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Guide to the Forth and Clyde Canal

The Forth & Clyde Canal was the first canal to be built in Scotland in the eighteenth century, crossing central Scotland east to west from the Bowling Basin on the River Clyde to the Forth estuary at the River Carron. The original plan behind the canal was to allow trading ships to avoid the long trip around the Scottish Hebrides, as well as providing a link for coal transport to the major cities.

A brief history of the Forth and Clyde Canal

A plan to provide a route for seagoing vessels between east and west Scotland at the narrowest point had been debated as early as the early 1700s, during the reign of Charles II. However it wasn’t until 1790 that the Forth and Clyde officially opened, providing a link between the Firth of Forth (estuary on the east of Scotland leading into the North Sea) and the Firth of Clyde (estuary on the west coast) in the Scottish Lowlands.

Proposals in 1763 put the cost of build at £80,000 (about £16 million today) but was thought to have cost nearer £150,000 (£31 million). Work was begun in 1768 under the superintendence of Mr Smeaton, the first sod being cut by Sir Lawrence Dundas and by July 1790 (subject to delays with financing), it was opened from sea to sea.

Initially successful, the Forth and Clyde Canal suffered as seagoing vessels became larger and could no longer pass through. The railway age further hindered the success of the canal, and by the mid twentieth century, the canal was all but disused.  The final decision to close the canal in the early 1960s was made due to maintenance costs of bridges crossing the canal.

As part of the millennium celebrations in 2000, British National Lottery funds were used to regenerate the canal and the Falkirk Wheel was built to provide a waterways link between the Forth and Clyde and the Union Canal.

Medieval Aqueduct in Scotland Avon Aqueduct - Second Highest Aqueduct

Top Firth and Clyde Canal Facts

  • Main Line Canal Length

    35 Miles

  • Number of Locks


  • Opening date


  • Falkirk Wheel

    The worlds only rotating boat lift, the Falkirk Wheel, connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. It opened in 2002 as part of the Millennium Link

Falkirk Wheel from above Black Prince Holidays

Route Overview

Forth and Clyde Canal was constructed to connect the Firths (esturies) of Forth and Clyde.

To the east, the canal is connected to the River Forth by a stretch of the River Carron near Grangemouth. The canal heads west to Falkirk (where you can join the Union Canal to Edinburgh) to Stockingfield Junction where you can take the short Glasgow Branch heading south, or continue north west to Dalmuir and Bowling, where the canal then connects to the River Clyde.

The highest section of the canal passes close to Kilsyth and it is fed there by an aqueduct which gathers water from (the purpose built) Birkenburn Reservoir in the Kilsyth Hills.

The scenery is quite spectacular through the Scottish midlands and the canal passes through villages such as Auchinstarry – the site of a Roman fort, and Kirkintilloch, which dates back to the 13th century.

Glasgow at night

Route Overview

Built for sea-going vessels 

This canal was originally constructed for sea-going vessels, so is much larger than those on the English canal network. The locks are 74 feet long and 20 wide and upon its course are thirty-three draw-bridges, ten large aqueducts and thirty-three smaller ones.

Water supply

It is supplied with water from reservoirs; one of which, at Kilmananmuir, is seventy acres and 22 feet deep at the sluice; and that at Kilsyth is fifty acres in extent, with 24 feet of water at its head.

The Falkirk Wheel

At Port Downie, a flight of eleven locks originally linked the Forth and Clyde to the Union Canal to Edinburgh, taking almost a day to navigate, but these were dismantled in 1933.  Replacing them is the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first rotating boat lift, opened by the Queen in 2002. The Wheel is 35 metres tall, the equivalent of 8 double decker buses stacked on top of each other and only uses 1.5kWh of energy to turn, the same amount as it would take to boil 8 household kettles.

Did You Know?

  • Early traffic

    Passenger boats ran on the canal from 1783, and in 1809 fast boats were introduced, running from Edinburgh to Falkirk in 3 hours 30 minutes, providing such comforts as food, drink and newspapers. By 1812 they carried 44,000 passengers, taking receipts of more than £3,450.

  • Steaming cruises

    Pleasure steamers used the canal from 1893 until the outbreak of World War II.

  • Falkirk Wheel build

    Work started on the ambitious £84.5 million Millennium Link projects to rejoin the two canals in 1998 with the creation of the Falkirk Wheel.

  • Scottish Canals

    150 miles of canal in Scotland are managed by Scottish Canals, not the Canal & River Trust, who manage the canal network in England and Wales.

Canal boating bridge

Black Prince Cruising Routes

You can cruise on the Forth and Clyde Canal starting from our narrowboat hire base at Falkirk in Scotland. Check out our canal maps and cruise guides on our base page for more information for your canal boat holiday in Scotland.

Falkirk Kelpies

Black Prince Canal Guides

Below are links to a few of our other canal specific guides and canal maps to help inspire you on your next canal holiday: