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History of The Inverarnan Canal


Originally constructed to service the growing need for steamboat activity and business.  The Inverarnan Canal became a much used and preferred avenue to travel from around the loch to its destination.

Although the canal still exists overgrown and unused, it serves as a reminder of a once lively through route to the Drovers Inn and the Highlands.

Perhaps it will again one day.Inverarnan Canal

Invitation of Water Access

It seems that the Inverarnan Canal has a celebrated and specific if somewhat unsung and short-lived history. 

It is well documented by the 1830’s that steamboats were operating all over Loch Lomond.  These catered for locals but more specifically tourists and with further communication needs was becoming increasingly the preferred transport link loading from Clydebank to the Highlands.

Originally to travel by coach to Killin or Fort William, the steamer berthed at Ardlui pier and then passengers, luggage and goods were brought to shore by rowboats to the waiting connecting coach.

This transfer was difficult if not impossible under certain weather conditions.  The idea was to take out this inconvenience to passengers and to streamline the service.  In 1840 the possibility of an extension was investigated for this purpose.  This was essentially the birth of the Inverarnan Canal.

The idea was initially put forward and supported by the transport and steamboat entrepreneurs (directly involved and responsible for Loch Lomond Steamer Transport) Mr Napier and Mr McMurrick.

Construction of the canal and its associated works commenced in 1842.  The man responsible for the project and the supervisor of work was a Mr Ferrier who was the father in law of the company steamboat manager Mr Thomas Mclean.


Why a Canal

The project was undertaken when, after receiving expert opinion, the recommendation was that if a number of bends in the river could be bypassed by the construction of a canal loading from the river directly to Inverarnan.  It would be feasible to navigate steamboats to this point for better and more reliable service and connection.

The conclusion also pointed out that in times of drought it was considered that the river would have to be dredged anyway to ensure sufficient water depth.  Loch Lomond is not usually associated with deficiencies in water.  A cheaper and simple solution was to build a jetty (mooring pier) at Ardlui.  This was not done until 10 years later.  Marine history in the area shows that there was already a pier on the West Bank of the River Falloch at Ardlui but there is no evidence the Steamboat industry or regular businesses used it.

The canal project was adversely stuck with a combination of wet weather, severe frosts and heavy snowfall, delaying progress.  It was finally completed in 1844.



The final structure was documented in Steamboat archives as being some 530 yards in length and terminating as a turning basin with landing stage about 290 yards south of the Inverarnan Inn, diverged from the River Falloch at a distance of approximately 1¼ miles from its mouth.

Loch Lomond passenger Steamers 1818-1929.  Allan T Codie press, Alan Brown 2000.


Public Awareness and Advertising

It is recorded that Loch Lomond was the first Steamboat to have the honour of navigating the River and the Inverarnan Canal.  Publicity increased the already fevered business and further broadened awareness and usage of the canal through advertising it as a specific destination.  The Canal being the highlight of the trip.

Prior to 1842 there has been no mention of Inverarnan or its Canal.  It was usually off handedly referred to as the Head of Loch Lomond, an inclusive and broadly bland term.  1843 still shows little mention stating only in reference that the Loch Lomond Steamer sails from Balloch at 10am for Balmaha, Luss, Rowardenan, Tarbet, Inversnaid and The Head of Loch Lomond returning to Balloch in the afternoon.

It is speculated that the steamer Loch Lomond did make one or more trial runs to Inverarnan by the canal in 1843.  An advertisement for the “Marquis of Breadalbane” coaches in July 1843 states its departure from the Head of Loch Lomond for Fort William every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday on the arrival of the Loch Lomond Steamer.

Finally in 1844, Inverarnan and the Canal receive specific and direct mention in advertisements thus marking its introduction and the regular services to the pier.  This was done under somewhat strained business relations (see below).

Both passengers and goods were carried and coaches to Killin and Ballahulish now normally started from the Inverarnan Inn.  Coaches serving Oban, Inverness (via the Caledonian Canal), Aberfeldy and Crieff later augmented these services.


