The Crinan canal is surely one of the most pleasing cycle routes in the country, suitable for everybody from young children to the dedicated cyclist. Even the hardest off road mountain biker could not fail to enjoy themselves. Rich in history and wildlife, the Crinan is a wonderful place to explore. Every year 3000 boats, mainly pleasure craft pass through the canal, people come from far to walk along its tow path, but for us the finest way to see it is on two wheels.
The Canal has been called ‘Britain’s finest short cut, opened in 1801 the canal has 15 locks and 7 bridges. Two lighthouses guided sailors to a safe passage and the ‘water waster’ has kept levels correct for over 200 years.
This area is one of the most important ancient landscapes in Britain, a short ride away at Kilmartin stand Neolithic standing stones, bronze age burial chambers and the enigmatic ‘cup and ring’ carvings.
Any visitor should look out for the wildlife and rich habitats that cloak the canal, particularly the ‘great moss’ or Moine Mhor – one of the last remaining peat bogs in Britain. Look to the hills above to see the Scottish rain forest, listen for the calls of Wood Warblers and Redstarts, gaze at the sky to see buzzards circling. Evening sees the waters go still and swallows swoop like dive bombers over the black mirror waters.
The route simply follows the tow path from one end to the other and is 9 miles long (one way), however it is possible to park at many places along the length of the canal meaning you can do as much or as little of it as you like depending on your fitness level. The route is pretty flat all the way. We cycled the whole way, there and back again as it were, in a couple of hours including stops for photo’s, admiring the views, reading information signs and an emergency ice-cream stop.
Parking at the Crinan allows you to cycle another route too. From here you can cycle down minor roads to see the ancient structures at Kilmartin. A mile or two from the Crinan end, the B8025 crosses the canal and heads off across the nature reserve to Kilmartin. It is simply a case of following this road, it leads right past all the ancient wonders. A small museum in the village of Kilmartin contains artefacts found during excavations but is so disproportionally expensive it made the words “HOWMUCH?????” involuntarily slip out of my mouth at an embarrassing volume. Carnassarie castle stands one mile North of Kilmartin. It is looked after by Scottish heritage and is free to enter. We do not recommend cycling there however as you would have to use the A816 and it can be busy and dangerous.
We have spent a few days staying at the canal and it is always quiet, parking is free and very simple. Public toilets are located at both ends of the canal and there are various places to get a coffee and snacks. At the Ardrishaig end of the canal there are a couple of little convenience stores and opposite them a few picnic benches looking over Loch Fyne. We though this a Fyne place to sit with an ice cream. Everyone we met along the canal was very friendly, even the people on the £200,000 yachts said hello and waved as we rolled by. There are canal side showers that are meant only for those on boats but if you ask politely you are allowed to use them, we showed our gratitude with a couple of tins of beer.