Sligh’-uisge a’ Chrìonain / The Crinan Canal

 ‘S dòcha gum faca sibh prògram-telebhisean ‘Coast‘ mìos no dhà air ais, far am b’ urrainn dhuibh na slighean-uisge agus an costa an iar fhaicinn eadar Glaschu agus Inbhir Nis? Chòrd sin riumsa gu mòr oir bha mise is mo mhàthair dìreach anns an sgìre sin – costa an iar Earra-Ghàideil – airson ar saor-làithean am bliadhna, agus ‘s beag an dùil a bha againn na dearbh àitichean fhaicinn a-rithist air an telebhisean. Chunnaic sinn iomadh àite eachdraidheal ùidheil thall an-sin (agus ‘s dòcha gun dèilig mi riutha uair eile) ach bha aon rud ann a rinn uiread de dhruidheadh oirnn ‘s gu bheil mi airson sgrìobhadh mu dheidhinn – Sligh’-uisge a’ Chrìonain.

Tha an t-sligh’-uisge a’ ruith bho Àird Driseig air bruach Loch Fìne gu baile beag a’ Chrìonain air costa an iar, mu 9 mìle a dh’fhaid, le 15 glasan. Chaidh i a thogail eadar 1793 agus 1801 airson an t-slighe-mara dhoirbh bho dheas gu tuath timcheall air Maoil Chinn Tìre a ghearradh, mu 100 mìle. Bha trioblaidean teicnigeach gu leòr aig a’ phròiseact an toiseach agus b’ fheadar do Thomas Telford crìoch a chur air an t-slighe mu dheireadh thall. ‘S e an dàrna pàirt den phlàna mhòr seo a bh’ anns an Fhaoighteach Chaledoineanach, air a dhealbhachadh le Telford fhèin agus air fhosgladh ann an 1822.

Aig an àm a chaidh iad a thogail bha aibhnichean agus slighean-mara fada na bu chudromaiche na na rathaidean bochda a bha ann, dìreach mar a bha e fad nan linntean gu ruige sin – airson malairt agus cogaidh. Feumaidh cuimhne a bhith againn nach robh lìon rathaidean-iarrainn ann fhathast nas motha. Nuair a chaidh Sligh’-uisge a’ Chrìonain a thogail, ‘s ann gu h-àraidh airson malairt ionadail eadar an tìr-mòr agus na h-Eileanan a chaidh i a cleachdadh. Bha an t-slighe ùr taghta cuideachd airson bhàtaichean-iasgaich agus aiseagan agus na b’ fhaide air adhart san lìnn airson Pufairean Chluaidh.

Nuair a bhios thu a’ smaoineachadh mu na soithichean beaga grinn seo, bidh cuimhne agad gu cinnteach air na sgeulachdan mu Para Handy agus an Vital Spark, le Nìall Rothach, sna leabhraichean neo sna sreathan telebhisean air an robh sinn cho measail. Bha sinn ann an Inbhir Aora cuideachd agus chunnaic sinn taisbeanadh sònraichte ann an taigh-tasgaidh na mara an sin (e fhèin air bàta) mu dheidhinn an sgioba ainmeil den Vital Spark. Inntinneach, eibhinn agus le pìos math cianalais.  Agus a-rèir coltais b’ àbhaist do Dhan MacPhail a bhith a’ seinn:

 The Crinan Canal for me
I don’t like the wild raging sea
Them big foamin’ breakers
Wad gie ye the shakers
The Crinan Canal for me.

An latha an-diugh bidh an t-sligh’-uisge air a cleachdadh gu ìre as motha le gheataichean agus bàtaichean saor-làithean eile. Bhon a bha sìde mhath agus ùine againn, chuir sinn greis mhath seachad a’ coimhead air na bàtaichean glè eadar-dhealaichte a’ dol tro na glasan. Feumaidh foighidinn gu leòr a bhith agad – chan urrainn dhut cabhag a chur air slighean-uisge.

Bidh iad ag ràdh gur e “àth-ghoirid as bòidhche san dùthaich” a th’ ann an Sligh’-uisge a’ Chrìonain, agus ‘s urrainn dhuinne co-dhiù aontachadh le sin.

Obh, agus anns an dol seachad, bha tachartas gu math inntinneach againn air an rathad air ais à Inbhir Aora. Bha sinn ann an taigh-taisgaidh croitearachd Auchindrain agus cò chunnaic sinn an sin ach (ex-) Dr Who fhèin – David Tennant, a’ dèanamh film ùr (The Decoy Bride). Bha cothrom againn bruidhinn ris – tha e uabhasach laghach – agus fhuair sinn fiù’s autograph; tiodhlac co-là-breith gu math sònraichte do mo mhàthair!

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The Crinan Canal 

Maybe you saw the ‘Coast‘ TV programme not long ago showing the waterways and coastline between Glasgow and Inverness? I enjoyed it a lot as my mother and I were in that area on holiday in West Argyll this year and we were pleasantly surprised to see these very places again on TV. We saw plenty of other interesting historic places (which I may cover another time) but one thing impressed us so much that I wanted to write about it – the Crinan Canal.

 The 9 miles long canal, with its 15 locks, runs from Ardishaig on Loch Fyne to the village of Crinan on the west coast. It was built between 1793 and 1801 to cut the difficult sea route round the Mull of Kintyre by 100 miles. There were technical problems initially and finally Thomas Telford had to be called in to finish it. The Caledonian Canal was the second part of this grand plan, designed by Telford himself and opened in 1822. 

At that time rivers and seaways were far more important than the poor roads, just as they had been for centuries, for purposes of both trade and war. The railway network had not been developed then either. When the Crinan Canal was built, it was used especially for local trade between the mainland and the Islands. The canal was also ideal for fishing boats and ferries, and later in the century for the Clyde Puffers.  

 

When you think of these dapper wee vessels, you remember Neil Munro’s stories of Para Handy and the Vital Spark, or the popular televised versions. We were in Inverary too and saw a special exhibition devoted to the famous crew of the Vital Spark in the maritime museum (itself on a ship). It was interesting, amusing and nostalgic. And apparently Dan MacPhail used to sing: 

 

The Crinan Canal for me
I don’t like the wild raging sea
Them big foamin’ breakers
Wad gie ye the shakers
The Crinan Canal for me.

Nowadays the canal is used mainly for sailing vessels and other leisure boats. As the weather was good and we had enough time, we spent a good while watching the various kinds of boats going through the locks. You have to have plenty of patience for that – you can’t hurry canals. 

They say that the Crinan Canal is “the prettiest shortcut in the country”, and we at least can certainly agree with that. 

Oh, and by the way, we had a very interesting encounter on the way back from Inverary. We were at the crofting museum of Auchindrain and who should we see but (ex-)Dr Who himself – David Tennant, making a new film (The Decoy Bride). We had a chance to speak to him – he’s really nice – and even got an autograph; a very special birthday present for my mother!