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Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel is a masterpiece of engineering which transports boats between the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal. It is the only circular boat lift in the world and is located near Rough Castle Fort, close to the town of Falkirk in central Scotland.

The Wheel was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 2002 and was hailed as one of Scotland's greatest engineering achievements. Known as the Millennium Link, it was commissioned to regenerate the canals and reconnect Glasgow with Edinburgh via inland waterways. It was built as a landmark structure rather than just a reconstruction of the original locks and is now a predominant working sculpture.

When the Forth of Clyde Canal opened in 1790 it enabled ships to sail from Grangemouth to Glasgow negotiating 40 locks and 32 swing bridges. The Union Canal opened in 1822 and ran from Edinburgh to Falkirk. These canals were connected by a sucession of 11 locks to overcome the 24 metre difference (roughly the height of an eight storey building). During the 1930s, the locks became neglected through lack of use and were filled in.

How the Falkirk Wheel Works

There are two locks on the Union Canal to allow the boats to descend sufficiently to enter the boat lift chamber at the top of the Falkirk Wheel. The boat lift is in the shape of a double-headed axe and has an overall diametre of 35 metres.

Two water-filled caissons are attached to the two arms which extend beyond the central axle. Each holds 80,000 gallons of water, some of which is displaced when a boat enters the lift. It takes 5½ minutes for the wheel to rotate through 180 degrees, carrying the barge and the cradle-like caisson with it. It is balanced by the opposite caisson and as one side lowers, the other side rises to balance it.

When the axle has rotated, it locks into a dry-dock-like port and the gates of the caisson are opened to allow the boat to sail out into the lower Forth and Clyde Canal.

The Falkirk Wheel cost £17.5 million to build, part of the overall £84.5 million of the total restoration project which included cutting a new 150 metre long Rough Castle Tunnel. The project was funded in part by the National Lottery.

Visitor Centre and Tours

The Falkirk Wheel site has an interesting Visitor Centre which has free admission and is full of excellent exhibits about the building and operating of the Falkirk Wheel.

A "Falkirk Wheel Experience" trip can be booked at the Visitor Centre. The boat tours start at the base of the Falkirk Wheel and start by ascending in the lift to the Union Canal. The boat then takes a tour of the surrounding area including the tunnel, before returning and descending again. The tour takes one hour in total and is reasonably priced with concessions.

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Falkirk Wheel Postcode for SatNav: FK1 4RS


+44 (0)08700 500 208
+44 (0)1324 671 224

Lime Road

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