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Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal, summer 2004

Falkirk Wheel
The 20 million pound Falkirk Wheel

A 1-week potter from the Capercaillie hire base on the Forth and Clyde below the Falkirk Wheel into Edinburgh and back; 68 miles and 8 locks (counting the wheel as one).

The Forth & Clyde Canal, forming a coast-to-coast short-cut across Scotland for small sea-going craft, and the Union Canal, its link into Edinburgh, were allowed to fall into disuse in the 1960s. On some sections the line was lost under new building, and everywhere bridges were lowered or the canal culverted. Then, to mark the millennium, a vast amount of lottery money (getting on for 100 million pounds) was spent to restore the link. It was re-opened throughout in 2003.

The daring centrepiece of the restoration is at Falkirk. Here the Union Canal used to descend into the Forth & Clyde through eleven locks, but all of this line had been buried under new housing development. A whole new line of canal has been made to link into the Forth & Clyde at a new junction about a mile to the west of the old one. To overcome the level difference, rather than a new flight of locks, a unique rotary boat lift has been built, with a futuristic aqueduct leading up to it. Below this is a new lock and basin, and above a new tunnel and staircase pair. Compared to the sort of money usually available for canal restorations this is remarkable.

Along the Union Canal are dozens of new bridges, many of a standard design with MM carved into them to celebrate the millennium. Through Wester Hailles, a new high-rise housing development, the canal has been returned from a culverted ditch to a beautifully presented recreational area, though it does seem to require CCTV surveillance to keep it so.

It is clear that the restoration is intended to provide a route for boats, there doesn't seem to be any of the horror of disturbing the ecology of a derelict canal that has been seen on some English restorations. At the moment there are not many boats about, hire bases are just starting to appear, and there are none of the scruffy live-aboards and linear moorings that disfigure so many miles of English canals.

Diary extract:

