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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.