The Falkirk Wheel

Postcard of the Falkirk WheelThe other day we visited the Falkirk Wheel. For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t before this week), the Wheel is a rotating boat lift (the only one of its kind in the world) opened in 2002 to reconnect the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. Historically you could navigate from the sea on one side of Scotland through to the sea on the other via these canals. Sadly you can’t do that any longer but you can get between Glasgow and Edinburgh, thanks in part to the Falkirk Wheel. There is a height disparity between the two canals of 35 metres, which had previously been solved by a series of 11 locks. These 11 locks used 3500 tons of water per run and took most of the day to get through.

In contrast the Wheel uses the same amount of electricity as boiling eight kettles and takes all of about ten minutes. It’s also a mighty beautiful thing. It’s meant to be.  The Wheel was designed to be functional and a show-stopper, in celebration of the Millenium. Think of a ferris wheel with two giant buckets filled with water that can carry a canal boat in each. Looking from the direction of the Union Canal down the aqueduct it looks like a series of arches spanning a watercourse that pours out into the sky. From the visitor centre below, the Wheel looks like Thor’s mighty hammer, one side dripping as it emerges from the water, the other bearing threateningly down on excited sightseers.

Little Owl was totally spellbound, and delighted when my parents agreed to take her on a boat ride on the Wheel. What makes the boat trip even more special is that you go through a tunnel that goes underneath the actual remains of the Antonine Wall. Not that you can see anything of the wall now. It’s just a tree covered hill really. Still, pretty special.

Around the Wheel are lots of other fun things to see, most of them designed with kids in mind. Little Owl loved the water park where visitors could try out lots of different ways of moving water up and down gradients. Archimedes’ Screw was a particular hit, mainly because of the way it splurted out water and kept nearly soaking her if she didn’t get out of the away in time. Finch took it all in with a very solemn look on his face and a slight frown of concentration. I heartily approved of this ‘fun’ side to the Wheel. I felt the design had a wonderful atmosphere of play about it. Later I learned that the lead architect, Tony Kettle, had modelled the gear system out of his eight year-old daughter’s Lego so ‘play’ seems about right. If you happen to be in Central Scotland do go!

Finch, Little Owl and I are off on our travels again so will be away from the blog for a week. I know…off again! We’re Yorkshire bound this time so see you soon.

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