Points of Interest

With the new steamboat arrangements including the business of Water Witch and using Inverarnan and its canal, arrangements were made with Mr Ainslie (of Fort William) who owned the stage coaches running between his town and the Inverarnan Inn.  The arrangement included carrying passengers travelling by his coach at a steamer fare between Balloch and Inverarnan of one shilling each!  Similar arrangements were also made for Inverarnan – Killin Passengers.


The Beginning of the End

By the mid fifties other operators, businesses and goods and services mediums caught on to the usefulness and direct link between the Loch and coaches via the Canal.  One of the more active complaints was written in May 1858 by Mr Andrew Menzies on behalf of the Glenorchy and Glencoe coach company to the steamboat company requesting the boats be allowed to go up the River Falloch at all times when weather permitted.

This petition had an adverse effect on the canal and the action taken from the Steamboat Company began the death of the canal.  In response the company instructed their captains to take their vessels up the River Falloch on all occasions were it was practical to do so.

In November 1858 the steamboat manager was ordered to ascertain whether their service up the River Falloch had been to the public’s satisfaction and also significantly if a certain Captain Brown had taken over the Ardlui Pier Lease and if that personal interest was influencing business and the Steamers destinations.  The manager’s reply to the first investigations is not recorded or known but it is documented that he found Captain Brown was indeed the Ardlui Pier Lessee but had promised to give it up at the end of the year (in one month).

The company’s directive to its captains to take their vessels up the River Falloch had fallen on deaf ears.  A memorial from certain innkeepers and farmers further exposed this in March 1861.  They claimed that the steamers did not go up the Falloch River when there was no apparent reason not to have done so.  They lobbied and presented their complaints to the Steamboat Company.


The Decline of Inverarnan

All the steamers called at Ardlui, but whether they then continued up the River Falloch to Inverarnan the ‘New’ Garbal Landing or the old Garabal Landing appeared to depend on the whim of the Captain and to the detriment of surrounding local business.  This time the company’s response was more positive and active.  The captains were told to take the steamers up the Falloch whenever there was sufficient water to enable them to do so and to avoid any argument or loophole, a water gauge was erected at Ardlui.

1860   the steamers were carrying mails bags to and from Luss, Rowardennan, Tarbet, Inversnaid and Ardlui but no mention is made of Inverarnan.  The transfer of mailbags was now being made at Ardlui.  Inverarnan continued to feature in the coach advertisements during the 1860’s.  It suggest that the canal was still being used up to 1868 as shown in the following excerpts from the ‘Glasgow Herald’.

1862   The Marquis of Breadalbane coach between Kenmore, Killin, Crianlarich and Inverarnan will start from the season on Monday 14th July.  Leave Kenmore 7.45am.  Arrive Inverarnan (Head of Loch Lomond) in time for the 1.15pm Steamer to Balloch.  Returning immediately.

1863   June 30th – The Glencoe and Glenorchy coaches are now running between Glasgow via Loch Lomond and Inverarnan to Tyndrum, Glencoe, Ballahulish, Fort William, Oban and Inverness.

1866   August 30th – The Earl of Breadalbane three horse coach leave Aberfeldy at 6.30am and arrives at Inverarnan Hotel in time for the 1.15pm steamer to Balloch.  Coach leaves Inverarnan 2.15pm.

1868   Saw the same run of advertisements as the previous description for 1866.

1870   The Glencoe and Glenorchy Coaches are now running every lawful day to and from the Head of Loch Lomond, Inverarnan, Tyndrum, Dalmanny and Oban.

Further on from 1870 coaches advertised as running from Ardlui as The Head of Loch Lomond.  This term, which was once solely synonymous within the Canal access to Inverarnan, was now used for the general area including Ardlui.


The Final Chapter

The opening of the Callander and Oban Railway as far as Killin (Glenogle) on June 1st 1870 sounded the death knell for the through services to the north via Loch Lomond.  The railways now made it quicker, more comfortable and more convenient to travel by train to Killin and there join northbound coaches.

So the canal was left to its fate and navigation up and down the canal and indeed the River Falloch faded away.

Exactly when the steamers ceased to proceed beyond Ardlui is uncertain since the Loch Lomond Steamer timetables (those published in the Lennox Herald, I could find) continued to use the “Head of Loch Lomond” termination right up to the end of North British Railways ownership (1896).  From the coach advertisements a reasonable assumption that canal locals remember would be that Inverarnan was abandoned in the late 1860s.


