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Caledonian Canal, Fort Augustus Locks

Lock(S) (Post Medieval)

Site Name Caledonian Canal, Fort Augustus Locks

Classification Lock(S) (Post Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Fort Augustus, Canal Side, Locks

Canmore ID 12200

Site Number NH30NE 16.01

NGR NH 37758 09175

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2018.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Boleskine And Abertarff
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Inverness
  • Former County Inverness-shire

Archaeology Notes

NH30NE 16.01 37758 09175

Locks [NAT] (at NH 37758 09175)

OS (GIS) AIB, May 2006.

Location formerly entered as NH 3777 0918.

See also NH30NE 16.00.

For crab winches (NH 3794 0918), see NH30NE 16.02.

For swing bridge (adjacent to E), see NH30NE 22.

The sill of the bottom lock had to be made 20 feet [6.1m] beneath the lowest water-level in Loch Ness. Each of the locks measures 180 feet in length and iron from Derbyshire was used for the lock-gates. The five locks were eventually completed in 1820. However, in December 1837 the NW recess wall of the bottom lock in the flight collapsed. Between 1890 and 1906 the lock-gates were replaced by new ones constructed from oak and steel and by the mid-20th century the locks were mechanized.

J Lindsay 1968.

This staircase of five locks takes the canal down to Loch Ness. en route it passes the grounds of a monastery [Fort Augustus Abbey: NH30NE 6.00].

A Burton 1983.

This flight of locks is a conspicuous feature in the small town of Fort Augustus. The River Oich, which followed a meandering course, was diverted through a rock cutting and the stone for building the locks came from this. This undertaking enabled the canal to flow into Loch Ness through the final few hundred yards of the original river bed. However, the locks were poorly constructed and, in 1837, they had to undergo re-building after one of them collapsed. In 1882, further problems were caused when the steamer 'Rockabill' smashed into a lock gate. This caused the closure of the canal for eight days.

Trading occurred by the side of the locks. John MacDonald's emporium, advertised as cabinetmaker and walking-stick manufacturer, but selling a vast range of other goods (including postcards), was in existence in 1893. It was mentioned in MacBrayne's guidebook of that year.

G Hutton 1992.

This flight of five locks is clearly visible on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Inverness-shire 1874, sheet lxviii), on the 2nd edition of the OS 6-inch map (Inverness-shire 1904, sheet lxviii), on the current edition of the OS 1:10000 map (1971) and on the OS Basic Scale raster map (ND).

Information from RCAHMS (MD), 20 September 2001.

This much-photographed flight of locks is situated within Fort Augustus village ((NH30NE 41), and lowers the Caledonian Canal down to the level of Loch Ness (to the NE). The swing bridge NH30NE 22 crosses the canal at the tail of the lowest lock.

These locks are depicted, but not noted, on the 1971 edition of the OS 1:10,000 map. The current OS (GIS) AIB depicts them as extending from NH 37617 09151 to NH 37891 09197.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 8 May 2006.


Build (1816 - 1820)

This flight of five locks was built by Simpson & Cargill from 1816–20.

Publication Account (2007)

(Institute Civil Engineers Historic Engineering Works no. HEW 0084/03)

Fort Augustus Locks

This flight of five locks, built by Simpson & Cargill from 1816–20, is second only to Neptune’s Staircase as being the most impressive piece of masonry work on the Canal.

Each lock is 180 ft long and 40 ft wide, and the flight raises vessels 40 ft from Loch Ness to the Kytra reach. Severe problems were encountered in 1816 during the excavation for the lock chambers. The base of the masonry for the bottom lock was fixed 24 ft below the water level of Loch Ness in a porous bed of gravel. Three steam-powered portable pumps of 9 hp, 20hp and 36hp were needed to keep the lock pit clear of water. The base of rubble-stone masonry was laid on moss to prevent sand being forced upwards through the lock bottom.

The poet Robert Southey visited the locks with Telford in 1819 and wrote in his journal: ‘Such an extent of masonry, upon such a scale, I had never before beheld . . . it was a most impressive rememberable scene.’

The flight was completed in 1820. The north-west recess wall of the bottom lock failed in 1857, and in 1882 a steamer rammed one of the lock gates and closed the canal for eight days. Extensive repairs were carried out to the sills in 1984 and further repairs were made to the lock walls and gates in 1995–96.

R Paxton and J Shipway, 2007.

Reproduced from 'Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Highlands and Islands' with kind permission from Thomas Telford Publishers.

Field Visit (6 February 2014 - 6 February 2014)

A flight of 5 locks with all the usual lock furniture – hooks, bollards and capstans. Many of the capstan bases (cluggie stones) have metal lids and appear to have been refurbished relatively recently. Recent landscaping has resulted in steps, paved walkways and picnic tables. Slots for coffer dams are seen at both north and south ends of the flight.


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