The Falkirk Wheel and Kelpies

Last week, the Falkirk Rotary club invited me to come and speak at their lunch meeting, in addition to getting a tour of the various sights to see in Falkirk. It has been on my list to see the feat of engineering that is the Falkirk Wheel for some time now.

The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift that connect the Union Canal, which I go on my morning runs by in Edinburgh, some 50 kilometers away, to the Forth and Clyde Canal. The two canals used to be joined together by a series of lochs before the 1930s, but their connection had been interrupted since until 2002. The wheel is a feat of engineering in that it only requires 1.5 kW of power (boiling eight liters of water) to rotate the wheel a half turn due to its use of Archimedes principle. I find it beautiful when simple concepts are able to be realized by beautifully engineered structures.

While unfortunately the boat lift was not operating when I visited, I still got the opportunity, thanks to the connections of Sandy and Gordon of the Falkirk Rotary Club to get a tour of the inner workings of the wheel. It was fascinating to see the inner workings, including the ring gears, motors, backups, and electrical systems. My favorite part was seeing the wheels which keeps the gondolas upright and level as the arms rotate. A fun fact about the wheel is that it rotates in both directions. Many wonder why this is, and the primary reason is to keep these large wheels wearing equally on both sides as they rotate. While these wheels don’t look very large, they are surprisingly strong as the eight of them support up to 500 tonnes of water and cargo.

The John Muir Way, which is a long distance trail that runs from Edinburgh to Glasgow makes a stop by the wheel. Interestingly, I walk part of this trail on my way to school each and every day. I hope to revisit the wheel to see it in operation, and maybe I’ll run the length of the Union Canal on a nice weather day to see it again. (The past couple of weeks have been full of winter storms making me long for nicer weather, without wind, again. But this is a common February feeling in these parts).

A visit to Falkirk wouldn’t be proper without a visit to the largest equine statues in the world. The 30-meter tall structures are after a couple of Clydesdale horses named Duke and Baron and represent the times when Falkirk and surrounding area was a primarily an industrial town. The Forth and Clyde canal passes through the two horses, and the original design was to have the Kelpies nod their heads whenever a boat was passing through the lochs. Unfortunately, I think that feature was value-engineered out of the project.

I’d like to thank the Falkirk Rotary club for being more than excellent hosts during my visit, and I hope to come back again to see the wheel in action.

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