Lifted Wheely High at the Falkirk Wheel, Scotland

Since 2002 5.5 million people have visited the Falkirk Wheel. I'm not overly into engineering but surely 5.5 million people can't be wrong?!

The Falkirk Wheel is a national pride, I should have visited sooner. And, unsurprisingly, floating in a boat whilst suspended in mid air appealed to our adventurous tots.

My husband said he wanted to visit the Falkirk Wheel. Brilliant, he wants to drag the family to see a bit of machinery that lifts water, or lifts boats, or something like that. He would admire the engineering whilst I’d be left to round up and entertain two children. ‘Humouring him’ is an understatement. But here’s the catch, he was right, it’s really interesting, the kids loved it, it’s a novel day out, and a innovative creation (a world first in fact). Another thing for Scots to be proud of.

First off, the Falkirk Wheel is relatively new. Therefore visitors arrive at a modern, almost futuristic, accessible centre, with lots of parking, a playground, a water play park and it’s buggy/wheelchair friendly too. As we arrived a boat was just leaving (I didn’t know I’d be going on a boat so it was news to me), therefore we headed straight for the canal. We took our buggy onboard and grabbed a seat on the busy vessel – we must have got the last tickets on this sailing. Visiting the Falkirk Wheel is clearly a popular day out: located in central Scotland, close to Edinburgh and Glasgow it’s a bit of a no-brainer geographically.

The boat motors onto one of two gondolas on the wheel, and before you know it you’re being lifted out of the water as the tour-guides explain what on earth is happening. Basically the two gondolas always weigh the same amount as each other, water is displaced when a boat enters based on the Archimedes principle (whereby items displace an amount of water equal to their own volume). This principle of balance and equilibrium makes the system hugely energy efficient: rather than having to lift one heavy boat out of the water outright, from the lower canal to the higher one, a system of hydraulics starts the gondolas’ rotation, and the equal weight of the gondolas naturally assists in the pivotal movement. If you’d like a more detailed i.e. ‘better’ explanation then click here!

From a punter’s point of view, yes, the boat stays upright, simply floating on the water, as it’s lifted upwards in a clockwise or anticlockwise rotation. On a clear day you can even see the Kelpies. It takes about four minutes to reach the top and you learn curious factoids as you go. 1,200 tonnes of steel was used to create The Wheel uniting the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals. Work started in 1998, and in 2002 the world’s first rotating boat lift was opened by Her Majesty, The Queen.

The wheel was necessary because, in days gone by, canalboats had to navigate eleven locks to make their journey, the prospect of which was clearly so popular it shut in 1933. The area has been transformed by the invention of the Falkirk Wheel. As well as tourist vessels you see can see ‘real life’ boats simply going about their business, being lifted up and down the canal. It’s injected life back into the canals of Scotland.

Once at the top level of the canal, the tourist boat enters a dark tunnel and takes a short chug along, before retracing its steps, back into the gondola and slowly descending down to the lower canal. The whole trip takes about 45 minutes, and the tots were engaged for most of the journey.

The modern playpark was also a winner with the boys, and whilst they were flinging themselves down slides with their dad, I headed to the Archimedes Water Park. This is an ideal hands-on learning experience for older kids, or for non-science folk like myself. It’s still not much clearer to me, in the same way some people will simply never know where to put an apostrophe, but at least I tried. I love the way science is being made as engaging, physical and tactile as possible.

Ultimately I’m glad Mr Husband talked me into visiting the Falkirk Wheel because it’s a thing of beauty in concept, in practise and in aesthetics. And I now know what the Archimedes principle is all about – get me!

[Apparently Santa might be visiting the Falkirk Wheel over Christmas with his elves – click here to discover if the rumours are true!]

OUR STORY – We’d visited the Isle of Cumbrae, then back on the mainland we explored Vikingar! in Largs, before driving to the Falkirk Wheel and overnighting in Stirling.

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If you like what you read then don’t miss a post, enter your email address and You’re In, or join the conversation on Facebook. For any queries or opportunities please email scots2travel@hotmail.com. We used ASVA passes for review purposes, and paid for the children’s tickets. Children under three years old pay £1.50, adult tickets are £12.95 and 3-15 year olds cost £7.50 at the time of writing. Family tickets are also available.

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42 Comments

  1. Reply

    Helen

    November 28, 2017

    Oh wow that sounds like so much fun and a unique experience 🙂 I have to be honest – I’d never heard of this before!

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      November 30, 2017

      I wasn’t that au fait with it either if I’m honest! It’s great so glad I’ve experienced it.

  2. Reply

    mammasschool

    November 28, 2017

    This looks fantastic and I’d never heard of it. I’d love to give it a go

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      November 30, 2017

      I thought it would be dry engineering chat but it was engaging, immersive and really interesting. Kids enjoyed it too so a winner all round.

  3. Reply

    Claire justine

    November 28, 2017

    Looks and sounds like a great day out here. I had never heard of this before visiting you. I will have to check it out 🙂

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      November 30, 2017

      I’d heard of it but didn’t realise it would be so engaging. It’s close to both Edinburgh and Glasgow so a different day out if you’re ever in Scotland.