Sat 2004-09-11 {18415}
Set off about 07h30, got to the Falkirk wheel at about 14h45. There was then a considerable period of faffing. There appear to be Black Prince, Capercaillie & Alvechurch boats here, all run from the same office. The boats are on a long linear pontoon in the E arm of the Forth & Clyde canal, & to get to this it's a several 100m hike from the disabled spaces at the wheel visitor centre. Access to the boatyard office is also thro' the pay point for wheel visitors. You have to find a trolley to get your stuff down to the boat in a reasonable time. Just the boss Hamish & his wife seem to be doing the run-thro's, she first on the inside & then he on the outside. We didn't get away until 17h00. BW staff open the swingbridge & get the basin lock ready, & work the lock. It's very windy, so the boatyard staff Colin (on us) & Hamish (on the one behind) drove us from here. Last trip boat has gone so we get 2 boats up in the 18h00 wheel operation. It fits trip boat (12.5ft) + 1 narrow boat, but the locks are 12.5ft only. Wheel is fascinating, but enjoyment mixed with a lot of shouting & engine revving trying to get off the jetty & into the gondola with the powerful cross-wind. It was supposed to be 40mi/h at the upper level. Operation of the lift very smooth & quite quick, about 5..10 min for the actual rotation, & seals appear not to leak at all. It makes a half rev every 30 min, with some time taken up loading & unloading & making & breaking the seals. The double end dams rotate up from the bottom & between them the seal expands hydraulically from fixed to moving; the space between the dams is evacuated by pump; the sump is dry. It's made by Butterley. The rating plate says that the max diff in levels in the gondolas is 75mm; think this is done by careful control of levels in the basins above and below, but pres could also adjust by pumping out before rotation. After the wheel is a short tunnel then a 2-staircase, also worked by BW. Moor on the pontoon above this at 18h45. Today 0.5mi 4l 1sb 1h45m. Boat is "Little Weaver" (14.3m, Alvechurch), Isuzu diesel, quite quiet & smooth; diesel space heating + aux HW, main HW from engine; has fancy vacuum & macerating bog with push-button flush, but this means can't minimise water transfer into holding tank (says ~2l per flush and 340l tank). Lots of storage space & good firm high seating in cabin. 240V all over with microwave & toaster, 12V car point for charging. Unlike England, we're told that it's OK to moor either side. All of the canal here is new. Originally the Union canal descended thro' 11 locks to join the F&C near its lock 16, but this was built over. The whole of the new locks, wheel, basin, tunnel, a mile or so of channel, a couple of bridges and an aqueduct over a road are all brand new.
Sun 2004-09-12 {18416}
The wind's still up, doors banging & life belt rattling on roof. Walk back to wheel, a long way round as the towpath is gated thro' the tunnel. Pics of wheel in sunshine, with sun low behind me. Start 08h30, in alternate rain & watery sunshine, always with a chilly wind. Pass one other boat, a day-hire. Stop for lunch E of br 43 for Linlithgow at 12h, lunch in the Four Marys, which was good, & the staff was appropriately all female. Lots of good beers, inc London Pride. Walk around the outside of the palace, a ruin. Re-start 14h15. Both other boats that came this way with us also stopped at Linlithgow. Stop at Broxburn, before br 26, at 17h. Moorings here with water & electricity near reasonable houses, tho' we had a plastic sign & stones dropped on us from br 27. Today 32.5..13 = 19.5mi, 6.25h.
Mon 2004-09-13 {18417}
If it hadn't been blowing a gale it'd have been a glorious day, sunny & bright, but cold. Start 08h and continue at constant pace to Edinburgh at 12h (13mi, 4h). Have to moor in the basin W of the Leamington lift bridge, as beyond this there is much building work & Edinburgh Quay is unavailable for boats. Walk into Edinburgh centre, lunch at the Rose & Crown pub in Rose St, then walk around castle & Princes St gardens. Back to the boat for a rest, then out again eve. By then, 5 boats in the basin, all hire craft. Approach to Edinburgh is excellent by canal, tho' we were warned not to stop in Wester Hailles area; Canal here was culverted under new estate roads & completely re-built, very well done with nice bridges & lots of greenery among the high-rise flats, but CCTV everywhere. Much of the rest of the way by canal is still rural in appearance.
Tue 2004-09-14 {18418}
Still sunny & no wind at all. Eventually managed to buy a loaf, after Scotmid (co-op) had none & the Night & Day shop was closed. Start 09h15, turn in basin, then stop to take all the weed off the prop. Lunch at Ratho at the Bridge Inn. Food was OK, but service was rather odd, chose the bar but still seemed like a restaurant, shown to a table & so on. Table next then occupied by a 3-generation party with very marked accents & pedantically fussing over ordering very little. Stop 12h..13h15. Aft stopped by the Almond aqueduct 13h45..14h30 for a look around. Nice spot, intended to spend the night here, but another boat there had been warned that there'd been trouble there recently with a car dumped in the canal & the fences vandalised, so we went on, mooring in the open at around br 22..23 at 15h. Eat on boat, read. Can't get in close to edge, so sitting quietly about 1m out, needing plank to get ashore. Today 12mi in 4h.
