|The geology, and hence the geography, of
Scotland made it more difficult to adapt to the needs of inland
navigation than the flat regions of England. Nevertheless, those that
were created became better known than their counterparts in the south.
The Caledonian, Crinan, Forth & Clyde, Monkland and Union are known
in every land the Scots have reached, and that is most of them.
In many instances difficulties were
encountered and estimated costs exceeded. Even the Caledonian, which in
theory was a matter of stringing together a chain of existing lochs,
took eighteen years to complete and cost £800,000. Begun in 1803/4 it
was finally opened to water traffic in 1822. From the outset it failed
to generate the expected income and was used primarily by the navy –
it was designed to admit a frigate of 32 guns – and by the steamers on
the Glasgow to Inverness route. Some ten years after it was opened, the
Caledonian was still only earning around £2,500 per annum in dues. Its
real value in those days would have been to provide easy passage in the
event of another war with France.
During the 18th century there
had been several suggestions of joining the Clyde and Forth estuaries,
but it was not until 1768 that Parliament finally approved the measure.
Cutting began that same year with a subscription of £150,000, but
almost immediately a further £50,000 proved to be required. It took 22
years, but on the 28th of July 1790 the thirty-nine mile
canal from sea to sea was finally opened. Besides requiring a great deal
of banking and shoring-up, the Forth & Clyde also had to cross
several existing waterways and this could only be achieved by the
building of viaducts.
Unlike the Caledonian, the Forth &
Clyde was a financial success, and the company’s shares saw a dramatic
increase in value. By running the Union Canal into it at the Edinburgh
end water traffic was increased still further. As well as providing a
short route to Leith from Glasgow and Liverpool, the company ran daily
Without the creation of the Crinan Canal,
vessels going to or coming from the west coast of Argyllshire and the
western entrance to the Caledonian Canal had to navigate around the
south of Arran and the promontory of Kintyre. From Loch Gilp, a small
inlet off the west side of Loch Fyne, a canal was cut across the neck of
Kintyre to the Sound of Jura. As well as greatly shortening the time and
distance required on the Glasgow to Inverness run, the Crinan Canal also
opened up the Hebrides to early tourism, which further added to the
income of the joint stock company.
The Union Canal was created to connect
Edinburgh with the Forth & Clyde and hence with the industrial city
of Glasgow. As an undertaking it was enormous, yet it was started in
March 1818 and completed only four years later in 1822. To cross a
ravine and the Water of Leith at Slateford required a bridge 65 feet in
height and 500 feet in length, and an even larger aqueduct over the Avon
above the bridge at Linlithgow. In all, the Union is thirty-one miles in
length, but required no locks except where it descended into the Forth
The two great benefits from the creation
of the Union were, first, heavy goods could be taken to Edinburgh from
Glasgow and the west of England at a fraction of the usual cost; and
second, new coalfields became available to private and commercial users
in Edinburgh and the east. But although the benefits to the consumer
were considerable, the returns to the shareholders were less so.
Expectations were set too high and the total revenue was only a fraction
of that anticipated. The coming of the railway within a short number of
years was the final straw.
Scotland's Waterways here