At the north end of the Crinan Canal, connecting Loch Fyne to the Atlantic Ocean, is the tiny picturesque fishing village of Crinan with its population of just under 80 inhabitants.
For over 200 years the Crinan Hotel has been the centre of this little community.
Today the Crinan Hotel is an international meeting point for Hebridean sailors, fishermen, yachtsman, holiday makers and above all lovers of seafood and the best of Scottish produce.
The story of "Britain's most beautiful shortcut" began in 1771 when James Watt surveyed the district to find a course for the canal, originally planned by John Rennie. Only 9 miles in length, the Crinan Canal was built to improve access to the Western Isles, offering a safe transit route from Ardrishaig on Loch Fyne to Crinan, avoiding the long, arduous journey around the Mull of Kintyre.
The Crinan Canal Act was passed in 1793, and Thomas Telford superintended the build. Funding for the canal came from London as well as Glasgow, but the money ran out in 1801. With the help of Government loans and additional funding the canal was finally finished in 1809.
In 1823, a section of the canal bank approximately three miles north of Ardrishaig failed, and the course of the canal was altered to avoid the marshy ground which had caused the problem. The old banks can still be seen between the canal and the main road to Oban.
Worse was to come in 1859, when a reservoir dam burst. Millions of gallons of water, along with hundreds of tons of rocks, boulders, peat and mud, were released, spreading in both directions along the canal and wrecking locks, pounds, public road and canal banks - though, miraculously, without any loss of life.
Given these misfortunes, it is no surprise that the Crinan Canal never became financially self-supporting. By 1854, the canal was carrying 33,000 passengers, 27,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle. By 1906 most of the revenue was obtained from goods traffic, but at £6,000 a year this hardly covered operating costs. Nonetheless, the canal continued as an important local amenity, and a vital supply line to the Highlands and Islands.
Between 1930 and 1932, new sea locks were built at either end, making the canal accessible at any state of tide. Lock 14 and the canal bank between Crinan and Bellanoch were extensively improved as recently as 1991. The canal is now used largely by yachts as well as fishing vessels.
For many years, some of the most prominent sights on the canal were the Clyde Puffers - little cargo vessels that were designed to fit the Forth & Clyde and Crinan Canals. They delivered coal to the West Coast, bringing back whisky and other produce.
Today there are only two puffers left on the canal, Auld Reekie and Vic 32, which are based at the canal basin in Crinan. The canal itself no longer carries freight, although the harbour at Ardrishaig is important for Scotland's timber trade.
The above history was kindly provided by Scottish Canals. For more information on Scotland's Canals you can visit their website
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