The Caledonian Canal’s Staircase


Almost 100 years before the United States took over the building of the Panama Canal from France, Great Britain embarked on its own major canal project, the Caledonian.   The Panama Canal’s purpose was to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  The Caledonian was designed to create an inland waterway from the Atlantic to the North Sea and avoid awful-sounding Cape Wrath.

With major locks at both ends, Gatun Lake was filled to make the 48 mile trip across Panama easier.  The Caledonian Canal, 59 miles totally with 35 miles involving 29 locks and 10 swing bridges, connected Loch Lochy to Loch Oich to Loch Ness between Corpach and Inverness, Scotland.

Built to be used by naval frigates during the Napoleonic Wars, the Caledonian was designed by Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford and funded by the British Government.  Built between 1803 and 1822, it was the first state-funded transport enterprise in British history.  The initial canal project cost £900,000, according to Lonely Planet, which adds, “a staggering sum then”.   Staggering?  Ha!  The US spent $375,000,000 on the Panama Canal.  Its locks, however, are 110 feet wide. The Caledonian’s maximum width is 35 feet, and it was considered a commercial failure from the beginning.  Not serving a military function until WW I, the Caledonian is now used by pleasure boats.

While I was gathering information and talking to the operators, Ruth was chatting with the people actually traveling through the system.  She especially liked Mikael Kullberg from Goteborg who was on his way to the Faroe Islands and then sailing back to Sweden.  This would take 3 months.   Sigh.  His sailboat tootiki, a Wasa 530, was co-owned.  He told Ruth that passage through the Caledonian locks was expensive without going into detail.  The one-way license fee was £17.65 for 8 days, but the cost of individual locks, etc. depended on boat size and length of stay.   Mikael was spending quality time with his 8-year-old daughter who was below watching cartoons while he negotiated Neptune’s Staircase.

Neptune’s Staircase, a sensational sight, lifts boats 62 feet through 8 locks and takes 1 1/2 hours to traverse at Banavie.  Still the longest staircase lock system in Great Britain, Neptune’s original hand-powered mechanism has been replaced by a hydraulic one that takes 3 lock-keepers to run.  It’s fun to watch them in action.

It reportedly takes 8 to 10 hours to pass through the Panama Canal. The fastest passage through the Caledonian is 14 hours over 2 to 2 1/2 working days.  Neptune’s Staircase is the kind of attraction that you plan to give ten minutes, like YouTube or that Saturday afternoon football game, and 2 hours later you stumble away in search of a toilet or food.  Or both.



About roadsrus

Since the beginning, I've had to avoid writing about the downside of travel in order to sell more than 100 articles. Just because something negative happened doesn't mean your trip was ruined. But tell that to publishers who are into 5-star cruise and tropical beach fantasies. I want to tell what happened on my way to the beach, and it may not have been all that pleasant. My number one rule of the road's disaster is tomorrow's great story. My travel experiences have appeared in about twenty magazines and newspapers. I've been in all 50 states more than once and more than 50 countries. Ruth and I love to travel internationally--Japan, Canada, China, Argentina, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, etc. Within the next 2 years we will have visited all of the European countries. But our favorite destination is Australia. Ruth and I have been there 9 times. I've written a book about Australia's Outback, ALONE NEAR ALICE, which is available through both Amazon & Barnes & Noble. My first fictional work, MOVING FORWARD, GETTING NOWHERE, has recently been posted on Amazon. It's a contemporary, hopefully funny re-telling of The Odyssey. View all posts by roadsrus

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