Leaving the Kelpies, we headed for another technological marvel 5 miles away, the Falkirk Wheel. The wheel is a rotating boat lift that connects Forth and Clyde Canal below with the Union Canal above. There are two ways to transport a boat between waterways at two different elevations. A common method is to employ locks, the other is to physically lift the boat from one waterway and place it on to another.
The lift is named after the town it resides, Falkirk in central Scotland. The wheel raises boats up 24 metres (79 ft), but the Union Canal is still 11 metres (36 ft) higher than the aqueduct which meets the gondola above. Boats therefore have to pass through a pair of locks to be connected to the Union Canal above. The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world and is regarded as an engineering landmark.
The two canals were previously connected by a series of 11 locks that stepped down across a distance of 1.5km. With a 35-metre (115 ft) difference in height, it take most of the day to pass through the 11 locks. Over 1000 people were employed in the construction of the wheel, which has been designed to last for at least 120 years.
This is truly an absurd creation. Boats enter one of the Wheel’s gondolas and are lowered or raised, along with the water that they float in, to the basin below or the aqueduct above. It works on the Archimedes principle of displacement. The mass of the boat sailing into the gondola will displace an exactly proportional volume of water so it balances the original total mass. The equal weight allows the gondolas to remain perfectly balanced. The wheel rotates through 180° in 5½ minutes.
A spectacular piece of engineering to watch in action. No fees for entrance but a £3 parking is imposed. For a fee, you might want to try a boat ride that takes you up the canal and back down. Boat trips on the wheel departs approximately once an hour.
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The Forth and Clyde Canal connects to the Keplies, then into river Carron and eventually meets the Firth of Forth, the estuary that leads to the North Sea. So theoretically, you can take a boat from the Falkirk basin and sail right up to the North Sea.