More than a hundred years before the Caledonian Canal was built the Brahan Seer predicted that, "the time will come when full-rigged ships will be seen sailing eastwards and westwards by the back of Tomnahurich near Inverness".
Building of the Canal commenced in 1803. The designer was Thomas Telford, one of Scotland's most famous civil engineers, who already had scores of roads and bridges to his credit. The canal was to provide a safe passage for ships of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Needless to say the wars were over by the time it was completed and opened in 1822. It had taken nearly twenty years to complete.
Its vital statistics
The Caledonian Canal is 60 miles long (96.56 kms), two thirds of which is comprised of the three lochs that occupy the Great Glen. From the basin at Corpach at the head of Loch Linnhe through Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness to the basin at Muirton the Canal provides a safe route linking the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea. It has 29 locks, of which its most famous set is Neptune's Staircase at Corpach near the west end of the canal. It was to cost £474,500 but the final figure was twice that value.
Its economic impact
By any standards the Canal is a remarkable piece of engineering and is one of only two canals in the Highlands and Islands (the other is the much smaller Crinan Canal). The Canal allows ships to avoid the dangerous Pentland Firth and the hazardous waters to the north of Scotland. It encouraged economic growth and provided employment in the Highlands. The use of the canal reached its peak in the 1880s. Regular passenger services and fishing boats vied with cargoes of timber, grain, salt, flax, iron and other commodities.
The Canal today
The 'Great Glen Way', the third longest footpath in the Highlands, was opened by HRH The Prince Andrew, Earl of Inverness on 30th April 2002. This has now made it possible to walk the entire length of the canal with relative ease.
Ongoing work on the Canal and repairs to locks have been carried out recently. This should ensure the Canal's viability and its future looks bright.
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