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Duration: 7 Nights
TOTAL LOCKS: 44
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 6 HOURS (33 HOURS TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: Map will be provided on arrival
A boating adventure along the world’s first sea-to-sea canal, this cruise offers a chance to discover the heritage of Scotland’s boating past. You’ll uncover world-class engineering, aqueducts that inspire poetry, speedy passenger boats and even ships fit for a queen.
Before you head off on your cruise, you want to allow time to visit the world-famous Falkirk Wheel just beside the Falkirk base. A masterpiece of engineering, the world’s first and only rotating Boat Lift opened in 2002 to rebuild a link between the Union and Forth & Clyde Canals where an 11-lock flight used to be. The project cost £17.5 million, took over 1,000 craftsmen and over 1,200 tons of steel. How it works is remarkably simple - two gondolas are full of water, one at upper level, one at lower level, and when the upper gondola lowers boats to the basin below, the lower gondola simultaneously rises. The elementary physics of this process echo Archimedes’ ‘principle of displacement’. When a boat enters a gondola, it spills water and the remaining total mass of gondola and boat always balances the same weight. Cogs and wheels give a smooth ride. The giant wheel stands 115ft tall yet uses a mouse-sized 1.5KWh of energy to turn!
Now head westwards along the Forth & Clyde Canal. Much wider than an English canal, the Forth & Clyde was completed in 1790, when it became the world’s first sea-to-sea canal and links the Irish and the North Seas. By the mid-1800s, some 3 million tonnes of goods and 200,000 passengers were being carried on the Forth and Clyde Canal every year but, as with many canals, trade fell off with the arrival of the railways so the canal fell into decline in the 1930s before officially closing in the 1960s. Thanks to the Millenium Link Project, the canal reopened in 2001 and the construction of the Falkirk Wheel relinked the Forth & Clyde with the Union Canal in 2002 for the first time in over 70 years. Staff from Scottish Canals now help at all locks and swing or lift bridges along the canal.
Climbing four closely spaced locks just beyond Bonnybridge and Bonnybridge Lifting Bridge, you reach the summit level of the canal with only gentle lock-free miles to come. Views across the valley with the River Kelvin and the Campsie Fells beyond add to the beauty and drama of the landscape along this broad, straight section of canal which passes north of the Dullatur Marsh, a nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Auchinstarry lies almost halfway between the two historic mining towns of Kilsyth and Croy either side of the canal. The marina here opened in 2003 and is renowned for its pub, restaurant and hotel – the first eco pub in Scotland. The canal runs close to the line of the Antonine Wall along this stretch, and there are Roman hill forts nearby at Bar Hill and Croy Hill.
A close-knit mining community used to exist in the former mining village of Twechar but the last colliery here was closed in the 196os. The village had two pits, Twechar and Gartshore, and thanks to its strategic position at the northern edge of the Lanarkshire coalfields, even housed the headquarters of William Baird & Co., one of the largest mining companies in the area (though reputedly not much-loved given their treatment of workers during hard times). Just beyond Twechar Lift Bridge, only ruins remain of the stables at Shirva which once provided fresh horses for the ‘swifts’, fast passenger boats running to and from Glasgow in the early 1800s.
The historic town of Kirkintilloch , enjoying its status as ‘Canal capital of Scotland’, dates back to Roman times and, as with much of this canal, has the Antonine Wall running through Peel Park in its centre. The town thrived as a centre for weaving, shipbuilding and iron founding during the 19th century due to the canal and later railway links to Glasgow. Auld Kirk Museum, housed in a Grade A-listed church, has a collection of around 13,000 items of local and national significance.
The engineer John Smeaton built the Forth & Clyde Canal in stages and, heading west from Grangemouth, a former basin just beyond Hillend Swing Bridge was the canal’s first terminus in 1773. The Seagull Trust boathouse is on the former site of J & J Hay who built and operated the infamous ‘puffers’ along the canal. The Clyde puffer was a small steam-driven, single-masted cargo ship and an artwork unveiled in Southbank Marina in 2013 celebrates puffers built by the Hays in Kirkintilloch between 1866 and 1945.
