Start of tarmac from Crinan basin

Historic Environment Scotland abandons Crinan Canal to invasive urbanisation and sees ‘no material change’

Scottish Waterways has form in standing against legitimate and informed objections in rolling out layers of tarmac on sections of the Crinan Canal.

In 2013 and with no apparent public consultation – although the canal is a public and a heritage amenity – Scottish Waterways and Sustrans sheeted and coated with a thick layer of tarmac a section of the Crinan Canal towpath from  halfway along the summit stretch between locks 8 and 9, at the westerly row of original Cairnbaan cottages, and on down west to or beyond Lock 11 at Barnakill Farm.

Two other sections were being lined up for the tarmac roll out:

  • the section from the Miller’s Bridge [above the roundabout for Ardrishaig and Kintyre at the western edge of Lochgilphead] to Cairnbaan;
  • and the section from the Crinan Bridge – the swing bridge once giving access to the old ferry landing – into the Crinan Canal Basin.

Once again there was no public consultation of any kind.

Miller's Bridge path to Ardrishaig

Miller’s Bridge path to Ardrishaig

There was a well supported petition at the cafe at the Crinan Basin – and very engaged local public opposition to the tarmacking of the swing bridge section into the Canal Basin. There was general concern about the Miller’s Bridge / Oakfield Bridge to Cairnbaan section – which is a long, in some ways atypical – section and with a particular charm.

Whether or not these public responses had anything to do with it, Scottish Waterways were said to be preparing a sample finished section of the tarmac on a section of the stretch from the Miller’s Bridge / Oakfield Bridge to Cairnbaan – and that this was to become the focus for a measure of belated public consultation.

If true, this could not have been more than a token box-ticking exercise because, should such a consultation have gone resolutely against Scottish Waterways, were they seriously prepared to lift the tarmac and restoring the sheeted substrate?


Miller's Bridge path to Cairnbaan

Miller’s Bridge path to Cairnbaan

Now however, we know that whether or not Scottish Waterways had indeed suggested this procedure, in practice they simply went right ahead and tarmacked the full section from  Miller’s Bridge / Oakfield Bridge to Cairnbaan – and then moved directly on to start rolling the tarmac down on the most scenic section of the entire canal – between the Crinan Swing Bridge to the Crinan Canal Basin.

The Sustrans Cycleway argument, even if that were agreed to have priority, cannot be advanced to defend the action on this specific section – because that long distance cycle route leaves the canal towpath at the Bellanoch Bridge to run north  across Moine Mhor.

One concerned protester asked the national guardian of heritage, Historic Scotland, ironically now called Historic Environment Scotland, why they had permitted this to happen – and was met with the response that they saw ‘no material change’ to the canal in the tarmacking of the towpath.

‘No material change’?

How can the heritage guardian defensibly square its finding that the slapping down of a thick layer  of tarmac on a historic canal towpath produces no material change with its response on an occasion where the roof on part of the historic Inveraray jail was leaking – because of the way the historic leadwork had originally been put on.

Regardless of the fact that a significant material change to the historic interior of the building would result from the continued ingress of water from the roof, the then Historic Scotland flatly refused to allow repair of the historic leadwork.

The degree of controversy this caused eventually brought about a change of attitude, but that initial stance was indicative of a less than coherent mindset.

Setting these two contradictory findings alongside each other creates a picture which suggests little logic other than ‘Just do as we say because we’re right.’

Canal towpaths levelled into their own margins and were formed from natural materials which blended into the landscape of canals and their contexts.

Tarmac is not a natural but a manufactured substance and it is not a normal colour of nature. Black is the easiest colour to see against the background of nature – a black cat in a garden or a field is immediately visible as an intruder.

The use of modern sheet tarmacking techniques creates a surface which sits sharply proud of its margins – and presents a real and present physical risk to walkers and cyclists distracted in the moment by the beauty or the surprises of the landscape they are passing through.

End of towpath at Crinan basin

End of towpath at Crinan basin

Who can now walk along that lovely and remote section from the Crinan swing bridge to the canal basin at Crinan, with the Great Moss and the Add Estuary opposing the landward side of the canal; see the black tarmac rolled out on the towpath like prefabricated icing in use on the Great British Bake Off; and feel that entirely inappropriate surface beneath their feet – and believe that they are anywhere other than in an urbanised environment?

End of tarmac at Crinan basin

End of tarmac at Crinan basin

The view of Historic Environment Scotland that tarmacking the Crinan Canal towpath is ‘no material change’ is a literal as well as a judgmental nonsense.

Crinan basin car park sign

Crinan basin car park sign

What the tarmac will do is make access to casual tourists easier and more reassuring in its fundamental urbanisation. They may drive their cars along it [with grubby ill-maintained signs prohibiting it offering no obstacle] – and why should they not do so when some sections of the canal towpath appear to have been tarmacked for the greater convenience of vehicle traffic on these sections?

  • The Swing Bridge to the Crinan Basin section, enables fishermen to drive to their boat at the jetty near the Basin on the towpath, and causing recurring potholes;
  • The first section to be vandalised in this way, at Dunardry, from Lock 9 west to or beyond Lock 11, enables traffic from Barnakill farm to zip smartly along to Cairnbaan and on into Lochgilphead, in the absence of access over the unique [but damaged] sliding bridge at Dunardry .

There is a public safety issue here.

Where specific users like these might have no alternative but to drive on the Crinan Canal towpath, tarmacking it can only seduce them to drive faster than they would otherwise have done. Engineering intelligence indicates that simply adding a subtle camber or cross-fall to the existing towpath would have seen the puddles and potholes substantially less of a maintenance problem.

The towpath is principally for ambulatory boat users, walkers and cyclists.

County Yard  path to Miller's Bridge

County Yard path to Miller’s Bridge

It can be nothing but a material change to tarmac it in order to facilitate its use by motor vehicles for purposes which have no intrinsic connection with the purpose for which the canal was built – water transport.

The uncharacteristically supine stance of Historic Environment Scotland in this matter has been centrally unfortunate, because they were the sole agency with the authority to prevent what has been done – or to insist upon public consultation.

A reader, angered by the lack of public consultation as well as being disturbed by the aggressive invasion of the towpath environment, was informed by Argyll and Bute Council planners that they have no say in the issue, despite the canal being a designated conservation area and ancient monument of national importance.

Scottish Waterways is the senior authority.

And the raw truth is that Scottish Waterways’ arrogant action proves the saw that it is easier to apologise afterwards than to ask permission first.

Consultation – like democracy – is a pest to those who do not wish to have to stop and think better.

A patronising decoy

It gets worse.

Whatever the reality of the supposed intent of the agency to introduce some measure of meaningless retrospective ‘consultation’ in inviting the pubic to view and respond to a ‘sample’ tarmacked area between the Miller’s Bridge /Oakfield Bridge, they have now surpassed that folly.

On the Scottish Waterways website, in the News Section, is an infuriatingly pretentious piece of dishonesty, announced as : Re-think the link – the Crinan Canal charrette.

The opening paragraphs say:
‘Scottish Canals and Argyll & Bute Council in partnership with local agencies and stakeholders would like to invite you to take part in a ‘charrette’ for the Crinan Canal Corridor.

‘A charrette is a series of design workshops aimed at gathering views of local residents, businesses, landowners, community groups, and other agencies to create a shared vision and plan for the area aimed at maximising tourism and leisure opportunities alongside other business needs of the canal corridor and its communities.’

So now you’ve been told.

The actuality is that this gig – the programme for which is here – is patronising post-event gesture politics, inviting people to spend their own energies helping to appear to accept what has already been done by dictat and which they must now accept.

The ‘charrette’ is essentially no whit different from the ‘placemaking’ exercise for Ardrishaig which was organised some years ago by Ardrishaig Community Council and Stuart Green from Argyll and Bute Council’s planning department.

Such engagements are genuinely great fun, constructive and creative – and this will  be too.

But where the Ardrishaig placemaking event had integrity and was essentially a true starting point towards a planned physical development for the village, this programme is a flak jacket for an autocratic agency that has behaved with no care whatsoever for public opinion when it counted – before they started what, on the basis of their own wisdom alone, they were determined to railroad through.

With that goal achieved, this four day event [the first two of which, as a single unit, are the most worthwhile] is a simple pacifier to try to gag those outraged by the affront to democracy Scottish Waterways has delivered in its high-handed vandalism of a natural rural place in a National Nature Reserve that is one of Scotland’s most important Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has, in the current election campaign, just committed unequivocally to championing communities and to putting ‘community’ first at all times.

How would she respond to an appeal from the community of interest that signed the petition designed to protect the Crinan Swing Bridge to Crinan Basin section of the canal towpath?

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Related Articles & Comments

  • Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. The major advantage of using tarmac on footpaths, something Sustrans certainly promotes, is that it cuts down on maintenance costs for years to come, with many fewer potholes than the original gravel track (look at the first photo which shows a filled pothole) and much less invasive vegetation. That surely is not a bad thing. It looks rather black now, but will fade to dirty grey in time. Look at any tarmac road.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 6

    alex McKay April 18, 2016 8:14 am Reply
    • Though often the surface is not prepared properly or the tarmac poorly laid so the edges crumble and potholes start to appear in the centre.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

      Lundavra April 18, 2016 10:21 pm Reply
  • As one who regularly walks sections of the canal, I welcome the surfacing, the original surface does not stand up to the increased use by cyclists causing muddy ruts and puddles making it positively unpleasant to walk on at times. Try walking the section from Oakfield bridge to Ardrishaig since the section near the lock was surfaced with type 1 and recently machinery has been used to cut the verges the surface is in a very poor state unpleasant and muddy, I have now stopped using it altogether.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

    Arfur Sixpence April 18, 2016 9:32 am Reply
    • Surely the ‘muddy ruts and puddles’ are largely a result of there being no camber at all on the towpath – either a rather surprising lack of attention to detail by Rennie and Telford, or something that’s unfortunately evolved over the years, and since level engineered roads commonly did have a camber it’s surely very surprising if there was none along the canal towpath, given its heavy use and our wet climate.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

      Robert Wakeham April 18, 2016 10:53 am Reply
      • The major cause of damage to the towpath ( except for the stretches regularly used for car access ) is the Canal’s own machines, particularly the tractors used for trimming the growth along the edges. I agree that the edges of any road surface are particularly vulnerable – just look at the A83 – but in practice it is difficult to produce a surface without edges somewhere.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

        Arthur Blue April 28, 2016 9:43 pm Reply
  • I’m sure the tarmac will also make it easier for wheelchair users and mothers with child buggies. If it makes access to the canal easier for more people then that could be a good thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

    Murdoch MacKenzie April 18, 2016 9:49 am Reply
  • Foreign Argyll misses the bullseye from 1ft. A reader! complains to FA who then writes a screed of twaddle. Any other views. Did she consult with the local community council, elected Councillors? Nope poor Nicloa Sturgeon is mentioned!! SNP Baaaaad. Foreign Argyll is guff.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

    No Cheese Here April 18, 2016 11:15 am Reply
  • It’s about economic regeneration. Strategy wonks somewhere want to transform the canal basin into a heritage trail, a destination in its own right rather than simply a transit route and shortcut for boats. Tarmacking the footpaths is just the start; look forward to interpretation centres, souvenir shops, car and coach parks and all the rest of it. It’s a money making scheme; interpretation centres attract grants, souvenir shops will operate as concessions and the car-parks will start charging and pulling in a pretty penny. Next will be some structures and sculptures. It won’t be long before berths are available for those who want the canal boat living experience.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

    jake April 18, 2016 12:00 pm Reply
    • All of which will greatly benefit the economy of this area of Argyll. Hurray!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

      alex McKay April 19, 2016 8:19 am Reply
      • In my book there’s more to economic regeneration than turning the place into a heritage theme park. I’m not against the heritage industry per se, in fact I think it can provide an essential revenue stream for the preservation of much that is valuable. Nor am I being dismissive of the jobs that it can and does produce; however these jobs are a best marginal, being often poorly paid, unskilled and temporary or seasonal. My concern is that those who are charged with the regeneration of Mid Argyll will become distracted by this side-show, focusing their energy and enthusiasm on it ( not to mention scarce funds), to the exclusion of other initiatives. Frankly when the best or only solution is to settle and be content with a heritage theme park then the future looks bleak indeed.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

        jake April 20, 2016 2:06 pm Reply
  • C’mon guys its not just about some tarmac!!

