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The Falkirk Wheel, Scotland


The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s only rotating boat lift and it’s a marvel of engineering. Opened in May 2002, the wheel replaced the 11 locks that had to be negotiated by boats travelling between the Forth and Clyde and the Union canals in central Scotland. Transit through the locks used to take almost a day to complete; now it takes about 15 minutes including five minutes in the rotating wheel. (The “wheel” is a name of convenience because, as you can see, it’s not really a wheel at all, more like a double-headed axe.)



Boats enter one of the “gondolas” and as the wheel turns, water and boats contained in the gondolas are moved between a man-made aqueduct, which is linked to the upper Union Canal, and a holding area linked to the lower Forth and Clyde Canal, a drop of 25 metres. Up to eight boats can be carried at any one time, four in each of the two gondolas.

The Falkirk Wheel is 35 metres or 115 feet high, the height of eight double-decker buses. Each gondola contains 300 tonnes of water, meaning that the wheel moves 600 tonnes on each lift. But the gondolas are always in balance because the boats displace their own weight of water so moving them takes surprisingly little power – just 1.5 kWh per half-turn of the wheel. The analogy they use is that this is equivalent to boiling eight kettles of water.

In the title picture the wheel is in the stationary position. In the picture below, you can see the wheel is rotating clockwise (it can go in either direction at the discretion of the operator) and you can just see the boat in the gondola on the right.


In the final picture you see the boat emerging from the gondola into the basin. The gondola that was at the bottom is now at the top. This was a tourist boat that allows visitors to ride on this awe-inspiring piece of equipment. It costs £13.50 for adults, with concessions and child fares available.

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Readers will appreciate that I have skipped lightly over the technical details because a full account would be beyond the scope of this blog. But the wheel is a truly amazing feat of engineering so if you would like to know more go to the website.

The Falkirk Wheel is at Tamfourhill, Falkirk, and is just up the road from the Kelpies – one of my featured pictures last month.


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"Not all who wander are lost."  JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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