A Curious Sequel

Having history state the above it is very interesting to note that in 1880 – 81 the trustees of the late Sir James Colquhoun of Luss commenced to construct a bridge across the River Falloch near Ardlui.  The Earl of Breadalbane and others immediately sought to interdict the trustees from building the bridge on the grounds that it would interfere with the navigation of the Loch Lomond Steamboat Co’s vessels up the Falloch to Inverarnan, even though they had ceased calling at Inverarnan some 15 years previously.

The case was duly heard at the Dumbarton Sheriff Court and an interdict was granted.  However large pillar stones (counting two today) one on either side of the river and described as “two monuments to the perversity of human beings” can still be seen marking the site of the bridge which was never completed.


Before the Steamboats

Before steamboats and before modern ingenuity – clan days – Inverarnan was a hive of activity and cultural living, being between Fort William, Stirling, Glasgow and Dumbarton.  Farms and business (Charcoal, red dye, produce etc) made it a very prosperous and well-established village to live in.  The Loch was also a factor.

With modern advances and more interest and purpose to move around, the tourist industry flourished with increasing momentum.  There was much boating on the Loch.

Locals and local business have always used the Loch and Inverarnan has been an integral part of the business development to the area.  Whether sheep farming, business, tourism, local trade or for pleasure it was only (in essence) time before the canal was constructed to cater for increasing demands both for business and pleasure.


The New Loch Lomond Steamboat Co 1844

Part of the expanding Steamer Business – Inverarnan Inn and its canal were a deciding and legal proviso in the proceeding business and service.

Following the withdrawal of QUEEN OF SCOTS on the conclusion of the 1841 season Napier and McMurrich once again had the loch to themselves until 1844, when a further challenge was made to their monopoly.  Napier and McMurrich operated what was basically a seasonal tourist service although it now also formed an important link in a transport chain to the north.  Whilst bulk transport of heavy goods continued to be catered for by sail boats there was a growing feeling, particularly by some of the major landowners, that a more comprehensive steamboat service on the loch would be of general advantage.  With this object in mind John Bell, of Dumbarton, acting on behalf of a number of subscribers, purchased for the sum of £634 the steamer WATERWITCH at a public group in Glasgow, formerly owned by the now bankrupt business of McBrayne and McIntyre.  She had been launched at Caird’s yard, Greenock, on Wednesday 2 August 1843 for the Glasgow and Kilmun Steam Packet Co and according to the “Greenock Telegraph”, christen WATER WITCH.  The report also stated she was expected to be a very fast sailer and would reflect credit on her eminent builders, who were also to supply the engines.  She was duly brought up from Glasgow to Balloch in a single day and on 30 April 1844, at a meeting of four partners held at the Kings Arms Inn, Dumbarton, the general arrangements necessary for constituting the subscribers involved in the purchase of the vessel into a joint stock company were made.  The title, The New Lochlomond Steamboat Company was provisionally adopted, with its stated object being to operate a steamboat service on Loch Lomond with WATERWITCH.  As the Marquis of Breadalbane had expressed an interest in being associated with the new company it had been agreed that the draft contract of co-partnery being presently drawn up would be submitted to the agents acting on his behalf for comment and approbation.  This met with the general approval of the Marquis who was, however, anxious that the steamer should also ply in winter at least twice weekly to carry not only passengers but livestock, country produce and goods.  As the goodwill of the Marquis was obviously of importance the final draft, approved by all parties, included the following provisions:-

1.                  That the steamer shall ply on Loch Lomond every lawful day during the summer months, the duration of this period to be decided by the directors in the best interests of the company.

2.                  That the vessel shall also ply on the loch at least once weekly (weather permitting) during the winter months, commencing on the termination of the summer sailings and ending on their resumption in the following year.  In the event of loss to the company, without benefit to the community at large, the directors have the power to suspend or rescind this provision.

3.                  that the vessel shall at all times carry cattle, sheep, country produce and goods.

4.                  that the steamer shall sail as near to the Inverarnan Inn as the state of weather and other circumstances permit. 

Steamboat Archives Business and history Loch Lomond Services 1800 – 1860, Glasgow Library.