A beautiful piece of Scotland that was once an infrastructural marvel
Crinan canal is an artificial waterway connecting Loch Gilp and the Clyde Estuary with the Sound of Jura and the Western Isles on the west coast of Scotland. Engineers James Watt and John Rennie both surveyed the area above the unassuming little town of Ardrishaig (just below Lochgilphead) in the 18th century to find a way for the merchant boats to avoid the treacherous route around the Mull of Kintyre (Can you hear the bagpipes playing?) that had cost the lives of so many Scottish sailors. Both favoured this approach to the more southern route just above Tarbert, but it was Rennie who was hired by John Campbell, the 5th Duke of Argyle to supervise the construction of this for the local community vital feat of engineering. The Duke hoped to attract some much needed industries to this economically barren and underdeveloped region of Scotland, that until then was mainly known for its inaccessibility and its weird inhabitants.
Work began in 1794 and finished (2 years late and over budget) in 1801, just to need early repair work and significant upgrades by engineering whiz Thomas Telford who had to redesign and rebuilt the 15 locks that enabled ships to elevate to the 20 meters above sealevel. The canal reduced the journey to Jura from Ardrishaig by 160 km and was widely used for commercial traffic, for instance for passenger transport between Glasgow to Fort William and Inverness until the importance of the Western Isles diminished and road transport began to take over.
Today the canal is mainly used by recreational watersport fans, and the day-long passage through the canal is a high point for a lot of sailors on their way north from Glasgow. You sail (or walk on the towpath) peacefully through a wonderful bit of scottish landscape, with hills on one side and a moory bay on the other side. Dunadd, the centre of the ancient scottish kingdom of Dal Riada can be seen on the other side of Crinan Ferry and there are plenty of rare species of birds to watch.
If you want to hang around the area a bit, Britain's best seafood restaurant, Crinan Hotel is perched on the rim of the Sound of Jura, and on the other side of the canal the Hotel Cairnbaan offers great beers, good food (try the Venison Burger) and affordable luxury.
This being the West of Scotland, there are not that many tourists around yet and outside the school holidays, the area around the canal is an oasis of peace.