World Travel GuidesFalkirk Wheel, Scotland

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Falkirk Wheel, Scotland
Sean Mack

Falkirk Wheel is a marvel of innovative engineering, and honored as a World Greatest Site for Scotland. It is regarded as the world's first rotating boatlife, and is located near the village of Rough, near the town of Falkirk, from which it got its name. The purpose of the wheel is to raise and lower boats from two canals at different levels, and it executes it with great efficiency, making it not only a functional object but also a work of art of dramatic beauty.

The Falkirk Wheel was envision when in 1998, the British Waterways launched the Millennium Link. This is a project to create a canal network across Scotland from coast to coast. The enginners of this project met with a huge engineering challenge to connect the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. This is due to the 115 ft (35m) difference in height between the level of the two waterways. Previously, there was a network of locks, eleven of them all together, that connected these two canals. However, the locks were demolished in 1933 when the canals fell out of use as railway traffic grew. By the 1960's the disused canal was becoming an eyesore. Rather than rebuilding the locks, the Millennium Link people decided to come up with a more creative solution that would project a more modern image to the waterways.

Falkirk Wheel, Scotland

Several options were considered, including a giant Ferris Wheel to a tilting tank. Eventually the project backers decided on a boat lift. Construction got underway in the summer of 2000, and the Falkirk Wheel opened to use in May, 2002.

The entire system like this: Boats from Union Canal go through a 158-yard (145m) tunnel and come out onto a 327-yard (300m) aqueduct. This aqueduct is supported by five sets of concrete piers. The boat lift is located at the end of the aqueduct. It is a steel gondola with lock-gates, one of a pair. Each gondola can accommodate a 65ft (20m) boat, and retain a mass of 430 tons. The system is driven by 10 hydraulic pumps driven by a small electric motor. As the gondola at Union Canal at the top is filled, so too the gondola from the mooring basin on Forth and Clyde Canal at the bottom. Once their lock-gates are sealted, the Falkirk Wheel start to rotate, bringing the top gondola down and the bottom gondola up. The diameter of the wheel rotating these two gondolas is 35 meters (110 feet). The operation takes 15 minutes. Then the lock-gates open to allow the boats to continue their journey.

The Falkirk Wheel was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 24 May, 2002, as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations. The opening marks the completion of the Millennium Link project. The Millennium Link project cost £84.5 million while the Falkirk Wheel alone cost £17.5 million. £32 million of the funds came from the National Lottery. As part of the restoration, new length of canals had to be built while a section of the M8 motorway was raised. The Falkirk Wheel has now become a tourist attraction, reviving interest in the waterways.

Falkirk Wheel rotation head
Sean Mack

Falkirk Wheel Tourist Information

Visitors can now enjoy a one-hour, round trip boat ride through the Falkirk Wheel, called The Falkirk Wheel Experience. The tours starts at the Falkirk Wheel Visitor Centre. From there, visitors that a boat to the lower wheel at Forth & Clyde Canal. They ascend via the wheel, emerging at the Union Canal. From there, the boat takes them to visit areas nearby the Union Canal, before returning to the Visitor Centre. This boat tour, at time of writing (July 2008) costs £8.00 for adults, £4.25 aged 3-15 and free for children under 3. There is also a senior citizen rate of £6.50, concession rate of £6.50 (for the unemployed), and family rate of £21.50 (for 2 adults and 2 children). Groups with 20 persons enjoy a discount of 10%.

Falkirk Wheel cog mechanism

Location of Falkirk Wheel

Falkirk Wheel about midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and is about 30-60 minutes from either cities, depending on traffic. It is near the town of Falkirk, and closest to the village of Tamfourhill. It is near the Roman ruins of Rough Castle Fort.

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