Neptune’s Staircase is composed of eight locks and is located on a stretch of the Caledonian Canal overlooked by an impressive range of mountains, including Ben Nevis.
A staircase lock is when two or more adjacent locks have the upper gate of one lock also serving as the lower gate of the next lock. Due to this design, once one boat has entered the staircase it has committed to going through all the locks. The structure was built between 1803 and 1822 by Thomas Telford. The project was also designed to provide jobs to residents of the Highlands.
Each of the current lock gates weighs 22 tons. A team of at least three lock-keepers is needed to operate the staircase. The staircase usually operates on an efficient basis.
The system was originally hand-powered but has been converted to hydraulic power. In the past, the locks were operated by capstans, each with four poles that made seven full revolutions to open and close each gate. Each gate was operated by two capstans, one to open and another to close. Transit times through the staircase have been reduced from just over half a day to 90 minutes with the conversion to hydraulic rams and push-button controls.
Visitors can still see the plinths where the original capstans were anchored, but the capstans themselves have been removed.
Know Before You Go
Near Neptune's Staircase are the former lock-keepers houses. These houses were built to provide housing for up to 30 workmen during the construction process and then after it was finished, provided a residence for the team of lock-keepers needed to keep the staircase operational.