The canal cuts right through the Antonine Wall at a sharp bend before Cadder. Cadder Church, on a site dating back to 1150, is worth a visit for its stained glass windows and is reputedly one of the haunts of the infamous body snatchers, Burke and Hare (who took to murder to acquire more corpses to sell to the medical schools in Glasgow and Edinburgh). In the early 1800s, people would stand guard for days after a funeral, keeping the remains protected. Cadder Church had a small building used to keep watch for body snatchers, and an iron coffin was placed on newly buried coffins to prevent them being taken. A public outcry led the Government to eventually pass an Act in 1833 regulating the Schools of Anatomy by licence.
If your itinerary allows, turn off at Stockingfield Junction to follow the short Glasgow Arm into the very heart of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow. Glasgow is of course synonymous with the architect, designer and artist Charles Rennie Macintosh, and there are buildings and art galleries galore to soak up his work. He designed numerous buildings across the city, with the Glasgow School of Art considered to be his masterpiece. The city is an art and heritage lover’s dream as you meander from the Kelvingrove Art Galley & Museum to the Gallery of Modern Art, from the Riverside Museum to the People’s Palace. And then there are shops, restaurants, cafés…
Back at Stockingfield Junction, continue your cruise westwards from the summit level down the five Maryhill Locks. Halfway through the flight is the site of Kelvin Dock, where in 1857 the first ‘puffer’ was built, and D-day landing craft during World War II. Again staff from Scottish Canals will help you through all the locks from Stockingfield Junction down to your destination at Bowling. The flight of five locks at Maryhill is quickly followed by the 400ft-long Kelvin Aqueduct carrying the canal 70ft over the River Kelvin below. When it was completed by Robert Whitworth in 1790, it was the largest aqueduct in Europe and was visited by tourists in their thousands, and even inspired poets who wrote odes to celebrate it. It is now a scheduled ancient monument (as is the entire Forth & Clyde Canal).
Two locks are quickly followed by another flight of five as the canal winds its way through the western edges of Glasgow’s suburbs. Passing under the A82 Great Western Road, the canal now heads down a few more locks through Clydebank. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Clydebank was a prosperous shipbuilding and heavy engineering centre, but was heavily bombed during World War II, and suffered economic hardship later with the collapse of its shipbuilding and other heavy industries. Many ships including the Queen Mary and the QE2 were built in shipyards here and you can find out more about this heritage with a visit to the 150ft-high Titan Crane, known as Titan Clydebank. Finished in 1907, the crane towers over the River Clyde and is even illuminated at night, and is also a museum celebrating the shipbuilding heritage of this area. Just beyond Argyll Road Bridge, you can even get some ‘sail thru’ fish and chips from a takeaway on a ship moored by the bridge, or moor up and visit Clyde Shopping Centre.
Dalmuir Drop Lock was constructed as part of the Millennium Link project, and has an ingenious way of lowering the canal level to enable boats to pass under the road bridge without interfering with the traffic. It was the first of its kind in Britain and perhaps the world. You now reach the port of Bowling, where the canal meets the estuary of the River Clyde and beyond it the sea. Bowling was once a hive of activity and shipbuilding, and its harbour remained open even during the closure of the canal between 1963 and 2000. As the western gateway to the Forth & Clyde Canal, Bowling Harbour has today been developed into a tourism destination. Businesses now occupy the once disused railway arches and the 120-year old Caledonian Railway swing bridge has been restored. On a clear day, there are stunning views across to the Isles of Bute and Arran.
After soaking in the views, it is time to turn and follow this fascinating route back to the base from a new perspective. If you have enough time after arriving at Falkirk, Falkirk’s other great canal attraction, the magnificent 30m-high Kelpies are a short distance away at the start of the Forth & Clyde Canal. An unforgettable sight, the world’s largest equine sculpture was built in 2013 and is created from 990 unique stainless steel skin-plates.
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 8 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 8 People
Max: 6 People