From High To Low

A cool Scottish breeze causes the dry spring grass to wave to and fro on the knoll that we have climbed.  We look north toward the historic city of Stirling, gazing out over rich farming land and the Forth and Clyde canal below us.

Union Spotting

Our “perch”, right alongside the Union canal, is some 115 feet above the Forth and Clyde canal and we feel like a couple of engineers surveying the scene laid out before us and asking the questions: “How do you get a canal boat from the Union canal down the 115′ to the Forth and Clyde canal – without building the equivalent of a theme park log flume ride?”  ”Is it Wheelie possible?” This very question was posed back in 1994 and the “Ferris Wheel” design for the Falkirk Wheel came into the minds of engineers.

The stunning steel structure was completed 2001 and “launched” by the Her Majesty The Queen in May 2002.  Problem solved.  Fantastic tourist attraction created.

From above the Falkirk Wheel the seven arches frame the Union canal and surrounding landscape perfectly.  The arches are reflected beautifully in the still water of the canal and, at different times of the day, the colour of the sky changes that colour of the water – an every changing artist’s palette.

Reflected Arches

Standing at the basin below and looking up at the Wheel’s 35 metre structure you are immediately impressed by the sheer size of this 12oo tonne marvel.  The wheel is not just a practical way of getting canal boats from one canal to another, it is a work of art whose regularly moving, flowing lines cause visitors to stand and stare.  Beauty and functionality all held together by 14000 bolts.

It's Wheelie Big

Visitors can take a boat ride on the wheel.  Boats depart from beside the impressive visitor’s centre up to and along the Union canal.  The boats are driven into the wheel’s gondola (each gondola holds over 500,000 litres of water) and then “locked” in before the wheel rotates and transports the boats and passengers up to the canal above.  The whole process takes around 15 minutes and uses the equivalent energy that it takes to boil eight kettles of water.  Very efficient!

In addition to watching and photographing the beautiful wheel we walked around the surrounding area and take in some of the sights and activities on offer.  Local fisherman trying their luck on the canals were happy to answer questions about the type and size of fish they caught and the men that operate the locks spent time answering questions about the lock system and canal boat activity.

A resident swan followed us along the Forth and Clyde canal and accompanied us as we looked over some of the canal boats that were available for hire.  We didn’t have any food for him (or was it a her?) but that didn’t stop him keeping an eye on our every move.

Forth and Clyde Resident

We also had a lot of fun playing in the “big kids” water park that has been set up for visitors.  You get to learn all about how the flow of water can be used to operate a variety of things.  It’s very interactive and a perfect playground for all ages.

There is a great variety of food and beverage options available or you can bring you own “grub” and set up a picnic alongside the basin or one of the canals.  The wheel and canals are a perfect backdrop for a picnic on a sunny Scottish day.  And, after your full of black pudding and whiskey you can work it off in the water park.

Pumping Water

If you are visiting Scotland make sure you put the Falkirk Wheel on your itinerary.  Falkirk is a short, easy drive from Edinburgh and Stirling.  Get into the flow and take a drive to Falkirk and check out this impressive attraction.

For those with a bit of time on their hands, consider hiring a canal boat for a week.  Touring the intricate network of canals that are being reopened in Scotland would be a relaxing way to soak up the southern part of this beautiful country – slowly.

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