The canal takes its name from the village of Crinan at its north-westerly end on the Sound of Jura and cuts through the land for nine miles to the village of Ardrishaig on Loch Gilp. Thus the Crinan Canal provides a navigable route between the Clyde and the Inner Hebrides avoiding the need for a long diversion around the Kintyre peninsula, and in particular the exposed Mull of Kintyre.
The canal is 9 miles long and 10 feet deep and it has effectively no height limit. It is a popular route today for yachts to travel from the Firth of Clyde to the west coast and the islands.
The canal was originally built for commercial sailing vessels and later Clyde puffers to travel between the industrialised region around Glasgow to the West Highland villages and islands. It was designed by civil engineer John Rennie and work started in 1794, but the canal was not completed until 1801, two years later than planned. Problems, particularly with the locks, meant that some parts of the canal had to be redesigned and this task fell to Thomas Telford in 1816. The locks were again rebuilt and deepened in the 1930s. The canal became the responsibility of British Waterways in 1962.
There is a song which was sung by Dan MacPhail the engineer of the Vital Spark in Neil Munros light-hearted novels:
The Crinan Canal for me
I don't like the wild raging sea
Them big foamin' breakers
Wad gie ye the shakers
The Crinan Canal for me.
- Lindsey, Jean (1968) The Canals of Scotland, The Canals of the British Isles 8, Newton Abbot : David & Charles, ISBN 0-7153-4240-1