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The Falkirk Wheel

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There are only two canal boat lifts in Britain and until the Falkirk Wheel was completed as recently as 2002, there was only the Anderton Lift which was built 127 years earlier in 1875.  The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift that provides a link for the Union Canal with the Forth & Clyde Canal in the Central Lowlands of Scotland. This was the first time that the two canals had been connected since the 1930’s.

The boat lift is the first of its kind in the world was named in respect of the nearby town of Falkirk. The wheel is capable of lifting or lowering a boat by 24 metres (79 ft) in around 8 minutes. It was paid for by local authorities and charitable development agencies in association with British Waterways (now Scottish Canals) as part of the Millennium Link project. The goal was to establish not only a practical solution but to create an iconic structure to mark the change of the Millennium and pay tribute to the extraordinary contribution made by Scottish engineers to Britain and the World.

To make the vision real, Tony Kettle of RMJM architects assembled a 20 strong team of architects and engineers who, together with engineering consultants Arup and Butterley Engineering, were responsible for the final design.   The striking appearance of the structure is said to have been inspired by a range of objects both natural and manmade. These include: The huge propeller of an ocean going ship, the ribcage of a whale and a double headed Celtic axe (some say spear). It is often referred to as a contemporary sculpture with a practical purpose – reconnecting the Glasgow and Edinburgh canal network.


There is a visitor centre on site and it is possible to take a boat ride that uses the Falkirk wheel.

It is 35 metres tall – the same height as 20 London taxis all stacked up on each other.

It cost £17.5 million to build and used 1,200 tonnes of steel.

Each of the containers (gondolas) holds up to half a million litres of water and can carry up to four boats.

The balance of the Falkirk wheel is so exceptional that it only uses 1.5kWh of energy to achieve a 180 degree rotation thus moving two containers and their boats. This is said to be the same amount of energy as it would take to boil eight standard kettles (if they were full).


The lead architect, Tony Kettle, used his 8 year old daughter’s Lego to make models of the first concepts.



Camping in the Forest Campsite
Station Road, Gartmore
Stirlingshire, Scotland, FK8 3RR
+44 (0)1877 382 392

Contact Details

  • Address: Lime Road, Falkirk, Falkirk FK1 4RS, UK
  • GPS: 55.9984576343906,-3.834445869311594
  • Phone: 0044 (0)8700 500 208
  • Part of UK: Scotland
  • Sat Nav Postcode: FK1 4RS
  • Entrance Fees: Charges Apply
  • Disabled Access: Good
  • Visibility from Road: Good
  • Image Credits: Heartland Arts

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