F is for the Falkirk Wheel

Published July 10, 2010

A few miles to the west of Edinburgh is a hidden gem - the Falkirk Wheel. It’s an incredible one-of-a-kind feat of engineering that lifts a narrowboat from one canal up over 100ft to another one.

It also looks like something out of Doctor Who.

Falkirk Wheel

A bit more about the wheel, then. It replaces 11 locks which joined the Forth & Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. The locks were dismantled, and so they came up with this wheel to take place of nine of the locks, with the remaining two through a short tunnel at the top. The wheel itself is a unique rotating lift, and I can tell you, it is fascinating to watch.

I arrived at the Falkirk Wheel Centre and wandered around the basin at the bottom, snapping some pictures. When I reached the start, a boat was about to go up in the lift, so I hit record on the video and tried to keep my arms still. This is the result, albeit sped up for brevity.

All in all, the process takes about ten minutes, and my favourite bit is the man in black who seems oblivious to the big spike looming down on him. Of course it never reaches him, but… you would move, wouldn’t you?

Once the boat had been lifted, I had a quick snoop round the visitor centre (really, really nice toilets - it’s important, you know), and then it was my turn to get a boat ride. We clambered aboard, and a man arrived to take our photos. He was there for five minutes, snapped our pictures then disappeared again. I think you are meant to buy them at the end of the trip. Is that really his job? Taking pictures of people who really don’t want their picture taken?

Anyway, some American people came and sat down near me, and I heard one of them say the wheel looked like a “giant pair of handcuffs.” Little bit too much information, if you ask me. We had a guide on board to talk us through the process as we went up. He was very nice and really funny, but there’s not much point in me saying that as it was his last day. If you ever go to the Falkirk Wheel, you won’t find him there.

Falkirk Wheel

At the top, you travel through a big ol’ tunnel which has the railway going over the top of it. As you’re going, there’s a video playing describing how the wheel works and it’s more interesting than it sounds, I promise. You catch a glimpse of the two remaining locks, and then it’s back down the way you came.

My only complaint is that the man sitting on the end of my row succumbed to the sunshine pouring through the clear roof and fell asleep. I couldn’t get up to take as many pictures as I would have liked, but never mind.

Falkirk Wheel

After the boat ride, I went for a bit of a walk up the canal - just for ten minutes or so, then turned back towards the car. The Falkirk Wheel was definitely my favourite experience so far. Everyone was really friendly, and it was such an interesting thing to see and do. The tour guide said one thing that really stuck in my mind: “It used to take 8 hours and an awful lot of manpower to get through those eleven locks, wasting tons of water in the process. Now it takes two men about ten minutes, and we take the water with us.”

It makes you wonder why there’s only one of these in the world.

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