History of the Caledonian Canal

Designed by Thomas Telford, the Caledonian Canal reaches from coast to coast across Scotland - from Corpach, Fort William, in the west to Inverness in the east.

A safe route

The canal was built to provide a safe route for naval vessels and merchant ships, so they could avoid the treacherous waters of the Pentland Firth and Cape Wrath.  The Great Glen offered the perfect route, with only short man-made sections required to link up the four natural lochs - Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour.  The canal was used extensively by fishing boats and cargo vessels, and during the World Wars the canal was busy with navy craft.

Changing uses

Following the huge herring boom in Scotland, peaking in the early 1900s, there was a slow delicne in fishing.  As cargo and naval vessels increased in size, they were no longer able to pass through the canal, and the number of craft using the canal dropped.

In the 1980s the Caledonian Canal was designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, as the value of the Scottish canals was formally acknowledged.  In the 1990s, a ten year, £10m major stabilisation project began on the canal, refurbishing the structure.

A dynamic waterway

Today the canal is a busy and vibrant working waterway, with a mix of leisure and commercial craft.  Large hotel barges pass motor cruisers and yachts, rowing boats and paddle craft. Off the water, local partnership working encourages community involvement and opportunities for learning.  The towpaths, walking and cycling routes offer exciting spaces to explore, from multi-day trips to family walks.

Caledonian Canal



Of the canal's 60 mile route, only 22 miles are man-made channel - the remaining 38 miles comprise the Great Glen's natural lochs

Quick Facts

  • Constructed 1803 - 1847
  • 60 miles long
  • 29 locks


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