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The Union Canal

Start location: Edinburgh Quay (NT 246 728)
End location: Falkirk Wheel (NS 853 802)
Geographical area: Stirling, Clackmannan and Falkirk, Lothian and Borders
Path Type: Industrial Path
Path distance: 52km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians, Suitable for Bikes

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Route Description

The Union Canal towpath runs on the north bank of the canal, there being no equivalent path on the south bank. As the towpath is promoted as part of the National Cycle Network (route 754), Sustrans have detailed and up-to-date descriptions of both the whole route and some shorter sections.

If desired, you could join the Forth & Clyde Canal at Falkirk and continue all the way to the Firth of Clyde. Both canal towpaths are also used in part by the John Muir Way which as of 2014 runs from Helensburgh to Dunbar. Weaving its way through lowland Scotland, this 215km trail also takes in parts of the Stoneymollan Road, the Gowk Stane Road, the Strathkelvin Railway Path and the Antonine Wall.

OS Landranger 65 (Falkirk & West Lothian) and 66 (Edinburgh, Penicuik & North Berwick)

Heritage Information

The Union Canal was originally known as the Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal, recognizing its role in connecting the two cities by water. The canal was built between 1818 and 1822 by Hugh Baird, notably employing the two later murderers Burke and Hare amongst the many labourers required for the project. It is a contour canal, maintaining a level course at 240ft above sea level thus avoiding the necessity of locks along its length. It also includes Scotland's longest and oldest extant canal tunnel - the Falkirk Tunnel - at over 600m long. Navvies had to cut the tunnel through the solid rock of Prospect Hill in order that the route of the canal avoid Callendar House.

The towpath along the canal was for the benefit of horses drawing vessels along the water. Originally, the canal was primarily used for commercial puposes, in particular the transport of coal. By the 1930s, however, railways had put the canal essentially out of business. The 11 locks connecting the Union Canal with the Forth & Clyde Canal at Falkirk were dismantled in 1933 and it formally closed in 1965. 

In 2001, the Millennium Link project re-opened the Union Canal; the link with the Forth & Clyde Canal was re-established by way of the Falkirk Wheel the following year. The Union Canal is now regularly used recreationally by walkers, bikers, and boaters. It is looked after by Scottish Canals and is part designated as a Scheduled Monument by Historic Environment Scotland. For more information about this canal's fascinating history, visit the Union Canal Unlocked website or download their app.


Copyright: Nate Pedersen



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