bridge and Twechar. Beyond here is the new Auchinstarry Marina , where you can take out a kayak or a canoe on an hourly bases but regrettably no canal boat hire.
You are now in the middle of a large open marshland called Dullatur an SSSI but you reach Banknock and Castlecary Locks and the town of Bonnybridge, which straddles the River Bonny.
From here it is a short journey to the spectacular Falkirk Wheel. This amazing feat of modern civil engineering gives a ligt to any canal boat holiday journey - literally 60 feet above the Forth and Clyde up to the Union Canal. The Visitor Centre here is first rate with all kinds of refreshments. Most people on the Forth and Clyde canal now continue their journey along the Union Canal to Edinburgh from this point, but you can always continue your journey to the sea lock and the Carron Cut at the River Forth, near to Grangemouth. Your journey along the Forth and Clyde terminates here, if journeying to Edinburgh on the Union Canal. It is possible to arrange to take a canal boat hire from the Falkirk Wheel base.
The great Falkirk Wheel which lowers boats down to the Forth and Clyde Canal at Falkirk - photo by Colin Smith and reproduced by kind permission
To sum up the Forth and Clyde Canal has been restored once again to a full working waterway, and one that offers canal boaters a completely new vision of the canals, as its locks are so wide and long. Coupled with a trip up and down the Falkirk Wheel and along the Union Canal as well, this is a terrific new opportunity that has opened up for enthusiastic boaters who want to explore an unexpected part of the British Isles by canal. I do hope that you have enjoyed reading about this canal and that you will be tempted to try it for yourself some day!
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