Caledonian Canal, Fort Augustus

Started in 1803 and completed 12 years late in 1822, the Caledonian Canal connects the North Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. It consists of 29 locks (not to be confused with lochs), 35km of man-made channel, and four natural lochs. It’s a feat of Scottish engineering, designed and built by Thomas Telford from Dumfries.


Over 1500 Highlanders were involved in the construction which involved a lot of digging.  Apparently whisky-drinking among workers was a problem and the engineers tried to discourage it by opening a brewery nearby in the hope of encouraging a switch to beer. This plan failed and all that happened was the Highlanders drank both, even cleaning out their whisky glass with a swill of beer.

Some 300,000 tonnes of earth and stone were removed to create the canal and 29 x 20-tonne cast iron lock gates installed. It can lift a boat by 20m in just a few hundred metres. But despite this it was never a commercial success. By the time it was completed, many ships were bigger – some too big to use the canal – and could brave the north-west coast without worry. Nowadays the canal is a tourist attraction and is not just for boats. It’s very popular with walkers and cyclists who use the tow path beside the canal to go from Fort William to Fort Augustus.

It was fun to see the locks in action at Fort Augustus. The kids were fascinated. It was very slow though! It takes a while for boats to get through all the locks.


When the water is level on either side the lock opens.


The boat is pulled through.


The last lock at Fort Augustus forms part of the road where the canal spills into Loch Ness.


Cars have to wait when boats are going through. The road swings open and shut and forms a bridge over the canal.



Even without the canal, Fort Augustus is lovely. It sits right at the south end of Loch Ness.




There are lots of places to eat and shop and also walking and cycling opportunities.




9 thoughts on “Caledonian Canal, Fort Augustus”

  1. I’ve always wanted to visit the more northerly parts of Scotland – we stayed in a small fishing village on the Firth of Forth called “St Monans” years ago (before children!). One day! 🙂

    1. There are so many great places to visit up here. I’ve not been to St Monans myself. It’s not so far away for you so hopefully one day will come soon enough.

  2. My memory of the Caledonian Canal is from a camping trip with a mate in my late teens and we woke up, looked out the tent flap and a ship had arrived during the night!

  3. My friend went on a canal holiday with one of her friends and they had a hell of a time getting the boat through locks. It exacerbated their personality differences (chiefly the other woman’s bossiness) and ended up with a big row. Maybe it could be a company team building exercise.

    1. It didn’t look hard getting the boats through the locks but I can see that patience is required. Maybe it’s also hard than it looks? Apparently Queen Victoria made the trip by steam boat and even she commented on the slowness of it.

    1. What are you scared of? They move very slowly but I guess if they open quickly there could be a big gush of water. Is that what you find scary?

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