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Caledonian Canal, Banavie Locks

Lock(S) (Post Medieval)

Site Name Caledonian Canal, Banavie Locks

Classification Lock(S) (Post Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Caledonian Canal, Neptune's Staircase; Fort William

Canmore ID 23703

Site Number NN17NW 11.01

NGR NN 11341 76955

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2019.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Kilmallie
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Lochaber
  • Former County Inverness-shire

Recording Your Heritage Online

Neptune's Staircase, 1807-11, 1807-11 , The Caledonian Canal's best known feature, situated just short of its terminus at Loch Linnhe. Now hydraulically operated, this remarkable ladder of eight locks allows vessels to rise or drop 64 ft.

Taken from "Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Mary Miers, 2008. Published by the Rutland Press

Archaeology Notes

NN17NW 11.01 11341 76955

Banavie Locks [NAT]

Neptune's Staircase [NAT]

(Both at NN 1134 7695)

OS 1:10,000 map, 1975.

Neptune's Staircase [NAT] (name centred NN 11341 76955)

Banavie Locks [NAT] (name centred NN 11268 76913)

Banavie Locks [NAT] (name centred NN 11573 77207)

OS (GIS) AIB, May 2006.

Location formerly entered as from NN 1125 7686 to NN 1155 7718.

The lock gates were replaced between 1890 and 1906 by stronger ones constructed from oak and steel. In 1920 the whole flight of locks was thoroughly restored, the canal being closed to traffic for nine weeks in order to undertake this, and by the middle of the 20th century the locks were mechanized.

J Lindsay 1968.

These eight interconnecting locks at Banavie, more popularly known as Neptune's Staircase, raise the canal by 64 feet [19.5m]. Boats of up to 150 feet [45.7m] in length and 30 feet [9.1m] wide can be accommodated in each lock. When visiting with his friend Thomas Telford, the canal's chief engineer, the poet Robert Southey described the flight as 'the greatest work of art in Britain.'

A Burton 1983.

This great engineering achievement consists of eight staircase locks forming a quarter of a mile of continuous masonry. They lift the canal 62 feet. The problem of such a design, although cheaper and easier to construct than single locks, is that a bottleneck is caused when a large boat goes through the flight, as any boat travelling in the opposite direction has to wait until it has gone all the way through the series. Although early plans show basins in the middle of lock flights which have the benefit of creating passing places, these were rejected as too costly in the initial stages of construction and also during alterations in the 1840s. Unfortunately, due to poor construction, repairs were necessary on several occasions, and, in 1929, when a drifter crashed into the top gates, serious structural defects became obvious, as the sudden alteration in water pressure caused the collapse of the gates of the two top locks. Further catstrophe was avoided on that occasion by the fact that the third set of gates held firm.

G Hutton 1992.

This flight of locks is clearly marked as Banavie Locks or Neptune's Staircase on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Argyllshire 1875, sheet vii), on the 2nd edition of the OS 6-inch map (Inverness-shire 1903, sheet cxxxix), on the current edition of the OS 1:10000 map (1975) and on the OS Basic Scale raster map (ND).

There appears to have been a boundary change in this area, as the feature is shown on an Argyllshire sheet in the 1st edition, but on an Inverness-shire sheet subsequently.

Information from RCAHMS (MD) 30 August 2001.

The location assigned to this record defines the centre of the flight. The current OS (GIS) AIB depicts it as extending from NN c. 11252 76860 to NN c. 11550 77180. It all falls witin the parish of Kilmallie.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM) 9 May 2006.

Architecture Notes

Banavie Locks at west end of canal - 8 locks.

See also NN17NW 11.00.


Build (1808 - 1811)

Banavie locks built.

R Paxton and J Shipway, 2007.

Publication Account (2007)

(Institute Civil Engineers Historic Engineering Works no. HEW 0084/07)Neptune’s Staircase or Banavie Locks

This flight of eight locks, known as Neptune’s Staircase and built by Simpson and Wilson (according to Telford mainly the latter) from 1808–11 with Alexander Easton as resident engineer, was, when built, the longest and most impressive length of masonry on any canal and arguably is still. The locks, of similar dimensions to those at Fort Augustus, 180 ft long X 40 ft wide, form a stretch of solid masonry 1500 ft long and raise the canal 64 ft from its level at Corpach Moss to the Gairlochy reach.

Telford forecast that construction would take four years and these locks were one of few works on the canal to be completed early. The haste of construction and possible management shortcomings may have been factors in local collapses of the lock walls in 1829 and 1839. In 1844 all

the gate recess walls had to be rebuilt.

Passage through the flight of locks is slow, as vessels have to await the completion of the passage of any vessel coming in the opposite direction. In 1845 construction of a passing place midway was considered but was found impractical. Twelve lock keepers were originally required to work the locks, but after mechanisation in the 1960s only two are necessary.

In 1929 a serious accident occurred when a vessel crashed through the gates of the top lock and was swept into the lock below. The locks being suddenly emptied caused the masonry walls to bulge and they had to be rebuilt. This caused the closure of the canal for three months.

In 1998–99, during the winter closure of the canal, the lock walls were stabilised and the gates replaced.

R Paxton and J Shipway, 2007.

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

Field Visit (16 October 2013 - 16 October 2013)

Banavie Locks. (Alternative - Neptune's Staircase)

A series of 8 locks have the usual lock furniture; bollards, hooks and several capstan bases some of which have been “enhanced” by elaborate stonework. Slots for coffer dams are seen at the NE end

Visited by the Scottish Canals Recording Project (MM), 2013


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