Today we embarked on our next epic road trip, that would eventually take us 290 miles around Scotland. We set out from Carlisle, and 2 hours later reached the Falkirk Wheel, the only rotating boat lift in the world…
There are two car parks at the wheel, one right next to it, and one over the other side of the Forth & Clyde Canal. It is only a few minutes walk from both, and it is set in a scenic location on out the outskirts of the town of Falkirk. It consists of two gondolas one at the to and one at the bottom, that can each hold a number of boats. They connect with the upper canal at the top, and the basin at the bottom. It also means that two sets of boats can move at the same time, one set going up and one set going down.
The wheel was constructed to link the Forth & Clyde Canal with the Union Canal that sits 35 metres higher. The Union Canal is so high that even once you have travelled up the Wheel there are a few locks to take you the final few metres up into the main canal. Far back in the 1930’s, the two canals were linked by a series of 11 locks, but they were dismantled in 1933. The two canals were both closed and cut into sections because of new housing developments. In 1976 the newly formed British Waterways Board decided to preserve the canals and improve them.
New plans were put forwards to restore the canals and find a way to link the two once more. The original design was like a ferris wheel, and put forward in 1999 by the Morrison-Bachy Soletanche Joint Venture Team. This lift used four gondolas to lift the boats, however the design was considered not quite adequate, even though the principle was well liked. The final design was submitted later that year, after being worked on by a team of 20 architects. With funding pouring in from various sources, the project was given the go ahead, and in that same year work began on the canals. Down in Ripley, Derbyshire, England, the wheel was constructed and put together. It was then dismantled and transported in sections up to Falkirk where it was reassembled in 2001. It is designed for the
Queen Elizabeth II opened the wheel in 2002, in her Golden Jubilee Year and it has become a very popular tourist destination in the area, with boat tours leaving every hour, and running for around 50 minutes, and takes you up the wheel, around the top sections and then back down again.
The complex itself includes a large Visitor Centre (left), with a shop and cafe. It is also where the boat tours leave from.
The Wheel isn’t just for tourists, it is used for leisure by various canal users in the area, with the Union Canal running all the way to Edinburgh. The Forth & Clyde Canal runs from the Firth of Clyde near Glasgow to the Firth of Forth also near Edinburgh.
Below you can see a few pictures of the Wheel in action:
Check out the official website here. For access to the wheel we came off at Junction 1 of the M876, heading towards Edinburgh, but it is also accessible through Falkirk and off other local motorways. The nearest train station is at least a miles walk away, in Camelon. Although of course you could go direct and take a canal boat!
It is an amazing sight when you approach the wheel, and it towers 24 metres tall above you. It operates regularly throughout the day, and in the Visitor Centre there is an electric scaled model that you can operate to see it turn fully from all angles. As I said earlier, the Falkirk Wheel is the only rotating boat lift in the world, and one of only two boat lifters in the UK, the second being in the English county of Cheshire, the “Anderton Boat Lift”.
Our next stop was the town of Falkirk itself, just down the road, to see what we could find…