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Here's our first update from project lead Richard Bracken, covering the activity from April - June 2022; kindly supported by Historic Environment Scotland. #LearningWithHES

Completed in 1822, the Caledonian Canal is 200 this year. Just as the canal links Inverness in the east and Fort William in the west, our project makes new connections between young people, local people, artists and the canal itself.


Our first workshops for Inland Navigation took place at the end of April, with artist Lorna Campbell and young people from Special Needs Action Project (SNAP) exploring the eastern extremities of the Caledonian Canal.  Starting at Clachnaharry sea lock, the group made their way gently to Muirtown Basin where they met up with artist and skipper Nicola Gear on board her boat ‘Loch Ness’ - a former canal dredger.  They had great fun learning about the history and workings of the barge, including the fundamentals of rope work.


More workshops in May allowed Lorna’s group to continue their explorations of the canal and its history.  At Dochgarroch the group met Ron Ross, who’s entire career (which began at 16) was spent on the canal.  For many years he worked as one of the crew on Nicola’s boat ‘Loch Ness’, then known as ‘Fairway’, helping to keep the canal free of the silt and debris that quickly accumulate via the many hill-burns along its length.  Ron has a wealth of stories about people, places and events relating to the canal and even brought along his own lovingly made model of ‘Scott II’ - icebreaker, tugboat and partner to ‘Fairway’ in her working days.

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On a walk along the canal at Dochgarroch, the group also explored the weir and how the river and canal work in unison. They examined the natural environment surrounding the river and canal, making and launching docken boats, taking tree rubbings and quietly observing the swans incubate their eggs.

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During an indoor making session, at SNAP’s base, the group used block printing to reflect on their outings and explorations to date, drawing and printing motifs based on their experiences.


Towards the end of May the group set off on a final trip by boat (Jacobite Cruise) to Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, giving everyone a taste of what it’s like to travel by water.  A glorious day was spent exploring the ruins of the castle; where we had a picnic followed by searching out all the nooks, crannies and secrets of the castle, photographing favourite spots and following a history trail. The young people and staff from SNAP have been so much fun to work with, and so enthusiastic!  The group have produced a very large collaborative map, which will be one of the works on display at the end of the project.

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At the other end of the canal, in Corpach Basin near Fort William, young people from Connecting Young Carers met up with artist Richard Bracken and marine conservationist Russell Leaper for a very wet and windy first session!  Russell was able to share his knowledge of the marine life in Loch Linnhe, and having lived beside the canal for many years, he was also able to tell the group about the history of this western end and the historic ‘Neptune’s Staircase’.


In partnering with Historic Environment Scotland (HES), we’ve been lucky to get an introduction to Scran - an online archive of historical images from all over Scotland.  Jackie Sangster from HES gave the Circus team an overview of the collection and curated dozens of canal images from Clachnaharry to Corpach.  We’ve been able to use these archive images in our workshops, with Lorna and Richard creating postcards for groups to use as prompts for exploring and for making.  A key element of our project is connection, so it made sense to develop the postcard idea further to enable the young people to exchange their artworks and messages in this form.  We’ve also made use of a collaborative Padlet noticeboard, which allows the groups to share images online from their outings, and see what others have been up to. 

We’re looking forward to getting our final workshops underway; Richard’s remaining sessions will explore the Banavie area near Fort William while Nicola Gear has a group due to visit Dochgarroch, Tomnahurich and Fort Augustus in the company of some more very interesting folks! 

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