The Union Canal

Construction of the Union Canal (properly known as the Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal) began in 1818 and opened 4 years later. The project was headed by Hugh Baird as the principal engineer with a major contribution by the great engineer Thomas Telford.

Originally designed and built to transport coal into Edinburgh and as a consequence, break the monopoly of greedy Midlothian mine owners and Edinburgh coalmasters. This 50km (31.5 mile) contour canal runs from Edinburgh to Falkirk where it joins the Forth & Clyde Canal via the new Falkirk Wheel and just a short distance from Lock16 in Camelon where it originally connected.

A few yards inside the tunnel looking east...The Union canal has the only canal tunnel in Scotland and this was constructed at the demand of a powerful landowner who objected to the prospect of being able to see the canal from his house (Callendar House in Falkirk). Being cut through solid rock it was constructed at great cost and to the eventual bankruptcy of one of its major contractors and this is commemorated in the famous carved faces on the keystones of the Laughin' and Greetin' Bridge at Glen Village.


Other famous features of the canal include the Avon, Almond and Slateford Aqueducts, which are amongst the finest in Britain.


The canal is famous for the discovery of the Solitary Wave of Motion by John Scott Russell in 1834 and the new aqueduct over the A720 Edinburgh City bypass was named after him. Also famous or perhaps infamous and far more sinister is the story of the famous body snatchers, Burke and Hare who were employed to cut the canal in the Edinburgh area - Hare's wife also worked alongside them dressed as a man.

The canal was doomed to closure with the inception of the railways and a rapid decline of the Union Canal began in 1842 with the opening of the Glasgow to Edinburgh railway. By 1861 the canal had been taken over by the North British Railway Company and finally in 1921, Edinburgh Council bought Port Hamilton and Port Hopetoun and promptly filled them in.