Wheels, Boats and Horses

Being a nerd in all shapes, ways and forms I find many things fascinating that many a normal person would find utterly dull. Well, it’s their loss I say. Engineering feats of wonder are high on my list of awesome things and I find it intriguing and inspiring the way humans bend this planet to their will in surprisingly creative ways. Then once the problem initial is solved, they turn to the graft of making such marvels as beautiful as they are practical.

One such beauty is the Falkirk Wheel. Located in Falkirk, Scotland (naturally) it is the world’s only rotating boat lift. It is also a stunning piece of creative engineering. Opened in 2002 by Queen Elizabeth II, the Falkirk Wheel was designed to replace a series of lock gates, built in the 19th Century and long since replaced by housing developments. It connects the Forth & Clyde and Union canals, and means that coats-to-coast navigation has now been re-established after a 40-year hiatus. Due to it magnificent design the Falkirk Wheel has also become a tourist attraction, with visitors able to take a boat ride back and forth between the canals, including a round trip ascent and descent through the wheel.

Work on the wheel began in 1999, which was fully constructed and assembled at the Butterley Engineering plant in Ripley, Derbyshire and then transported to Falkirk in 35 lorry loads. Over 1,000 people were employed in its construction and it is built on the spot of a former clay mine, coal mine and tar works, which had left the water of the canal quite polluted. To cope with the changing weight stresses on the wheel as it turns, it was bolted together rather than welded and contains a staggering 14,000 bolts!

The beauty of the Falkirk Wheel is enhanced the near by equine sculptures, aptly named The Kelpies. Created by sculptor Andy Scott, they are an awe inspiring sight in the light of day, but when lit at night they are absolutely stunning. Their sheer size is fantastic, and their name comes from the mythical creatures said to have the strength of 100 horses.


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