Places to Visit in Scotland
- Falkirk Wheel

Forth and Clyde Canal

The Canals
The Forth and Clyde canal (seen here at Lock 27 in Glasgow) is 35 miles (56 km) long runs from Bowling on the river Clyde in the west and its eastern end is connected to the River Forth by a short stretch of the River Carron near Grangemouth. Construction began in 1768 but after delays due to funding problems, it was not completed until 1790. The Forth and Clyde Canal uses 39 locks to cross the Scottish Lowlands from the two major rivers on each side of the country.

The Union Canal was constructed later, to link the eastern end of the canal to the heart of Edinburgh. It has hardly any locks, except for three near the Falkirk Wheel end, and aqueducts and Scotland's only canal tunnels to take the canal over valleys and through hills.

In 1963, however, the Forth and Clyde canal was closed, and so the waterway network in central Scotland became disused and semi-derelict.

Millennium Project
The Millennium Link was an ambitious £84.5m project to restore both the historic Forth & Clyde Canal and the Union Canal. This was one of a large number of major projects to celebrate the start of the third millennium.

A major challenge of the project was to restore link between the Forth and Clyde Canal, which lay 35m (115ft) below the level of the Union Canal. Historically, the two canals had been joined at Falkirk by a flight of 11 locks that stepped down across a distance of 1.5km, but these had all been dismantled in 1933, breaking the link. Indeed, the canal at that point had been filled in and the land built on.

It was decided early on in the Millennium Project to create a dramatic 21st century landmark structure to reconnect the canals, instead of simply recreating the historic lock flight. And so the Falkirk Wheel project got underway.

The Falkirk Wheel
Falkirk Wheel

The difference in the levels of the two canals at the wheel is 24 metres (79 ft), roughly equivalent to the height of an eight-storey building. The Union Canal, however, is 11m higher than the aqueduct which meets the wheel, so boats must pass through a pair of locks to descend from this canal onto the aqueduct at the top of the wheel.

The wheel is the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world, and is regarded as an engineering landmark for Scotland. The largest ever canal restoration project in Britain was officially opened by the Queen in 2002, as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations. The Falkirk Wheel cost £17.5 million, and the restoration project to reopen the canals along their entire length cost £84.5 million.

The Falkirk Wheel lies at the end of a reinforced concrete aqueduct that connects, via the Roughcastle tunnel and a double staircase lock, to the Union Canal. Boats entering the Wheel’s upper gondola are lowered, along with the water that they float in, to the basin below. At the same time, an equal weight rises up, lifted in the other gondola. It takes about five and a half minutes for the two gondolas to change position, raising and lowering any boats that are positioned in the water within the gondolas.

Visitor Centre
In addition to the boat lift itself, there is an impressive visitor centre with a café, shop and an exhibition centre explaining the workings of the wheel. There are facilities for canal boats to moor in a basin beside the wheel which is used not only by boats providing trips from the Falkirk Wheel but also for a number of private boats sailing the length of the canal.

In the future, a projected new development called the Helix project will transform adjacent under-used land between Falkirk and Grangemouth into an urban green space covering some 300 hectares (just over a square mile). The finished development will be an outdoor recreational area open to all, offering easy access to picturesque woodland, a central park with a lagoon, linked walking paths and cycle ways. It will also open up access to the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal by installing a new full-length canal link and a canal hub featuring two unique equine structures known as the Kelpies. Each structure will measure around 30 metres in height, the brainchild of Andy Scott. Smaller versions of the sculptures were located near the Falkirk Wheel visitor centre for a number of months.

See Places to Visit - Kelpies for the completed project.

Slide Show
I have a slide show on YouTube showing a time lapse sequence of the Falkirk Wheel rotating, showing one boat going up and two (side by side in the gondola) coming down. There are some other graphics with other views of the Falkirk Wheel and the visitor centre.

More Information
For more information, including opening hours, see the official Falkirk Wheel Web site. See also the Google Maps Location Map You can get a bird's eye view of the wheel and the area around it as well as loads more graphics from Google.

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