From Union to F&C and Back

Supporting the preservation and operation of paddle steamers Waverley and Kingswear Castle

From Union to F&C and Back

The Scottish Branch’s spring charter was a little different from the normal PSPS Scottish Branch charter. It included two tunnels, a drop of 113 feet and was never more than 10 feet from dry land. This time we were cruising two canals in glorious weather. The Union canal is 31 miles long and runs along the 240 ft contour from Edinburgh to Falkirk. The 35-mile long Forth and Clyde from Bowling to Grangemouth was the world’s first coast-to-coast ship canal. These canals were originally connected by a flight of eleven locks which were closed in the 1930s. Both canals were closed in 1963 and re-opened in 2002 as the Millenium link project. They are now connected by the iconic Falkirk Wheel.

For three intrepid passengers, the cruise started at 0700 as the Linlithgow Union Canal Society (LUCS) boat, St Magdalane, left Linlithgow for its re-positioning trip to Falkirk. Here, a further 24 passengers were picked up at Bridge 62, by Falkirk High station, many of whom having caught the 0945 train from Glasgow.

St Magdalene about to leave bridge 62.Paul Semple

On board St Magdalene.Paul Semple

We left Falkirk at 1030, and soon cruised past the entrance to the old Union Canal top lock and onto the new one mile extension to the Union canal which ends at a two-lock staircase. This lowered St Magdalene 23 feet to the Falkirk Wheel aqueduct pond where we followed the Falkirk Wheel trip boat through the new 520 ft tunnel under the Antonine Wall onto the Falkirk Wheel aqueduct.

Skipper David Shirres in bottom staircase lock.Paul Semple

With an 8 ft beam St Magdalene was just able to share the 21 ft wide Falkirk Wheel gondola with the Falkirk Wheel trip boat with barely a foot either side. Once the gondola gates had been closed the barely perceptible rotation of the Falkirk Wheel lowered St Magdalene 79 ft into to Falkirk Wheel basin in four minutes. Here there was a brief stop to pick up soup and packed lunches provided by Scottish Canals catering before starting our final descent, the 11ft drop through the Golden Jubilee lock onto the Forth and Clyde Canal which at this point is 127 ft above sea level.

Falkirk Wheel gondola gates opening.David Shirres

Leaving the lock, turned to starboard giving a view of the new aqueduct over the railway on the port side. This had been rebuilt in the winter of 2014/15 which required the canal to be blocked for four months.

The Forth and Clyde is a quite different from the Union canal. It is 6 ft deep and can take boats 16 ½ ft wide whereas the Union is only 3 ½ ft deep with a boat width limitation of 11 ½ ft. After slowing to pass the canal hire boat fleet, at full throttle St Magdalene achieved 4.5 knots, about a knot faster than her full speed on the shallower Union Canal.
We cruised along the Forth and Clyde for a mile whilst the enjoyed the lunch provided by Scottish Canals which everyone thought was excellent. Our destination was the Union Inn. which is by lock 16. This is the first of a series of locks that takes the canal down to sea level at the new Kelpies attraction. The Union Inn was also at the bottom of the long-gone locks from the Union canal and has various historic canal photos on display.

St Magdalene at lock 16 pontoon.Paul Semple

Union Inn.David Shirres

After a short stop for refreshment and look at the locks, St Magdalene left the Union Inn at 1315 to retrace her route up through the locks and the Falkirk Wheel.

Branch Committee members enjoy the view from the Falkirk Wheel aqueduct.David Shirres

After leaving the top locks, she re-joined the Union Canal at 1450 and 30 minutes later returned to bridge 62. The charter had been advertised as a return trip from her with an option to remain on-board for the cruise to Linlithgow.

From comments received it was clear that everyone was having a great day and enjoying the sunshine. So, it was perhaps not surprising that only four decided to leave the cruise at Falkirk, leaving 23 to continue to Linlithgow.

From bridge 62 it is nine miles to Linlithgow which was reached at 1845, this cruise included a passage through the 2,088 ft long Falkirk High tunnel and a stop on the 810 ft long Avon aqueduct.

St Magdalene going through Falkirk canal tunnel.David Shirres

Stop on the Avon Aqueduct.David Shirres

On a personal note, I was glad to be skipper for this cruise. Both myself and my crewmate, Mike Smith, were delighted to be able to share with all aboard some of what the Lowland Canals has to offer. However, understandably there was no time to examine the attractions of the Linlithgow canal basin. For those on the cruise and others reading this blog do come back to Linlithgow and see what the Lithlithgow Union Canal Society has to offer. You would be very welcome.

Face on bridge 61, the laughin greetin bridge reflects the mood of all on board.David Shirres