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Canal History

Aberdeen to Inverurie Canal

The Route of the Canal
Waterloo Basin
- Aberdeen Docks and tidal lock, Virginia Street Bridge, Fish Street Bridge, Constitution Street Bridge, King Street Bridge, Nelson Street Bridge, Mounthooly Lock, Canal Road Bridge, Kittybrewster, Stoneywood, Dyce Basin, Kinaldie, Dalweirie, Kintore Wharf, Port Elphinstone Basin.

The Aberdeen Journal, June 5, 1805
Aberdeenshire Canal (commenced 1795 and fully completed 1807 for the sum of £44,000) - We have now the pleasure to announce the opening of this navigation. On Friday morning the Committee of Management assembled at the Basin at Inverury, attended by the Provost, Magistrates, Minister, and other inhabitants of that burgh, who congratulated them on the completion of an undertaking, which must tend so much to the improvement of that, and other parts of the country. The company then embarked on board one of the barges, The Countess of Kintore, handsomely decorated and fitted up by Captains Bruce and Freeman, and proceeded to Kintore, where they were met by the Magistrates, and other inhabitants of that burgh. On their approach towards Aberdeen, they were joined by several parties of Ladies, who were highly pleased with the novelty of the navigation through the locks; while several thousands of the inhabitants, crowding on the banks and bridges, added much to the interest of the scene, while a gun fixed on the prow of the barge, was fired occasionally to announce their approach. The company and a number of occasional visitors, partook of refreshments on board of the barge; and the voyage lasted seven hours and a half, terminated at the basin near the quay without the slightest interruption. The band of the Stirlingshire Militia met the barge several miles from town, and played many favourite tunes during the remainder of the voyage. The Committee afterwards dined together in the New Inn, when the health of the promoter of this great public work, and every success to it was cordially drank. The Canal passes about 19 miles into the interior of the country, rising 170 feet above the level of the basin at Aberdeen by means of 17 locks; is 3½ feet deep and 20 feet broad at surface water, had 5 aquaducts and is crossed by 56 Bridges. One barge has already delivered a cargo of coals at Inverury, and another 85 bolls of shell lime at Kintore.

View from the towpath with the canal basin on the left, looking eastClosed for 150 years, this canal can still be traced on the ground.  The Aberdeenshire Canal was one of Britain's most northerly waterways. For almost 20 miles long, the canal ran from the sea at Aberdeen to Inverurie, and was once busy with freight and passenger boats - in the summer, at least. The canal was typically iced up from December to March, and would only reopen on 1st April.  Faced with the threat of railway competition, the canny owners decided to make the most of their investment and sold the canal bed to the Great North of Scotland Railway. The canal was therefore closed in 1854 and a railway laid on much of its course.  Little survives today, save for some of the loops which the railway line cut off. The best place to look for remnants of the old canal is at Port Elphinstone - the canal basin in Inverurie. The terminus can clearly be seen beside the River Don which separates the settlements of Port Elphinstone and Inverurie itself.

A canal leaves the harbour, and, extending along the north side of the town, penetrates a considerable way into the interior of the country.

Map Showing City Route of Canal

The canal was originally conceived as part of a bigger scheme to link Aberdeen to Monymusk, via Inverurie, with a branch from Inverurie along the course of the Urie Glen to Insch.  The canal eventually opened in June 1805. Fourteen of the locks failed within the first few weeks, and reconstruction of the masonry resulted in the canal being shut until 1806.

From the great days of agricultural improvement in Aberdeenshire there have  survived the remains of two obsolete canals, about one of which a good deal is generally known while of the other, which was in fact never completed, little seems to have been heard outside its immediate neighbourhood. The first, the 'Aberdeenshire Canal Navigation' ran 'from the Harbour of Aberdeen into the River Don at or near the bridge over the same, adjacent to the Royal Burgh of Inverurie and the second through parts of St Fergus and New Deer parishes.  Its length is given as 18 miles, and as first constructed it was only 17 ft. wide by 3 ft. deep, though John Rennie had proposed a breadth of 27 ft. and a depth of 4 ft.; but in the course of the first six years these dimensions were increased, over much of the distance, to maxima of 23ft. and 3 ft. 10 in. There were seventeen locks, and these raised the cut, near Stoneywood to a height of 168ft. above low-water mark, which elevation was maintained unaltered for the rest of the way to Port Elphinstone. The canal did not at first communicate directly with the sea, but a tidal lock was added in 1834 by means of which boats could enter or leave at half-tide. Basins were provided at Aberdeen, Bridge of Dyce, Kintore and Port Elphinstone, and other works included 5 aqueducts, 20 culverts and 56 road bridges. Some of the bridges were almost at the level of the water, with the result that the horses - two or three harnessed tandem - had to be detached and hooked on again after the boat had passed the bridge by its own momentum. Altogether low bridges headroom might be obtained by siting the towpath below the surface of the water. The Act limited the total breadth of the works to 20 yds., this figure being increased to 100 yds. at docks, passing-places, etcThe Company was empowered to take water from the Don and from streams within 2,000 yds. of the canal, and was required to set up distance-posts at half-mile intervals as a basis for tolls. The canal was opened in 1805 and had a life of just over forty years.

