Heritage Locations

Neptune's Staircase, Caledonian Canal

On the Caledonian Canal, a major waterway linking the Atlantic to the North Sea, Britain's longest staircase lock system, built by Telford.

Charles Alexander Stevenson

Period of construction:
1800 - 1849

Transport Trust plaque:

Transport Mode:

Lock Keeper's Cottage, Banavie, PH33 7PJ

PH33 7PJ

Nearest Town:
Fort William

Heritage Centre:

The Caledonian Canal runs for 60 miles along the Great Glen from Corpach near Fort William in the South West to Inverness in the North East.

The canal was started in 1803 to plans produced by Thomas Telford following survey work by James Watt thirty years earlier. It was the biggest of the building schemes undertaken by the Government to provide work and stem the flood of emigration from the Highlands. The huge scale of the work and the shortage of skilled engineers meant that the seven year schedule and £350,000 budget always looked optimistic. It was: by the time the canal finally opened in 1822 it had taken 17 years and cost £840,000. And instead of the 20 ft. depth in Telford's plans, the canal when it initially opened was only 14 ft. deep, too shallow for many of the increasingly large ships being built at the time.

Neptune's Staircase is a staircase lock comprising eight locks on the Caledonian Canal. It is the longest staircase lock in the United Kingdom, and lifts boats 64 ft. (19.5 metres). The locks were originally hand-powered, but have been converted to hydraulic operation. The base plinths of the original capstans are still present, although the capstans themselves are now gone.

The current lock gates weigh 22 tons each, and require a team of three lock-keepers (at minimum) to run the staircase.


Cameron, A.D. The Caledonian Canal. ISBN 18984 10372 (1994)

Hutton, Guthrie. Caledonian: The Monster Canal. ISBN 1872 074162 0 (1992)

Smiles, Samuel. The Life of Thomas Telford; civil engineer, with an introductory history of roads and travelling in Great Britain (1867)

Rolt, L.T.C. Thomas Telford. Longmans (1958)

Skempton, Sir Alec (Ed.) Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers. Vol.1. 1500-1830. ISBN 07277 2939X (2002)

Thomas Telford, Penguin ISBN 0-14-022064-X (1979),

Thomas Telford, Engineer, Thomas Telford Ltd, ISBN 0-7277-0084-7 (1980)

Telford, Thomas. The Life of Thomas Telford, civil engineer, written by himself. (1838)


Opening Times:
Visible at all times. Consult locally for times of access.

How To Find:
By Road: At Banavie, off A830, north east of Fort William.


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