Falkirk Wheel to the Kelpies November 2014.
Helen Rose Outdoor Diary
On a beautiful sunny Sunday I went on a walk with the Bearsden and Milngavie Ramblers www.bearsdenandmilngavieramblers.org.uk from the Falkirk Wheel to the Kelpies sculptors at Helix Park along the Forth and Clyde towpath and back. The distance was eight miles of flat walking there and back. The Forth and Clyde Canal links the Atlantic Ocean on the west of Scotland to the North Sea on the east.
The walk started at the Falkirk wheel which is a marvel of modern engineering. The Falkirk Wheel lies at the end of a reinforced concrete aqueduct that connects, via the Roughcastle tunnel and a double staircase lock, to the Union Canal. Boats entering the Wheel’s upper gondola are lowered, along with the water that they float in, to the basin below. At the same time, an equal weight rises up, lifted in the other gondola. This works on the Archimedes principle of displacement. That is, the mass of the boat sailing into the gondola will displace an exactly proportional volume of water so that the final combination of ‘boat plus water’ balances the original total mass.
Each gondola runs on small wheels that fit into a single curved rail fixed on the inner edge of the opening on each arm. In theory, this should be sufficient to ensure that they always remain horizontal, but any friction or sudden movement could cause the gondola to stick or tilt. To ensure that this could never happen and that the water and boats always remain perfectly level throughout the whole cycle, a series of linked cogs acts as a back up. Hidden at each end, behind the arm nearest the aqueduct, are two 8m diameter cogs to which one end of each gondola is attached. A third, exactly equivalent sized cog is in the centre, attached to the main fixed upright. Two smaller cogs are fitted in the spaces between, with each cog having teeth that fit into the adjacent cog and push against each other, turning around the one fixed central one. The two gondolas, being attached to the outer cogs, will therefore turn at precisely the same speed, but in the opposite direction to the Wheel.
Given the precise balancing of the gondolas and this simple but clever system of cogs, a very small amount of energy is actually then required to turn the Wheel. In fact, it is a group of ten hydraulic motors located within the central spine that provide the small amount, just 1.5kWh, of electricity to turn it. Science lesson over! Anyway, we had coffee in the cafe and watched the wheel at work taking a barge from one canal to the other.
The walk was along the canal towpath originally designed for the dray horses to pull the canal barges along. The path was busy as we ambled along and people were picking brambles on the bushes at the side of the towpath. We saw wildlife on the canal such as ducks and swans. We eventually reached the Kelpies, another piece of marvellous engineering.
Chosen by Scottish Canals at the inception of the project, The Kelpies name reflected the mythological transforming beasts possessing the strength and endurance of 10 horses; a quality that is analogous with the transformational change of our landscapes, endurance of our inland waterways and the strength of our communities. The sculptor Andy Scott’s vision for The Kelpies follows the lineage of the heavy horse of industry and economy, pulling the wagons and ploughs, barges and coalships that shaped the structural layout of the area. Each of the two Kelpies stands up to 30 metres tall and each one weighs over 300 tonnes. They are amazing structures and the tallest equine sculptures in the world. Even though they are built from metal, their heads appear softer by the curving of the metal. The Kelpies are located at the Helix which is an ecopark created in the Falkirk district.
After lunch we headed back along the canal to the Falkirk Wheel to drive home in about an hour. These are now two major tourist attractions in central Scotland and well worth a visit. You don’t have to do the walk as you can drive to the Wheel and the Kelpies separately.
Coming attractions; Chicago, a Corbett and Nerja.
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This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary
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