Download PDF Aberdeenshire Canals

Some fragments of the original canal construction may be discerned along the route of the railway. Within Aberdeen these include where the railway runs parallel to Elmbank Terrace, Kittybrewster (at the foot of which road is an elderly bridge carrying the road diagonally over the railway), and again where the railway runs parallel to Great Northern Road in Woodside.   Woodside still has a canal bridge which is in use for the road only with nothing now running underneath; the railway is slightly to the north at this point. It was once well outside the bounds of the city proper, and so both that area and Old Aberdeen still boast roads named Canal Street, which creates a deal of confusion.  Dyce and Dalwearie also have obvious remains.


Old Dyce

The inception of the Aberdeenshire Canal dates from the late 18th Century, 1795 to be precise, when a group of landowners chose to project a canal running through the fertile Donside lands, from the harbour at Aberdeen to Inverurie, or rather a point south of it which became known as Port Elphinstone after one of the local landowners who was a keen advocate of the canal. Engineered by John Rennie, who had worked on other canals such as the Lancaster Canal and the Kennett and Avon Canal, construction started in 1798, but it was not opened until 1805. The canal carried a varied cargo for the agricultural concerns in the area, and was also useful to the various granite quarries and paper mills that lay nearby. As built, the canal was 17 feet wide (although it was later widened), with the towpath on the eastern bank for the whole route. Milestones were placed at half mile intervals, in order to establish the charges for the carriage of goods and passengers.

Costing £44,000 to build, the canal never made enough money back to pay shareholders, and when sold to the Great North of Scotland Railway in 1845, they paid a mere £36,000. The canal continued to operate until 1853, after which it was stripped of masonry, and chunks were overlaid with the new railway which opened the following year.

After closure, the parts of the canal that did not end up being superseded by the course of the railway were left to rot. Development of new buildings and streets in Aberdeen and its suburbs swallowed up most of the urban remains of the canal; while in rural areas, much of it ended up being ploughed out and flattened. But even after over 150 years of abandonment, lengths of the canal still remain.

Aberdeen - Woodside
For the first few miles out of Aberdeen, there are no major physical remains of the canal to be found. The canal originally started on Waterloo Quay at the harbour, and wound its way up past Mounthooly to Kittybrewster. This section was converted to rail with the railway following the exact route of the canal. There has been some debate over whether some retaining walls on the route of the railway are in fact the remains of locks, but there seems to be no conclusive evidence either way.  Much of the masonry material was recycled for the railway

After the canal/railway pass under Bedford Road, their routes diverge, with the line of the canal running alongside Powis Terrace, the turnpike. Nothing seems to remain, at the south end of the terrace of tenements built on the line of the canal sometime in the 19th century, there is a grassed area behind an old wall, with a very pronounced drop of a few feet on it. this could have been the forgotten remains of a lock. Between the Boat House and the site of Kittybrewster railway station (between the refuse depot and Kittybrewster retail park) there were no less than 5 locks, so it could well be a remnant.

Further up, at the junction of St Machar Drive and Powis Terrace (which turns into Great Northern Road) there was, until fairly recently, an old building with filled in doorways and windows that was believed to be the old Boat House, where passengers would disembark - the journey further south was very slow, due to all the locks - 14 between here and the terminus at Waterloo Quay. Sadly, this much modified but highly historical building has been swept away thanks to the construction of a new roundabout.

