Wednesday 13 September 2023

Fort William Sojourn (2)

Yesterday, Tuesday 12th September, the outing was to "The Caledonian Canal and Nevis Distillery". The following pre-prepared blog still seems appropriate. It has been enhanced based on yesterday's trip.

A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Not Panama

How are your plate tectonics, missus? It doesn't take much of a geological genius to spot what looks like a giant gash across Scotland. It runs from somewhere south west of Fort William all the way to Inverness. Almost certainly it was created gazillions of years ago when huge "plates" of rock floating on molten magma slid against one another to create a "fault".
The idea of linking together the lochs that eventually formed in this valley fault to provide a short-cut from west to east had been around for years.

Creating a canal across the heart of the Scottish Highlands from coast to coast was the jackpot project of Thomas Telford.  (fbb has noticed a strange likeness between Mr Telford and bus boss Julian Peddle ...

... but he doesn't think they are related!)

Born in 1757 in the parish of Westerkirk near Lagholm, Dumfriesshire, Telford was commissioned by the government to give an objective opinion on improving Highland communications. The Government's intentions were fourfold:

to find promising fishing stations

to see if a canal from east to west coast was practical

to find suitable harbours in the north-east for trading with the Baltic and use by the Royal Navy

to establish 'a safe and convenient intercourse between the Mainland of Scotland and the Islands'

Started in 1803, the Caledonian Canal project was budgeted at £474,531 plus £15,000 for land purchases. A year later they were asked to estimate the cost of making the canal big enough to accommodate the 32-gun and 44-gun frigates of the Royal Navy. With £20,000 allocated for preparatory works and £50,000 a year after that, the canal project was programmed to take 10 years.

The section of canal from Inverness to Loch Ness was opened in the summer of 1818.

Finally completed in 1822, the canal has more recently become a popular attraction for visitors and recreation users ...

... but is still run and used as a working waterway by Scottish Canals.

In essence the plan was simple. You construct several diddy bits of canal! (well, diddy lengths of big canal) joining the existing lochs together with locks and bits of canal.

So from Fort William at the head of Loch Linnhe is a canal into Loch Lochy ...

... then another trench into the diminutive Loch Oich ...

... and on to Fort Augustus and then the giant Loch Ness.
Finally it was out to the sea at Inverness.

Inconsiderately these various elongated ponds were all at different heights above sea level, so, as hinted above, Locks were needed between the lochs.

Near Fort William is Neptune's Staircase, with nine lock gates to negotiate!

Forunately in a major renovation for the whole canal, manual operation by capstan ...
... has been replaced by hydraulics. The occasional capstan still remains in situ.
Back in he olden days it must have taken and age and a half plus much sweat to get your vessel through Neptune's Staircase.
Note the West Highland railway line and the A830 at the foot of the stairs,

Both railway and road bridges ...
... need to swing; much to the chagrin of holiday traffic setting out on the last led of the Road to The Isles. or, as here, returning from Mallaig.
On the canal we join Loch Lochy and here are two sets of gates at the Laggan Lock as we leave.
Bottom left in the snap above is the control "hut", a gratifying replacement for yet more capstans!

We will complete our journey north in a later blog, wondering all the time what we might see.
Who knows?
She does!

Neptune's Staircase Visit
The ladder of locks linking Loch Linnhe with Loch Lochy ...
... was on the fbb's holiday schedule yesterday. The coach grazed peacefully in the visitor car park ...
... whist the fbbs toddled over to look in wonder at Mr Telford's marvell. Hard to see because of the angle of the bright sun, but the locks are BIG!
There were boats waiting to descend and ascend, those coming down were high masted ...
... and would need both rail and road bridges to swing.
One other excitement was presented to fbb, who was too dozy to recognise it in time for adequate photography. A hissing a clanking was heard, plus a solitary "toot". It was none other than the "Jacobite" steam hauled train just starting on its trip to Mallaig.

fbb just managed a poor quality snap to record the hiss, clank and toot visually.
And this is what it looks like properly pictured.

But something happened yesterday which is so rare that it ought to have made the local headlines. Here is a clue.
Answer tomorrow.

Today the outing is a "Cruise on Loch Ness" which will enhance a pre-prepared blog  later - probably on Friday.

But fbb has failed to provide the item promised yesterday, namely and enhanced set of snippets from the lengthy journey from Seaton to Fort William.

This will appear in tomorrow's blog, cunningly entitled ...

 Next Bits Missed Out blog : Thursday 14th Sept