    Read the programme :-

    It includes a Pecha&Kucha Session, which only makes sense if you are Japanese!!

    Did you know Scottish Government spent about £25K to come up with the name ‘charrette’ for what is no more than a local consultation?

    In its French original, a charrette was a wooden trolley. In the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 19th century,a charrette would be wheeled among the students to pick up their scale models and other work, at the end of a submission deadline.

    Nice to know the Auld Alliance is in fine fettle

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

    Scotnat April 18, 2016 1:02 pm Reply
    • Pity they could not have written the schedule in English, obviously been written by ‘experts’. I always cringe when I see ‘stakeholder’ in something like that. The whole thing is written in gobbledygook, I see it is done by architects so that perhaps explains it!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      Lundavra April 20, 2016 5:23 pm Reply
  • Is the Newsroom really suggesting that our environment would be better if the roads and footpaths were all left unpaved. One can only imagine the A92 Rest and Be Thankful if left unpaved. But at least it would look historic. Methinks you have been on the deoch Newsroom.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

    Willie April 18, 2016 7:22 pm Reply
    • Willie, I thought are roads were unpaved, don’t park in a pothole you may never find your car again.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

      Richard April 18, 2016 9:26 pm Reply
    • A towpath beside a scenic canal is rather different from an A road and it was A83 the last time I looked!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Dugald Barr April 21, 2016 12:43 am Reply
  • Why is everything in Argyll done on the cheap.

    I don’t have a problem with tarmac, decoratively it can look quite nice if it has proper edging and clean lines. Alternatively, it can look horrible, cheap and nasty. If the photos are anything to go by this falls in to the latter.

    Within weeks the edges will start to deteriorate. It appears to be laid on top of the existing path, water ingress will undermine localised structural stability and a good cold snap should break it up just nicely. Potholes will start to appear, which will need to be filled, and the edging will crumble and become a potential hazard which will also need to be repaired.

    All a bit of a shame really as it could of become a good initiative to encourage more cycle paths in the county.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

    John M April 18, 2016 8:08 pm Reply
    • Argyll and Bute is the size of Belgium.Belgium has a population of 10.4 million.
      Belgium has forward looking local councillors who facilitate industry and commerce. Belgium has no oil and no natural resources,wind excepted ,but it does have decent edged pavements and roads,with proper cycle lanes for good measure.
      Belgium doesn’t pretend to be a world power and has a better health service than Argyll and bute.It also pays pensioners twice the money available to pensioners in Argyll and Bute.
      Belgium has no ambition to turn its land into some perverted Disney attraction in fact people in Belgium actually know who owns the land.
      Belgium also have chemists like Argyll and Bute but they all pay tax unlike bootees who pay nothing.
      Argyll and Bute’s population is decreasing at a worrying rate.The council administration haven’t a clue what to do about the problem. In fact they haven’t a clue period.
      Tarmacing a towpath makes the news in Argyll!!
      People in Belgium will be amused !
      And then they will thank their lucky stars they don’t have politicians who follow the failed and discredited Wastemonster model.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 8

      Hugh Jazz April 18, 2016 9:25 pm Reply
      • Still talking s#***.

        Argyll and Bute has a land mass of 6,909km2, Belgium has a land mass of 30,528km2.

        Argyll and Bute has a population of 89,500, Belgium has a population of 11,250,585. Go figure.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

        John M April 18, 2016 9:44 pm Reply
      • Argyll and Bute is the size of Belgium? And we’re to believe this idiot calling himself Hugh Jazz travels the world? Only when he’s on a pot induced high methinks!

        What utter twaddle from our resident bitter keyboard warrior!

