Scotlands History

The Caledonian Canal

Many schemes were proposed for a waterway linking the Moray Firth with the west coast, via the lochs of the Great Glen. At the time of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815), the prospect of moving ships in wartime to avoid the Pentland Firth revived interest in this canal.

The foremost principal engineer appointed was Thomas Telford, who had designed and built countless famous structures across Britain. Building the Caledonian Canal was his most testing task, linking 60 miles of freshwater lochs (Lochy, Oich and Ness), from Corpach, near Fort William, to Clachnaharry, near Inverness.

It finally opened from sea to sea in 1822, much over budget and beset by engineering difficulties.

The canal never became important for strategic inland navigation, but Telford’s legacy includes a series of eight locks called Neptune’s Staircase, at Banavie, which remains a famous tourist attraction for watching boats.

  • A photograph of the Caledonian Canal.

Click on the image to view a larger version.