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Loch Ness with Jacobite

A history of cruising on Loch Ness

To Loch Ness with Jacobite - Caledonian Canal - The Big Dig

Around 1800, a number of schemes were emerging to try to create employment and stem the flood of emigration from the Highlands. One of these was the creation of stations to exploit west coast herring fisheries under the auspices of the Scottish Fisheries Society.

The society’s surveyor was one Thomas Telford. In 1801, the Treasury instructed Telford to identify sites for further fishing stations, draft plans for communications and investigate the feasibility of a coast-to-coast canal.

Telford made his recommendations and, in 1803, two commissions were established to construct roads and bridges in the Highlands and to create a waterway between Clachnaharry, by Inverness on the east coast, and Corpach, near Fort William on the west – to become known as the Caledonian Canal.

Britain was then at war with Napoleon’s France and the aim was to provide fast passage for naval and trading ships, a safe alternative passage to the long and often hazardous route round the north of Scotland and through the Pentland Firth. Bearing in mind the lack of skills, facilities and financial organisation in the Highlands at that time, these were highly ambitious aims.

Almost 1000 men were employed

Telford was appointed engineer to the Commissioners and work commenced immediately. Some 2,700 men were employed annually on road and bridge work and Telford had to overcome difficulties that would have broken a lesser man: bankruptcy of contractors, labour unrest and countless engineering problems as often as not in remote depopulated areas.

But Telford and his assistants were thorough and, by 1821, they had completed 875 miles of road, eleven large and hundreds of smaller bridges. It is a lasting testament to Telford that much of his road system is still in use today.

Work on the Caledonian Canal progressed simultaneously following survey work that had been carried out 30 years earlier by James Watt of steam engine fame. In fact, the canal was the largest of all the Commissioners’ numerous building schemes.

At its peak in 1819, almost 1000 men were directly employed in its construction.

It cost £840,000 to build

Initially Telford worked under the overall supervision of William Jessop until failing health forced Jessop to retire and thereafter the project came under Telford’s sole supervision.

The £350,000 budget and seven year timescale originally allowed for the job was optimistic. In fact, it took 19 years before the canal finally opened throughout in 1822 at a cost of £840,000 – an immense sum in those days.

The waterway is 60 miles (97 km) long, of which 22 miles (35 km) form four separate sections of “cut” linking in turn the Moray Firth at Inverness on the east coast with Loch Dochfour and Loch Ness, next linking Loch Ness with Loch Oich, then Loch Oich with Loch Lochy and finally Loch Lochy to Corpach and Loch Linnhe on the west coast.

Loch Oich formed the summit level of the canal at 106 feet above sea level. This difference in levels necessitated the construction of four aqueducts and 29 locks to raise and lower vessels as they made their way from coast to coast.


Loch Ness with Jacobite
A history of cruising on Loch Ness
By Roy Pedersen
“For Robbie”
First published in Scotland in 2007
Second revised edition 2015


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