Canals of Scotland
Explore the Scottish Lowland Canals
Drifters offers the choice of two fleets of boats for hire from Falkirk on the Scottish Lowland Canals.
From there, you can explore the Lowlands of Scotland from Glasgow in the West, to Edinburgh in the East, with easy cruising and very few locks.
The Forth & Clyde Canal links the Irish Sea with the North Sea, running from Bowling on the Clyde Estuary, to Grangemouth and the magnificent Kelpies on the Firth of Forth.
The Union Canal is linked to the Forth & Clyde Canal at Falkirk by the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first rotating boat lift. At the other end it reaches Edinburgh, terminating at Edinburgh Quay in the City Centre.
Together these two canals make up the Scottish Lowland Canals. They are quite different to the canals found in England and Wales. The Forth & Clyde is much wider and the Union Canal is a contour canal, with no locks or bridges that have to be opened.
The history of the Lowland Canals
The Forth & Clyde Canal first opened in 1790, providing a route for seagoing vessels between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. The Union Canal, which opened in 1842, was built to bring coal and other minerals to Edinburgh.
Both canals were closed in the 1960’s until Lottery funding was obtained to fund their restoration, completed in 2001, and the construction of the Falkirk Wheel, which opened a year later. This magnificent structure, which replaces a flight of 11 locks, moves boats between the two canals in two giant gondolas, raising or lowering them 25 metres.
Top 5 Holidays on the Lowland Canals
- Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh – from our canal boat hire base at Falkirk, Edinburgh Quay is a sedate 11-hour journey along the peaceful Union Canal. Perfect for a four night mid-week break, the trip starts with a passage through the Falkirk Wheel, and then passes through the lovely lowland villages of Linlithgow, Broxburn and Ratho. Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a five-minute walk from Princes Street, with easy access to the City’s many attractions, including Edinburgh Castle.
- Glide along the Forth & Clyde to visit Glasgow – from Falkirk, it’s a peaceful nine-hour cruise along the Forth & Clyde Canal to the City of Glasgow – perfect for a three or four-night short break. This scenic route travels 22 miles, through five locks and passes through Auchinstarry, the River Kelvin Valley with magnificent views of the Campsie Fells above, and the town of Kirkintillock. There are moorings at Applecross Street Basin, with access to Glasgow’s wealth of museums, galleries and cultural centres, including the Hunterian Museum, home to one of Scotland’s finest collections.
- Navigate to Bowling & back – on a week’s break from Falkirk, you can cruise along the Forth & Clyde Canal, following the Clyde Estuary all the way down to the old ship building village of Bowling in West Dunbartonshire. The route has a rich mix of industry old and new, as well as stunning views of the Clyde and relics of the ship building era. Along the way, you’ll pass through Auchinstarry, the site of a Roman fort, and Kirkintilloch, which dates back to the 13th The journey to Bowling and back travels 58 miles, passing through 48 locks and takes around 32 cruising hours.
- Cruise to Ratho and back – from Falkirk, it’s a peaceful eight-hour cruise along the Union Canal to the conservation village of Ratho, with its popular canalside Bridge Inn. The route begins by passing over the Falkirk Wheel, through two manned locks, crossing the Greenbank Aqueduct and then passing through the Falkirk Tunnel. After enjoying miles of peaceful countryside, boaters reach the historic town of Linlithgow, home to the beautifully preserved medieval remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. Linlithgow has some excellent eateries, including the award-winning Four Marys pub. The journey to Ratho and back travels 48 miles, passing through four locks (two each way) and takes around 16 hours.
- See the largest pair of equine statues on the planet – at 30-metres high, the magnificent Kelpies stand at the gateway to the new extension to the Forth & Clyde Canal, by the River Carron. Based on the heavy horses that one plied the canal towpaths, these mythical water horses are an extraordinary site and form part of a new 350-hectare Helix park at the end of the canal extension at Grangemouth. From our canal boat hire base at Falkirk, you can reach the Kelpies on a relaxed short break. Cruising just four miles each way and passing through 14 locks each way, the journey to the Kelpies and back takes around eight hours.