The Falkirk Wheel

Written by Chris Thornton | 8th of December 2021
The Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk and Grangemouth area has undergone intense regeneration in recent years with the addition of science parks such as the Helix, which is home to the famous Kelpie sculptures. Another of these fantastic projects is the Falkirk Wheel - the world's first rotational boat lift design and built to connect the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal, part of the Millennium Link project.

Rotating Boat Lift

This magnificent boat lift structure is 115 feet high and needs only the power of eight domestic kettles to move boats through the air and transfer them to the two canals. Basically, there are two canals the Forth & Clyde Canal and the Union Canal, these are on different levels, so it's difficult for boats to traverse from one canal to the other. The Falkirk Wheel solves this issue by lifting the boats up or down so they can continue onwards on their journey. The lift replaced an older 19th-century lock system, which took an entire day to traverse and used 3500 tons of water per journey!

Joining the Forth and Clyde Canal via two locks

The Falkirk Wheel is the only rotating boat lift in the world, so well worth a visit to see this engineering marvel in action on the Scottish canals.

How does The Falkirk Wheel work?

Inspiration for the design of the wheel is said to be from fish spines, whale ribcages and even a Celtic double headed spear. The initial design led by architect Tony Kettle was developed in Lego first to show the proof of concept, showing how the wheel rotates.

The entire wheel was actually built in Derbyshire and transported to Falkirk for construction in 1999 and was opened in 2002 by Queen Elizabeth II during her Golden Jubilee celebrations. 1200 tonnes of steel was used in its construction with 15,000 hand-tightened bolts! Foundations were made with concrete piles socketed into the hard bedrock, 22 metres underground.

The Falkirk Wheel uses securing pins and hydraulic clamps

Setbacks and damage

Unfortunately, the opening of the Falkirk Wheel was delayed a month after vandals broke into the site and damaged the electrics.

Perfectly balanced

Boats navigate into a gondola, ready to be raised or lowered and are always perfectly balanced no matter the size or weight of the boat as water is displaced by the boat and the counterweight gondola. Each gondola can fit a twenty metres long canal boat. The Falkirk Wheel is 35 metres tall and raises or lowers boats by 24 metres.

For the one-half turn of the Falkirk Wheel, only 1.5Kwh of electricity is used, which is an amazing achievement for moving the two gondolas with a combined weight of 1000 tons!

Wheel boat at The Falkirk Wheel

Falkirk Wheel Visitor Centre

The visitors' centre is open to the public free of charge and includes a gift shop, public toilets and a great café to enjoy a hot drink and maybe scone while you watch the wheel turn around. The visitor centre welcomes 400,000 people annually and is open from 10 am to 5.30 pm in the summer season.

At the cafe I had the Cajun Chicken with the cheese toasted bloomer, it was really nice, great ice cream here too.  Outdoor catering is also available in these Covid times. There are some nifty Falkirk Wheel t-shirts in the gift shop, I really should have bought one.

There is a smaller scale sculpture of the famous Kelpies here too, nice for a photo opportunity.

The Falkirk Wheel, ideal for a boat trip

Boat Trips

60-minute boat trips are available for visitors to experience using the wheel for themselves with breathtaking views of central Scotland.

  • Adult £13.50
  • Concession £11.50
  • Child (5 to 15 years) £7.50
  • Child (under 5) Free
  • Registered Carers Free

A shorter "Revolution Tour" is also offered and is 35 minutes long and costs less than the 60 minute "Original Tour" above.

Other activities at The Falkirk Wheel

There is so much to do when visiting the site including:

  • Children's Activity Zone
  • Water Activity Zone
  • Segways
  • Cycle / Bike Hire
  • Mini Canal & Water Play Park
  • Water Zorbing
  • Boat trips
  • Outdoor mini golf
  • Canoeing
  • Woodland Walks
  • Bungee Trampolines
  • Walk to The Kelpies
  • Only a 10-minute drive from Falkirk town centre.

Motor Homes at the Falkirk Wheel

Motorhome parking is available overnight for only £15 with toilet and shower facilities. Ask at the visitor centre about parking and receive a key which costs a £20 refundable deposit.

The wheel turns on it's own weight

Conclusion

We really enjoyed our trip to The Falkirk Wheel, there is so much on the site to see and do and should definitely be on your list of things to check out in central Scotland. A walk over to the Kelpies and the Helix Park is also well worth your time.

The Falkirk Wheel location map

Comments:

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Clynderboy
10th of December 2021 @ 09:07:27

My wife and I did the full tour several years ago and loved it ... well worth the money. Excellent article.