History: The history of the Forth and Clyde Canal

Adventures on the Forth and Clyde Canal

Above is a map of the first part of the canal which stretches from Lochrin Basin to Falkirk Wheel over a distance of 32 miles. The remainder of the canal after that goes to Glasgow and turns into the Clyde River. See more detail. 


Originally opened in 1789, the Forth and Clyde Canal crossed the lowlands of Scotland at its narrowest point. The man-made canal is 56km (35 miles) long and connects up the Firth of the Forth (Edinburgh) and the Firth of Clyde (Glasgow), two bodies of water leading to the ocean. This route enabled seagoing vessels to travel from Edinburgh to Glasgow across the middle of Scotland with relative ease to transport goods.

A fishing boat on the canal parked in Maryhill, Glasgow
A fishing boat on the canal parked in Maryhill, Glasgow. Courtesy: Scottish Waterways Trust
The canal in Maryhill, Glasgow Courtesy: Scottish Waterways Trust
The canal in Maryhill, Glasgow Courtesy: Scottish Waterways Trust

Before the industrial revolution this canal was critical for transporting goods and for fleets of east coast fishermen who went from the North Sea through the canal, in order to fish in the Irish Sea.

At the end of the 18th Century, the canal was used for leisure steam boat cruises where Calendonians would be able to enjoy food, drink and newspapers, the cruise ending in Falkirik 3.5 hours later. Around 44,000 people travelled this way over the 20 years.

However with the invention of the steam engine, and with boats getting too large to fit into the canal, the waterway was rendered superfluous. In around 1930 it fell into disrepair, in favour of train and freeway transport. In 1960 the canal was closed for commercial purposes, as the cost for maintaining it outgrew the amount of revenue the canal generated.

In Falkirk (a town midway between Edinburgh and Glasgow) the canal was filled in and built over, effectively cutting it off.

As part of the millennium celebrations in 2000, there was major revamp done on the canal with the creation of the Falkirk Wheel. This novelty boatlifting device connects the Clyde and Forth canals together once again. The canal was opened again and this allowed boats to again travel between Edinburgh and Glasgow. This has become a popular tourist destination. Revived local interest in the canal and its potential as a picturesque place to workout and live alongside has meant a spark in real estate developments alongside the canal.

Film recommendation

Young Adam starring Scottish actors Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton, is a period drama that’s set on the Forth and Clyde Canal in Glasgow/Edinburgh. This indie suspenseful thriller is about a lonely fisherman who becomes embroiled in a dangerous game. Young Adam didn’t achieve much commercial success, but it’s excellent and the performances (as you would expect from these two exceptional actors) are great.

I found this film particularly exciting because in the film you can see the backyard of the place where I used to live. The canal is a really proud part of being a local in Edinburgh and many people enjoy canal life through cycling and walking along the canal path or canoeing and rowing on the canal, with lots of races happening throughout the year. The Forth Canoe Club is a great community organisation to join if you live in Edinburgh and love the canal.

Read more about the history of the Forth and Clyde Canal

A view onto the city of Edinburgh from atop Calton Hill. Copyright Content Catnip 2011. 









Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

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