Scottish Canals welcomed a second round of visitors to Britain’s most beautiful short cut this month to step inside an empty lock chamber.

The free sell out tours attracted over 100 visitors to Lock 14 on the Crinan Canal, over the weekend of Saturday, 25 th February and Sunday 26th February.

Those who attended enjoyed a day of exploration of the heritage, engineering and wildlife from a unique perspective – the bottom of the lock chamber.

As part of the second year of planned winter works on the waterway, the canal custodians drained the water from the western end of the canal to carry out a programme of lock gate replacements.

The current engineering programme is a key project in Scottish Canals’ Asset Management Strategy, with Crinan receiving £4.5m investment as part of £12m capital investment across Scotland’s canals for 2022-23.

Man taking off his hat while another man watches. Workers working on lock with lock doors open

This created a unique opportunity to invite the local communities to a canal tour with a difference.

During the tour the canals’ team shared stories of the often-unseen work that goes into caring for the incredible infrastructure and varied habitats of the Crinan Canal to safeguard it for future generations to enjoy.

Scottish Canals Project Manager Paul Berry said: “The tours were a huge success and we were delighted to be able to offer the public a second chance to delve into the empty lock chambers. We would like to thank our framework contractor Mackenzie Construction who helped make the event possible once again.”

Joining the visitors on their exploration was Scottish Canals Heritage Manager Chris O’Connell.

Chris was able to give visitors a unique insight into the history of the canal as well as being able to exhibit some of the items found from when the canal was drained.

Several glass bottles were found buried in the silt of Lock 14 dating back to the mid-1800s.

Glass bottles laying on the ground next to canal

One of the bottles showed branding from Corry, William & Co, manufacturers of aerated waters, who were wholesale and export agents.

Another of the bottles stored “superior aerated water” made by Brown Brothers, chemists and manufacturers of aerated waters, circ 1898-99.

Bottle standing up on the ground next to water

The green glass bottle was made from Greenock Apothecaries & Lawsons Ltd, and shows the James Watt Trade Mark, with this bottle press-moulded circa 1900.

In 1771 James Watt carried out the initial survey work for the Crinan Canal before it was later opened in 1801, with further improvements made by Thomas Telford in the second decade in the 19th Century.

The bottles are amphora, in that they are a type of container with a pointed bottom and characteristic shape and size which fit tightly against each other in storage rooms and packages, tied together by land or sea.

Chris explained: “These bottles were found buried in the silt of Lock 14, during the mid-1800’s the Crinan Canal became a tourist attraction with people arriving from Glasgow in steamer boats, docking at Ardrshaig Pier Square, where they would purchase tickets for steamers such as the Linnet (the Linnet launched in 1866 and sailed up and down the canal for over 60 years.)
“The visitors would perhaps bring mineral water with them, or where supplied mineral water on their canal trip. Hence the empty bottles in the bottom of the lock, almost littering of its day.”

Queen Victoria making canal boat travel fashionable

Scottish Canals Reservoirs Technical Manager Ralph Kelly also gave an interesting explanation on how Scottish Canals manage the reservoirs which feed the canal with water. Visitors were also given an insight into the invaluable work carried out by Scottish Canals who protect wildlife and nature during the works by their senior environmental scientist Julia Johnstone.

The Crinan Canal plays a vital role both locally and nationally, attracting thousands of visitors by land and water and providing benefits for the communities on its banks, whilst generating investment each year for the Argyll and Bute economy.