A long shortcut in Scotland

On Crinan Canal, time slows to accommodate meetings with friends and lock-keepers.

In a country known for beautiful landscapes, it is no small thing to be dubbed "Scotland's most beautiful shortcut." The Crinan Canal, completed in 1801, was designed to shorten the transportation route from industrialized Glasgow to the Western Highland towns. The canal bypasses the often rough and dangerous North Channel, the sea that separates Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Skipper Alan Sorbie, who hails from Ardrossan, took his 38-footer Christina through the canal on his way to Dunstaffnage. He says that the journey covers some 70 miles, almost halving the 130 miles he'd have to travel to sail around the Mull of Kintyre and the North Channel.

The canal's nine miles, 15 locks, and seven bridges are a destination in itself: With the maximum speed set at 4 knots, it takes about eight hours to navigate, says Monica Stewart, Crinan Sea Lock keeper. The canal's narrow width and low speeds allow boaters and pedestrians on the canal's banks to interact easily.

Fraser MacIver, an eccentric Canadian-born painter, lives in a converted wagon on the banks. He likes to display his landscape-inspired paintings for passersby, and often invites them for tea and art dealings. Sebastian Neislund, from Sweden, has crossed the Atlantic on his homemade boat and is on his way home.

Time slows even further as the boats enter each lock. One begins to understand the time-consuming process by standing on the bank and watching as each boat crew jumps out, secures the boat, opens the sluices, and swings the gates. The objective is to raise or lower the water level in the lock.

The crew receives help from lock-keepers and locals – making it something like a very slow pit stop where the driver shares a cordial conversation with the crew and fans before racing back to the track. In winter, Lock 15, or Sea Lock, doubles as shelter when gales batter the local fishing fleet.

Ms. Stewart estimates that 2,000 boats traverse the canal yearly. That's 30,000 lock stops, or as I prefer to think of it, a lot of opportunities to share a good story.

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