Described as Britain`s most captivating short cut, the Crinan Canal is the 9-mile waterway that links the western sea with central Scotland….from Crinan to Ardrishaig….thus avoiding the oft treacherous journey round the Mull of Kintyre. Look out for old puffers that once steamed through the canal….think of Para Handy, the crafty skipper of the Vital Spark. Passing through a scenic landscape, the canal bisects the ancient Kingdom of Dalriada.
Preserved as a working transport monument to this day, little has changed since its opening in1801. Queen Victoria`s sail on the canal in 1847 sparked a tourism boom and nowadays up to 3000 boats, mostly pleasure craft, pass through the canal each year and thousands of walkers and cyclists take advantage of the charming and interesting towpath.
There are 15 distinctive locks, numbered starting from Ardrishaig, and 7 bridges, and two lighthouses that guided sailors safely home. Then there is the “automatic water waster”, a clever piece of engineering which maintains water levels in the canal.
The following walk covers the section from Crinan to Cairnbaan….and back. The overall walk, if done briskly, will only take 3 hours but, given the attraction of the locks, passing boats and the surrounding scenery, it would be surprising if you travelled that fast. Even on my damp day it was a pleasure just to stroll along. Then of course it is likely that you will be tempted to have a mid-walk break at Cairnbaan Hotel. On a previous day in passing by, folk were sitting outside lapping up the sunshine.
Do take care when crossing locks or walking on the towpath and ensure dogs are kept under control. More information is available at the Canal Office, Pier Square Ardrishaig 01546-603210. ….or scottishcanals.co.uk
From the large car park at Crinan, cross over either of locks 15 or 14 to reach the towpath which is on the seaward side. The first section has open sea on the left and steep, craggy, wooded slopes on the right and with the canal and the raised towpath hemmed in between. Soon the B841 comes in to run parallel to the canal all the way to Cairnbaan.
On the left is a large flat tidal area (the tide was going out on my day) where the meandering River Add reaches the sea.
Soon reach Islandadd Bridge from where the B8025 cuts in a straight line across Moine Mhor, a National Nature Reserve, and one of the last remaining peat bogs in Britain; a flat moss and heather blanket laid down over thousands of years and now a special place for plants, insects and other creatures that thrive in the damp conditions.
Dunadd, seat of the Irish and Scottish Kingdom of Dalriada around 1500 years ago, is one of the most important sites in Scottish history. Alas on this occasion I did not have time to revisit the conical peak and its ancient fort…..a long weekend would have been a better idea.
Then reach Dunardry Locks. A tarmac road starts from lock 13 and the beginning of the gentle climb to the canal high point at lock 9; a rise of some 10m. Pass on the left a line of white cottages, some holiday lets, Cairnbaan House and lock 8. Then it is the equally gentle descent to Cairnbaan; the towpath now a tarmac way then a minor road. Cairn Ban (white cairn) is an area steeped in history. On the hill behind Cairnbaan Hotel and Restaurant are mysterious cup and ring marked rocks.
Just below the hotel is lock 5, signposted Crinan 4½ miles and the return point. Further on is Lochgilphead, 2 miles, and Ardrishaig 4 miles. The section from Cairnbaan to Islandadd Bridge is part of cycle route 78.
On the return to Crinan it is surprising how different the scenery looks.
Map Ordnance: Survey map 55, Lochgilphead & Loch Awe
Distance: 9 miles
Terrain: Canal towpath
Start point: Crinan
Time: 3 to 4 hours
Nearest villages: Crinan and Cairnbaan
Refreshment spot: Cairnbaan Hotel and Restaurant