Marveling at the Falkirk Wheel

by Keith Savage · 1 comment

The Falkirk Wheel and the Mini-Kelpies

Most of the sites I visit in Scotland are of the historic type, and by that I mean old places reminiscent of bygone times thick with the atmosphere of age. I love the transporting effect of being in such places. But there are other sites worthy of visitation, sites that transport you into the future. Take, for example, the Falkirk Wheel.

In what world does this marvel of engineering belong? Tell me, what do you see when you look at this immense contraption?

If you guessed “boat lift,” you have a perceptive eye. Yes, the Falkirk Wheel is a boat lift, but not just any boat lift — a one-of-a-kind rotating boat lift. You won’t find another anywhere else in the world, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it has become one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions. …right? Having stood beneath its towering edifice I can say it appeals to more than just boat lift aficionados (if such folk exist). In the realms of architecture and engineering, the Falkirk Wheel is a stunning achievement.

Standing almost exactly in the center of the triangle formed by Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Stirling, the Falkirk Wheel is more than just a structural curiosity. The Falkirk Wheel is the culmination of a project to reconnect Glasgow and Edinburgh by waterway, and it joins the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal by replacing the previous system of 11 locks that were dismantled in the 1930s.

As you can see, one canal (looking a lot like a gargantuan particle accelerator) comes to the Falkirk Wheel at a much higher elevation — almost 80 feet — and the Wheel, which was designed to look like a double-headed Celtic axe (just ridiculously awesome), rotates on a massive axle to lower boats to the water below.

When the Falkirk Wheel opened in 2002 it had been under development for nearly a decade. The commission tasked with rehabilitating Scotland’s central waterways took their time, but the product of their work is a proud achievement. While I took the opportunity to observe the Wheel from afar, most visitors will be interested in purchasing a ticket on one of the gondolas to experience the Falkirk Wheel in the flesh.

Besides the Wheel itself, there’s a visitor centre loaded with souvenirs (even Falkirk Wheel-branded whisky) and a pair of miniature, replica Kelpie sculptures. The Falkirk Wheel also stands on the John Muir Way, one of Scotland’s long-distance footpaths, if you feel like trekking there.

The Falkirk Wheel is an interesting stop on your way north from either Edinburgh or Glasgow. It can be a quick stop, just to see the Wheel in action, or you can stretch it out with a ride on the gondola, though I don’t think that’s necessary. Above all, the Falkirk Wheel reminds you that Scotland is anything but stuck in the past.

ChristineNo Gravatar May 6, 2015 at 4:28 AM

Thanks for this account and explanation of the Falkirk Wheel… It really is a most interesting place to visit. Having a ride on a gondala, seeing the wheel in action and also seeing the peaceful river on the other side was a marvellous experience last summer. The real Kelpies are also a wonder,designed by an Australian, I believe.

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