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Union Canal from Falkirk to Edinburgh
Researched and written by Jeannette Briggs.
This magnificent waterway traverses part of the Scottish Lowlands and joins two major historical cities - Falkirk and Edinburgh. It was only fully restored and reopened in 2002, under the Millennium Link project. It links Falkirk with another famous old Scottish waterway, the Forth and Clyde Canal, whose route runs from Bowling on the River Clyde just west of the great city of Glasgow to meet the River Forth just beyond Falkirk, at Grangemouth. (See separate section on the Forth and Clyde Canal) The entire traverse of the lowlands of Scotland from Bowling to Edinburgh) is about 69 miles long in total, and the full restoration of these two canals - derelict for over 40 years - now allows us to enjoy a canal boat holiday journey in beautiful surroundings and experience the thrills of the Falkirk Wheel. More of this later.
The Union Canal nearly didn't make it to the "fully restored" list......In the 1960's it was formally closed by Act of Parliament, and 11 locks at Falkirk which linked the Union Canal to the Forth and Clyde canal were removed. The route of the M8 was permitted to drive right through the canal at Ratho, and an entire stretch of the canal outside Edinburgh was filled in when a new housing estate was built there. The future for the Union Canal could not have looked more bleak. However, with the determined campaigning of dedicated canal restorers and the setting up of the Millennium Link, work on the restoration of the Union canal began in 1991. It was finally completed with the grand opening of the magnificent Falkirk Wheel by The Queen in 2002.
Photos by Stephen Worsfold
The Canal effectively starts at the Falkirk Wheel which stands at 115ft above the valley of the River Carron. This is a truly amazing feat of 21st century civil engineering - an imaginative solution to the problem that faced the canal restorers when they had to try and think of a way of lowering canal boats from the Union Canal down to the level of the Forth and Clyde Canal after some clever people had filled in the flight of 11 locks that used to do this job. The Falkirk Wheel is effectively a giant ferris wheel for boats: an amazing rotating boat lift and the first of its kind in the world. It gives boaters an exhilarating ride, and those who navigate it rate it as highly as a trip across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct for adrenalin-inducing thrills. You can enjoy the orgainised cruise here or book your canal boat hire from Black Prince Holidays who have a base here.
After leaving the elevated section of the Union Canal above the Falkirk Wheel, you reach what was another obstacle to the restoration work just beyond Falkirk, in that the new section of elevated canal had to be joined up with the existing section. Ingenious solutions were proposed, and the canal was eventually placed in a new culvert and tunnel called the Roughcastle Tunnel
The scenery beyond Glen is not as beautiful, with housing estates and views over the oil refineries at Grangemouth. Then the canal enters a country park which leads to the very impressive Avon Aqueduct, This is 810ft long and 86ft high and it is the second largest and highest aqueduct in Great Britain. Unfortunately the Avon Aqueduct is hemmed in with woods and undergrowth and this makes a "full-on" view of the structure very difficult. It is more impressive from towpath level. The stone piers that carry the aqueduct over the River Avon are massive and support a cast iron trough which carries your canal boat high above the gorge.
Photos below by Stephen Worsfold
The canal now approaches the town of Linlithgow which has a canal centre and the famous 14th century Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and a favourite home of the Scottish Stuart Kings. Sadly, much of it was destroyed by fire and it is roofless - but still impressive for all that.
After Ratho, the canal reaches the Slateford Aqueduct which carries it high above the Waters of Leith just outside Edinburgh and now goes through increasingly built up areas reaching the Lochrin Basin , a short walk from Princes Street and Edinburgh Castle. The Lochrin Basin is another example of redevelopment and regeneration on a grand scale and it has made a huge difference to this area of Edinburgh. From the Basin it is a short walk to Princes Street and Edinburgh Castle and - of course - there are several pubs and bars by the canal at Lochrin Basin and Edinburgh Quay for you to enjoy, along with the locals who like looking at the canal boats there.
I hope that you have enjoyed this brief introduction to the delights of the Union Canal, and that your eyes have been opened up to see the possibilities of a new canal holiday journey all the way from Edinburgh to Glasgow or visa-versa by using both the Union and the Forth and Clyde canals.
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