Wed 2004-09-15 {18419}
Sunny all day, & only a light breeze most of the time. Start 08h45, water at Broxburn for 10m, then stop at offside visitor mooring before br 31 at 10h15. Walk from here, then up to pub (Tally-Ho Hotel) at br 32 for lunch. Basic sausage, chips, hash browns, egg, beans, tomato but lots of it, quick, & only 4L45. Much better deal than yesterday's pretentious place. Then on at 13h15, pottering to Linlithgow at 15h45. Bit of a walk here, then laze again. Eve for a drink back to the Four Marys. Today 9.5mi 4h.
Thu 2004-09-16 {18420}
Overcast but dry in the morn, for a walk around the loch, then Tesco. Lunch at the Star & Garter Hotel, then off at 13h15, sharing the steering as it got windier & then damp & then very wet. Stopped on the pontoon above the wheel locks at 16h45, by which time it was back to blowing a gale & continuous heavy rain. Booked the wheel for tomorrow 10h, but they came out anyway in a van tonight to check we weren't expecting to go down tonight. Falkirk tunnel is mostly bare rock inside & quite high, very interesting. It also has electric uplighters showing the rock formations and lighting the way; there is a towpath thro'. It has LED traffic lights working with sensors, show red/green alternate on approach, changing to solid green at entry end and red at the other. Eat on boat, covering the sound of the weather with cheap rock CD set bought at Tesco this AM. Today 11mi (21.5..32.5) in 3.5h. Fast, wanting to get out of the rain.
Fri 2004-09-17 {18421}
Rain & wind dropped overnight, sunshine for early walk. Went down the wheel early, starting 09h & going down at 09h30, the only boat on the wheel. Moored for the visitor centre 10h..10h45 (entrance free), but not much to see there, except to watch it going round from the comfort of a seat & thro' huge sloping glass roof. Then on again to lock 16 of the Forth & Clyde, 1mi down, turn here & moor on pontoon at 11h15. Lunch at the Union Inn, followed by a walk down the locks. Lock 11 appears to have been re-sited to get the canal under a road, with a new bridge; the original chamber still there with gates removed. Then potter back 14h45..15h to moor on the hire-boat pontoon at the wheel (it's actually on the offside of the Forth & Clyde, E of the swing footbridge) & watch the other boats coming in one by one. About 8 hire boats here. Sunny most of the day, but better out of the wind. Today 2.5mi 4l & 1sb in 1.75h. Total for trip 68mi 8 locks 2 sb in 25.25h. Eve on boat. We suspect that Capercaillie Cruisers is Hamish's own company with 2 or 3 boats; the other boats from Alvechurch and Black Prince are recent arrivals, and are booked by their own cos, but operated by Hamish, presumably on an agency basis. All the on-board stuff was properly branded Alvechurch, even the free playing cards and kitchen stuff pack. He has exclusive use of part of the pontoon from 10h Fri to 18h Sat, outside of which it's public. All service, fuel, pump-out, water is at one end, so he has to do a lot of reversing boats about to bring them up for service. Missing largely from this canal are "no mooring" signs, but is that Scotland or the paucity of boats using the canal so far, mostly hire boats, a few private boats mostly here and at Linlithgow and Ratho, no long strings of scruffy live-aboards. Most of the visitor moorings had electricity and water in multiple, and it wasn't clear which were moorings for water only and which overnight; in Ratho there was one berth labelled "24h" and one "overnight".
Sat 2004-09-18 {18422}
Lots of rain thro' the night, but it spared us while we loaded up; didn't wait for a trolley, carried it all up to the car. They appreciate the awkwardness of the site as it is, and would like an office down nearer the boats; BW would like them to move to a new marina somewhere else, but they're not sure about that; they are beholden to BW, and suspect that BW doesn't realise that it gets some benefit from the hire base. At least one of their hirers has gone as far as possible in all directions. Away about 08h30.
        Day Date     Hours  mi    Locks  SB   morn  aft  Water
        Sat 040911   1.75    0.5   4      1          N    -
        Sun 040912   6.25   19.5   -      -    N     C    Broxburn
        Mon 040913   4      13     -      -    N     -    -
        Tue 040914   4      12     -      -    C     N    -
        Wed 040915   4       9.5   -      -    C     N    Broxburn
        Thu 040916   3.5    11     -      -    -     CN   -
        Fri 040917   1.75    2.5   4      1    NC    C    -
        Sat 040918   -       -     -      -    -         
        Totals      25.25   68     8      2  
        Day  Lunch                       Evening
        Sat  -                           pontoon above wheel, on boat
        Sun  Linlithgow, Four Marys      Broxburn, on boat
        Mon  Edinburgh, Rose + Crown     Edinburgh, Mussel Inn &c
        Tue  Ratho, Bridge Inn           br 22..23, on boat
        Wed  Winchburgh, Tally-Ho Hotel  Linlithgow, Four Marys
        Thu  Linlithgow, Star + Garter   pontoon above wheel, on boat
        Fri  lock 16, Union Inn          pontoon below wheel, on boat
        Sat  -

©nib 2004-09-19..2006-01-08

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