  4. Reply

    Out of Depth Dad

    November 28, 2017

    I really want to visit the Falkirk Wheel myself. It’s so impressive! Surely a perfect day out! Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      November 30, 2017

      My husband’s idea. It’s such an immersive experience, the kids liked the boat trip. I thought it would be all about the engineering, which it is, but it works because you’re actually on the boat lift as it’s explained to you.

  5. Reply

    Laura Dove

    November 28, 2017

    Oh I went here back in March! We went to a wedding locally and spent the day there before, it’s gorgeous!

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      November 30, 2017

      So modern, great playpark, too which I wasn’t expecting. And now I understand the Archimedes principle!

  6. Reply

    katykicker

    November 29, 2017

    Looks like a fun day out and always nice to learn something too!

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      November 30, 2017

      I know. Every day’s a school day!

  7. Reply

    Kara

    November 29, 2017

    The Falkirk Wheel looks brilliant and what a great way to teach the kids about science

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      November 30, 2017

      And adults too!

  8. Reply

    laurasidestreet

    November 30, 2017

    I used to live in Edinburgh (nearly two years) and also did a summer season of working on West coast of Scotland and travelled the area a lot but never made it to the Falkirk Wheel and it’s always been on my bucket list since and I really want to visit it.

    Laura x

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      November 30, 2017

      Hope you get to visit soon. A world first!

  9. Reply

    Nancy | MapandFamily

    November 30, 2017

    I’d never heard of the Falkirk Wheel and now I want to go and see it myself. It sounds like a great family day out as well with things to interest young children and older ones too.

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      November 30, 2017

      My husband was into the engineering. I liked learning something new – Archimedes principle. Kids loved the boat ride. Worked for us all.

  10. Reply

    joylovestravel

    November 30, 2017

    My husband is desperate to visit too – now I totally see why! I think it has to go straight on the list…

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      November 30, 2017

      It was my husband’s bright idea too 🙂

  11. Reply

    fashionandstylepolice

    November 30, 2017

    I have never heard of Falkirk Wheel. Would love to visit one day.

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      November 30, 2017

      Learn something new every day in the world of blogging.

  12. Reply

    Stephanie

    November 30, 2017

    Never heard of this before, but wow it sounds very fun trip!

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      December 1, 2017

      It works well for all ages, whether you’re into history, or engineering or just fancy a boat trip, it works.

  13. Reply

    pigeonpairandme

    December 1, 2017

    Hah – I like the apostrophe analogy! It does sound as though this was a pretty hands-on way to learn about a scientific principle, though. Great to read about the connection between the application of science, and community building. Thanks for linking up with #CulturedKids!

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      December 1, 2017

      I concentrated really hard and I did get it at the time, but when it came to writing about it I did have to go back and check everything. Something about this type of info that doesn’t sit naturally in my brain! I’d recommend it for a day out though.

  14. Reply

    Cultural Wednesday

    December 1, 2017

    I have never heard of this before and I as a science buff and a bit of a canal bore I need to see it soon! Thank you for linking up to #CulturedKids

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      December 1, 2017

      For sure, I think it would be right up your street. Gets tourists out of the big cities too.

  15. Reply

    Newcastle Family Life

    December 2, 2017

    I had never heard of this before, it sounds like a great experience. I will have to visit next time we are in he area x

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      December 4, 2017

      It’s certainly a bit different. Very cool design too.

  16. Reply

    Little Pickle's Mom

    December 2, 2017

    Oh wow! LOVE the sound of this – so glad it surpassed your expectations! It does sound really impressive – and a relatively cheap day out too!

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      December 4, 2017

      That’s the great thing about just rocking up and having no particular high hopes, you can have a great day and wax lyrical about it!

  17. Reply

    Phoebe | Lou Messugo

    December 2, 2017

    I can see this appealing to my boys who both love science. Now that we have a son at Glasgow Uni we are spending much more time in Scotland than before and will definitely visit this in the near future. Thanks for writing about it. #culturedkids

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      December 4, 2017

      That would be a great wee jaunt from Glasgow, would recommend it. Glasgow Uni is fab, with a great social scene too – happy days!

  18. Reply

    katy@untoldmorsels

    December 3, 2017

    What a cool piece of engineering. I’d never heard of the Falkirk Wheel but I do appreciate when family compromising throws up a gem, especially one with such a cool playground #culturedkids

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      December 4, 2017

      It’s a global first and beautifully designed, and also just good fun, so really glad I went. Glad you’ve heard of it now 🙂

  19. Reply

    Clare Thomson

    December 4, 2017

    This looks like a lot of fun! I’d have been the same as you and assumed it would be rather dull but ended up loving it. Thanks for inspiring me on #CulturedKids

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      December 4, 2017

      It could have been exceptionally dry but they deliver the info well, throughout an immersive experience, spot on really.

  20. Reply

    Allison

    December 6, 2017

    That sounds like such a fun outing, and useful too. I know my daughter would be fascinated with this. #CulturedKids

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      December 7, 2017

      You’re right. It’s starting point was praciticality, solving a problem, and everything else is a huge bonus.

  21. Reply

    MummyTravels

    December 11, 2017

    I’d seen some photos of this but never realised quite what it entailed (or that you could go on it). Sounds unexpectedly fun…. and educational!

    • Reply

      scots2travel

      December 12, 2017

      I had no idea either until I got there, really immersive experience (but dry!).

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