The stretch of water around the Mull of Kintyre had been a problem for sailing boats until the creation of the nine mile Crinan Canal. Not only did the canal allow boats to avoid dangerous passage around the mull, it cuts the journey by more than 100 miles.
The Crinan Canal is well known as "Britain's most beautiful short cut" with its route crossing the Kintyre peninsula linking Ardrishaig on Loch Fyne and Crinan.
Built just over 200 years ago the Crinan Canal, a mere 9 miles (14.5km) in length, with just 15 locks, allows easy passage from Loch Fyne to the Sound of Jura, avoiding the lengthy voyage around the Mull of Kintyre. It was designed by John Rennie but later improved by Thomas Telford in about 1817. Because it is 69ft (21m) above sea level it needs a constant supply of water to replenish it and its main channels are fed from seven reservoirs in the hills above. But as every single locking operation uses 66,000 gallons (300,000 litres) of water, there have been periods, particularly during long dry summers when it has run out of water and been forced to close.
It seems that it's difficult to avoid Scotland's most inspiring scenery during any canal construction, but the nine mile stretch here is particularly beautiful, the Crinan Basin being a favourite place for many. It served its initial purpose as a vital transport link before the coming of the railways and was the fastest route between Glasgow and Inverness linking into the Caledonian Canal. It also opened up the route into the Western Isles.
Today, the vessels are purely for pleasure and , apart from walkers enjoying the towpath, the Crinan Canal is one of the few true escapes still available.
Even with just nine miles to cover, the number of hotels and hostelries along the way can make this trip the most leisurely nine miles ever, the Crinan and Cairnbaan Hotels proving particularly popular. The maximum speed here is four knots and there are 15 locks and seven bridges to consider, so there's no hurry.
Arrival at Crinan does not have to be the end of the line, however. Sailors can take the sea lock into Loch Crinan which leads on to the Sounds of Jura.
The canal walk will take around three hours and is suitable for most levels of fitness. The walk is flat, but the amount of walking an individual does as a matter of course will obviously influence how enjoyable it is.
Stopping off along the route is a must, however, and can add several hours to the journey. Favourite points are Cairnbaan, The Bellanoch Marina and Oakfield Bridge. At Crinan itself, there is a woodland walk around the basin which should take about an hour.
The Crinan Canal runs along the southern fringe of Moine Mhor, the Great Moss, one of the last wild, raised bogs remaining in Britain and one of the oldest living sphagnum bogs in Europe. As plants die, their remains become peat. Older than Stonehenge but growing at a rate of only 1mm each year, Moine Mhor is 13ft (4m) in depth and is protected as part of a National Nature Reserve.
The moss can be visited at any time. A wooden walkway leads from the North Moss car park area and this is the best way to view it. It's a birdwatchers' paradise echoing with the distinctive cry of the curlew as it returns to breed each spring. Stonechats, resident year round, are joined by whinchats in summer and you may spot the odd osprey hunting fish in the River Add. Watch too for the hen harrier quartering the moss in search of a quick meal. During the seasons the bog changes colour as heathers and grasses bloom then fade away. Cranberries bear purple flowers in the spring and deep red berries in autumn. Carnivorous plants like the bright green sundew lie in wait to catch unsuspecting insects in their sticky hairs.
In 500 ad the Scotti tribe from Antrim landed here. To the Scotti, the vast rock of Dunadd in the middle of this great bog would have been the obvious place on which to build their first fortress and settlement. So the rock became the early capital of Dalriada. Near the summit are rock carvings including the figure of a boar, which may have been the tribe's emblem and some faint lines of ogam (alphabet of straight lines) inscription. A basin and footprint carved from the rock were probably part of early coronation ceremonies. The first recorded coronation here was of Aedann mac Gabhran by St Columba in ad 574. Dunadd, capital of Dalriada until 900, is still regarded as one of the most important historic sites in Scotland.