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

        JB April 18, 2016 9:53 pm Reply
        • He has indeed made an error on landmass calculations however I understand fully what he infers and I completely agree.
          By your own figures A&B should have a POP of at least 3 Million.
          The Council Admin is a failure and should be dismissed as incompetent.
          You,interestingly enough,give no answer to the depopulation conundrum.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

          A.Salmon April 18, 2016 10:14 pm Reply
        • I’ve always noticed that many on here do not read the comments that they respond to but let fly anyway, especially if their beloved union is being attacked.
          Can we blame this on using small screen devices or a lack of comprehension or even IQ. I read somewhere the other day that conservatives generally have IQ levels below 90 and liberal minded people average about 105.
          Hugh Jazz said that “Argyll and Bute is the size of Belgium”. This was immediately jumped on by a unionist who converted size to “land mass” to make his straw man argument.
          Hugh Jazz is wrong by my measurements but not by enough to invalidate his point. Argyle and Bute is about two thirds the size of Belgium, I am including the areas of water that people have to traverse to get from one place to the other in Argyle and Bute.
          The main thrust of HJ’s point is buried by the unionists in their attack on this minor mistake, but not lost on those of us who read, and comprehended, his full and excellent comment.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

          Murdoch MacKenzie April 19, 2016 9:41 am Reply
  • The size of Belgium! He may have a point. When travelling in this region it sometimes feels like being back in Africa.
    The Council are a disgrace and should implement a ten year infrastructure plan,at the earliest.
    I won’t hold my breath.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

    R.B Stoker April 18, 2016 10:17 pm Reply
    • You’re right about the infrastructure plan, but not about Africa.
      Parts of Africa are far more advanced, infractructure wise, than Scotland.
      Libya was so far ahead of the West that they had to blow it to smithereens before we all started asking for some of the same.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

      Murdoch MacKenzie April 19, 2016 9:06 am Reply
  • Having just walked from Cairnbaan towards Oakfield, I have to say that now the surface dressing has been applied, the appearance is little different to the original except, it is slightly raised, dry and pleasen to walk on. I am not sure how enduring it will be but, perhaps those that complain should look at the completed job instead of the preparation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    Arfur Sixpence April 19, 2016 1:09 pm Reply
    • I find the original surface pleasant to walk – or cycle – on (except, for a while, west of Bellanoch Bridge where a short stretch had been dug up to repair a major leak a few years ago and the towpath reinstatement was surfaced with oversize sharp stone chips). And I just don’t believe that tarmac – even coated with grit and after weathering – can have a similar appearance to the original surface.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Robert Wakeham April 19, 2016 1:27 pm Reply
      • RW. Why is its “appearance” so important? The whole construction of canal, banks, paths, grass, etc., is man-made. OK, so people (or at least Newsroom) have got used to the unsurfaced path but it was one that needed regular maintenance and now it will need less. That makes lots of sense to me.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

        alex McKay April 20, 2016 7:49 am Reply
        • Because, in the case of the Crinan Canal, ‘appearance’ is more than just superficial, it’s the reason why the whole canal is worth conserving – it’s a unique and priceless part of our heritage.
          The benefits to the cyclist and the maintenance management are understandable – but the tow path in its original state was quite adequate for both walking and cycling (if properly maintained, and in fact the National Cycle Network only follows it as far as the Add bridge at Bellanoch).
          The surfacing of the Cairnbaan – Dunardry stretch a couple of years ago, and of the last stretch from the Crinan Ferry bridge around the headland to just short of the basin last week, covers the two places where there’s regular vehicle traffic due to a lack of alternative access for local people working or living by the canal – and wear and tear on the tow path is probably greater than elsewhere.
          But the puddles and potholes that increase the cost of regular maintenance are down to the absence of adequate drainage, due to the flatness of the towpath, which by its nature is almost entirely level from end to end.
          It would be interesting to know whether there’s any evidence that it’s always been flat, or once had the sort of camber or cross-fall that was very common before the days of tarmac.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

          Robert Wakeham April 20, 2016 2:46 pm Reply
          • Yes Bob … MacAdam, Telford & Co did insist on cross-camber, but their roads were built and maintained by skilled hand labour. Such is not easily obtainable these days, and when it is it tends to be very expensive.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

            Arthur Blue April 28, 2016 9:50 pm

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