My favourite building: The Forth & Clyde Canal

By Gemma Wild, GCHT Heritage Outreach Manager

A view of the Forth & Clyde Canal, with towpath in foreground and buildings in the background


When I’m asked what my favourite building in Glasgow is, I always cheat and say the Forth & Clyde Canal. It isn’t a ‘building’ strictly, but it is a man-made structure – does that count? You can keep your City Chambers, your Rennie Mackintosh’s and your Victorian warehouses. For me, the canal’s rich history is one of Glasgow’s most significant heritage assets.


The Forth & Clyde Canal runs through Glasgow, all the way from Grangemouth in the east (the Forth) to Bowling in the West (the Clyde). It was completed in 1790 and was the motorway of its day, built to connect central Scotland, transforming travel times for those moving heavy goods between Glasgow & Edinburgh from days to hours.


If I asked you to think of a National Collection – you’re probably not thinking of parts of formerly industrial land in North Glasgow…But I would argue that:

  • Scotland’s five historic canals are an incredibly significant national collection & outstanding examples of Georgian engineering.
  • The canal is a living breathing outdoor industrial museum.
  • It is a scheduled ancient monument with over 250 years of history that incredibly is still being used today.


I first became interested in the canal when I moved to Maryhill nine years ago. At first it was just great to live right next to this green ribbon I could use for walks & cycling and which would connect me to places I needed to go. Then the wildlife started to reveal itself: could that really be a deer? In Maryhill?! Of course, on my walks it was hard to miss the remaining fragments of Glasgow’s industrial past: a rusting stop lock; a milestone; a lone, brick industrial building amongst the new build housing.


But the canal is not just an important historic structure in its own right. The coming of the canal led to the development of towns and places, and in the communities the canal passes through it is an intrinsic part of the character and identity of the place and the people. The Forth & Clyde Canal links communities in some of Glasgows poorest areas. As formerly industrial sites are redeveloped, and the canal’s potential as an asset for the area is developed, so the canal continues to shape these places today. That regeneration effort has helped bring forward some creative projects which bring life and hope back to these areas, and revive the intangible heritage captured in the traditions, skills, crafts, language and events associated with the canals. These projects connect people, encourage pride in a local neighbourhood that might have suffered badly from the decline of industry in the 20th century, helping creating brighter futures for those communities.


If you have a great idea for a project using heritage to engage your community, we might be able to help! We have funding available for heritage outreach and community engagement projects – find out more on our website and submit your idea now!

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