Falkirk Wheel and The Kelpies

I like nothing more than engineering and sculpture, so at the weekend I visited an engineering project that looks like a sculpture and a sculpture that was a massive feat of engineering.

Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel is a massive boat lift that connects the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals. It was built to replace a series of 11 locks that took all day to traverse. It was designed by engineers from Tony Gee and architects RMJM. It took 4 years to build and was opened in 2002 by Queen Elizabeth II.

At 35m it is twice the height of the Anderton Boatlift in Cheshire and about 1/4 of the height of the London eye. Each gondola holds 500,000 litres of water when empty and as the boats displace the same weight of water that they weigh, the gondolas always have the same weight. The makes for a very efficient mechanism that uses approximately 1.5kWh to make a rotation.

How does it work?

Boats are driven into two gondolas on the ends of the two arms of the wheel. The gondolas are sealed using hydraulically activated gates. A number of locking pins are removed allowing the wheel to move. Ten hydraulic motors slowly rotate the central axle. As the wheel rotates the gondolas are kept upright by a planetary gearing mechanism. Each gondola has an 8m gear wrapped around the entrance, that rotates around another 8m gear fixed by the central hub. They are connected via two idler gears hidden in the body of the wheel. The weight of the gondola is supported on wheeled dollies running around a track.

Also on the site are a number of sculptures. There are the wirework “Urban Wolves” by local artist Heather MacDonald.

Also, a strange wheel inspired sculpture on the quayside.

The Kelpies

Located further along the canal is the Helix park, home to the giant mystical horses, The Kelpies. These were created by artist Andy Scott, and are fractionally shorter than the Falkirk Wheel at 30m tall. It is hard to appreciate the scale from the photographs but when you see them looming over the motorway is it an impressive sight indeed. The two horse-shaped sculptures are on either side of a canal lock forming a gateway into the town.

When you get up close you realise that the Kelpies are made from hundreds of cutout plates. These are fastened to an internal skeleton. Each weighs around 300 tonnes and took 90 days to assemble on site.

Also whilst in Falkirk, we visited the Lonely Broomstick for inspiration and parts for an upcoming Element14 video project.

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