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Wheeling Around Falkirk

Although millions have ridden the Falkirk Wheel, the world's only
rotating boatlift, it is only the flashy tip of central Scotland's treasures.


On a visit to Scotland some years ago, all the talk around the Falkirk area was of The Falkirk Wheel -- the world's first rotating boat lift -- built to re-link the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. These canals had previously been connected by 11 locks, but the locks were dismantled in 1933, making sailing from east to west across Scotland impossible. The Falkirk Wheel was completed in 2002 and formally opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on May 24 that year. John, my engineer brother-in-law, says that if there were a list of Engineering Wonders of the World, The Falkirk Wheel would be at the top, it's such a superb feat of design.

While in Scotland last summer, however, I discovered that the latest thing to have everyone buzzing was The Helix and The Kelpies. I had never heard of either but realized from the enthusiasm of both my brother-in-law and Ruth, my sister (normally more interested in shopping than engineering), that they must be something special. We agreed to have a day out, going first to The Helix so that I could see what all the excitement was about, and then to our hometown of Dunfermline, capital of Scotland from the middle of the 11th century until the assassination of King James I in 1437.

The Helix (named for its corkscrew-like shape) certainly is something special. Started in 2006, this environmentally-friendly regeneration project stretches over some 880 acres between Falkirk and Grangemouth, and is divided into four sections: Helix North, with the Community Woodlands providing a sanctuary for wildlife and peace and quiet for people who like to get away from it all; Helix South, with 17 miles of wide, flat, lit pathways where people can walk, run or cycle without fear of getting run over by a car or choked by pollution; Helix Park, with a lagoon for water sports enthusiasts, a splash play area, wetlands, an outdoor events space; and, the most spectacular part of the entire Helix project, the massive sculpture known as The Kelpies, which can be seen for miles around -- a "must see" for anyone visiting Scotland.

Brainchild of Scottish sculptor Andy Scott, a graduate of Glasgow School of Art and creator of various public artworks around Scotland, The Kelpies are two 30-metre-high (100 feet) horse heads, each weighing 300 tons, made of structural steel with a stainless steel outer coating that reflects the light. Modelled on the heavy horses that once towed barges along Scotland's canals and hauled carts through Scotland's streets in pre-automobile days, The Kelpies began as a simple sketch in 2006 and continued down the road to realization for eight years.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2015 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos © Iain McLean, John Pringle & H. Hall / Scottish Viewpoint