Past St Machar Drive, the canal continued to run adjacent to the turnpike road, the site of which is now under various 1920s bungalows and post-war flats. after the point where Road bisected the turnpike, the canal curved away from it, apparently running alongside Canal Street in Woodside. Until the 1980s, the boundary of the canal was marked out by the properties that ran along the north side of Great Western Road, but these were pulled down to make way for the dualling of Great Western Road, and the land has since been reused. In this area, an archaeological dig took place to find remains of the canal,

But it's along the Great Western Road that the first tangible remains of the Aberdeenshire canal can be found. A bridge spanning the canal lies just north of Great Western Road, on the entrance to Woodside's Station Road. This bridge is a rare survivor, being the only bridge to span the canal that still exists, although the foundations of others may still lay underneath the roads they once ran under. The bridge has survived both the expansion of Woodside in the late 19th century and the wide scale demolition that hit the area when Great Northern Road was dualled, and so its survival is all the more remarkable.
Aberdeenshire Canal

Great Northern Road - During an assessment in October 2001 a portion of a linear cut feature filled with sands and silts and a mortar bonded stone wall were excavated. It is probable that the cut feature was the South Bank of the Aberdeenshire Canal and that the wall delineated the southern edge of the canal land. The canal opened in 1805 and closed in 1855.

There were 17 locks along the canal between the Waterloo Quay in Aberdeen and Stoneywood Mill at Bucksburn. The canal basin that was once used to load and ship paper from Stoneywood Mill was located in the fields opposite Stoneywood Terrace,

The Aberdeenshire Canal is open to all comers paying toll at the rate of |d. to 2d. per ton per mile, according to description of goods conveyed.  Barges for the transit of grain, lime, coals, and other goods, sail daily from each end of the canal.  A swift iron gig-boat for passengers starts daily from Loch 14, near Ketty Brewster.


The entrance to the Canal through Waterloo Quay was crossed by a substantial wooden bridge, put on in 1834 when the sea loch connecting the Canal with the harbour was formed. It was. removed when the railway was made. Of the original bridges over the Canal No 1 connected Virginia Street with Canal Terrace. This bridge was also removed when the railway was made. Canal Terrace, formerly a pleasant residential street, was curtailed in length and reduced in width by the railway and became an unimportant place. Bridge No 2 gave access to the Links from the Bowl Road, now Albion Street, When the Banner Mill was erected this bridge was the chief approach to the mill for the workers; but it is not much used now since the stoppage of cotton-spinning and the closing of the mill. No 3 carried Constitution Street over the Canal, and now it carries it over the railway. No 4 is in Park Street. Formerly the bridge was at the end of Jasmine Terrace, and was called the Thieves' Brig. When the Canal was made it drained to some extent the low lying marshy ground on the east side of King Street; the Powcreek Burn became a sewer; and the Thieves' Brig was removed and erected over the Canal. Before the formation of King Street the Thieves' Brig was of more importance that it was in the last century. Farmers from Buchan and Formartine on their way to Aberdeen crossed the Don at the Brig of Balgownie and held on the way to Old Aberdeen. At Seaton Place many turned eastward, and passing Seaton Brickworks, went along the Links and crossed the Powcreek Burn by the Thieves' Brig. Going along Park Street they entered the Castlegate by the Justice Port, considered the chief entrance from the north before King Street was made. Bridge No 5 was in King Street and, as the town for long did not extend farther than the bridge, beyond it the name changed to North Road. The Customs Station, however, was a little farther out, at the end of Nelson Street. Here butter and eggs and other country produce paid a tax before being allowed to enter the town. This irksome toll was given up by the Town Council in 1879.  No 6 and No 7 were in Nelson Street and Mounthooly, where there are still bridges occupying the same sites as the old. No 8 was in the line of Canal Road, which after crossing the Canal was met at a right angle by Froghall Terrace. The bridge was shifted a hundred yards to the north-west when the railway was made. No 9 was farther west than the bridge on Bedford Load. Part of the wing wall of the old bridge may be seen near Kittybrewster South Cabin. By the look of the bridge at Erskine Street one would suppose, that it had been constructed with the stones of No 9. Some of the Canal bridges served for the railway, but others were too high or too low and had to be taken down and rebuilt. No 10 was at the Boat-House at the head of the Brae Road, and it gave the people of Old Aberdeen access to the Canal boats.

In 1827 a great famine in the Garioch encouraged the lairds to bring in new methods of agriculture, and farming efficiency was further advanced by the improvement in transport made possible by the 18 mile Aberdeen - Port Elphinstone Canal completed in the early 19th century, creating a direct link with Aberdeen Harbour. Transport was again revolutionised when the Great North of Scotland railway line was opened using parts of the canal bed.  The first train ran on the 19th September 1854 from Kittybrewster station in Aberdeen to Huntly through the Garioch.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013