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On 28 June 1790, the Forth and Clyde Canal opened.

The short neck of land between the Irish and North Seas had been identified as early as the 1660s as the ideal place for a canal but it was not until economic and social conditions were right a century later that the work on what became the Forth and Clyde Canal was begun

The canal crosses Scotland, providing a route for sea-going vessels between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde at the narrowest part of the Scottish Lowlands. It is 35 miles (56 km) long and its eastern end is connected to the River Forth by a short stretch of the River Carron near Grangemouth. The western end of the canal connects to the River Clyde at Bowling.

In 1767 a public company was formed with it capital subscribed to by the most powerful and influential figures in the land.  There were six Dukes and seventeen Earls, as well as the Lord Provosts of both Edinburgh and Glasgow, but by far the biggest single shareholder was Sir Lawrence Dundas £10,000 worth of stock.  The canal would begin its journey on his land and, as a result, he stood to gain in every way from its success.  Parliament approved the proposal in 1768 and in the same year the work began.  It was a colossal undertaking, the greatest civil engineering project in Scotland since the Roman builders completed the Antonine Wall over much the same ground over 1600 years before.

By the time the canal opened developments were already underway with small workshops and warehouses, tile works, timber yards and coal stores established along the length of the canal from the new village of Grangemouth in the east to Camelon and Bonnybridge in the west.  More than any other development the cutting of the canal transformed Falkirk from a small market town to a centre of industry with a wide range of new manufacturing activities and a growing population. Grangemouth is now one of the biggest oil refineries in Europe – but it wouldn’t have existed if the canal had not been built.

More and more vessels that had once used the established port of Bo’ness now landed raw materials and finished goods at Grangemouth, where they were loaded onto barges for the journey west.  From the opposite direction came the imported goods of the great Glasgow merchants for onward transmission from the Forth to the rest of Britain and Europe. Initially goods were moved on horse drawn barges but the inventive genius of the age soon found an outlet in the harnessing of steam power to the task.

The sheer volume of traffic through the canal was enormous and although the coming of the railways had a serious effect the canal continued as a key route for shipping, goods and passengers, remaining financially sound until well into the 20th century. 

In the early 1960s an Act of Parliament closed the canal and in 1966 the eastern end of the Forth and Clyde, from Grangemouth to Middlefield, was filled in. Years of neglect followed and the canal became dangerous, choked with weeds and rubbish, polluted by chemical and other waste and unloved by the community.

But there were those who dreamed of the day when the waterway would be restored and their faith and dedication paid off in the 1990s with the Millennium link project which brought millions of pounds of investment on the restoration of locks and bridges, the reinstatement of lost sections and, most famously, the Falkirk Wheel ingeniously replacing the lost flight of eleven locks without which the canal could not be navigated.

The longer Caledonial Canal which crosses Scotland from Fort William to Inverness was opened some 32 years later. Of its 60 mile length only 22 miles are actual canals the remainder comprising natural sea and freshwater lochs (lakes).

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