The Falkirk Wheel: When First Impressions Are Wrong

Falkirk Wheel - When my First Impressions Were Wrong

The Falkirk Wheel was one of those tourist attractions that I had zero desire to visit upon first glance. True, it’s a modern marvel, but how do I actually motivate myself to go and look at it? It takes a bit of time and effort to get to Falkirk from Edinburgh when you don’t have a car. Time and effort that I’m sure I could be doing something much more glamorous. Don’t ask me what though, I’m not entirely sure. Give me some time and I’m sure I could come up with a list of alternatives.

So when I decided to surprise Ryan with a trip to Falkirk it was definitely more for him than me. I felt like the World’s Best Wife. Even though I didn’t want to go, I would do it for him.

Let me explain a bit. Our first apartment in Seattle was on top of Magnolia Hill. That meant for either of us to get to work, we had to bike through the Ballard Locks. Also a tourist attraction, I hated the locks. Too many tourists for me to hit with my bike (and I hit quite a few unsuspecting out-of-towners). But Ryan loved them. We would meet there after work to have date nights in the park. So when we saw a documentary on Scotland and he laid eyes on the Falkirk Wheel, I just knew I’d have to take him there eventually. What I didn’t expect was that I might enjoy it just as much as he would.

The era of canals in Scotland.

At one point in time, canals were a main form of transport in Scotland. The Forth and Clyde Canal opened in 1790 after 27 years of planning and construction. The canal connected Bowling on the River Clyde to Grangemouth on the River Forth. Boats travelling this canal had to maneuver through 40 locks and 32 swing bridges. The Union Canal opened in 1822, connected Edinburgh to Falkirk.

If you aren’t good at Scottish geography these two canals, once connected, would go from coast to coast, allowing transport of goods and people from east to west. The two connected at Falkirk by way of a series of 11 locks, which took almost an entire day to get through. Could you even imagine spending a day going through that? However I think it would have been quite lovely to travel via the canals. Watching all the scenery go by, having plenty of time to relax… Sounds great to me.

The canals were bought by different entities and eventually closed in the 1960’s due to lack of use.

Falkirk Wheel
Looking at the Wheel from the manual locks at the boat entrance.

The world’s largest piece of practical art is created.

In the 1990’s interest in the Scottish canal system was revived. The Millenium Link project was created to update the canals and replace the original lock system that connected the two. However with how out-of-date the previous lock ladder was, a new system was desperately needed. After coming up with different options, the Falkirk Wheel was the final choice.

The Wheel was assembled off site only to be taken apart for transport to Falkirk. In total 35 trucks had to bring the pieces to Falkirk, where 1,000 construction workers pieced together 1,200 tonnes of steel. I can’t even wrap my head around that!

The Falkirk Wheel opened in 2002. It’s 115 feet (35 meters) high and each gondola can carry a total of 500,000 tonnes of water! What’s even cooler is that it takes the same amount of energy to boil eight kettles of water (1.5kWh) to make one rotation. Not only is the Falkirk Wheel beautiful, but it’s practical and energy efficient too. After learning more about the Wheel, I was starting to think it was pretty cool. But then I saw it in action a few times and was officially a fan.

Falkirk Wheel - 1
Let’s take a look at the Wheel as it makes one trip.
Falkirk Wheel - 2
Here we go!
Falkirk Wheel - 3
We’re still going!
Falkirk Wheel - 4
Almost to the halfway point!
Falkirk Wheel - 5
Crushin’ it.
Falkirk Wheel - 6
It’s still not over! Gotta reach the bottom.
Falkirk Wheel - 7
The trip in total took a few minutes to complete. Nowhere near the day it used to take to get from one canal to the other!

What else is there to do at the Falkirk Wheel?

The answer to that is that there are actually plenty of things to do at the Falkirk Wheel! We made a morning trip out of it, but we could have easily stuck around for longer.

You can take an hour long boat trip that includes one round-trip ride on the wheel. If you want to take a ride, check here. At £12.50 for adults, it felt a little steep for us, especially when we were more than happy to just enjoy watching the wheel turn a few times. We even saw a private boat use it and then continue on down the canal, going through the manual locks at the entrance to the Wheel.

There are a few children’s play areas if you take the kids, and some hiking trails if you fancy even more of a walk. There’s a great visitors center as well as a shop and restaurant. Exploring the canal itself is a treat; going between the Wheel and the Kelpies would make for a very scenic walk. If you can’t make it to the Kelpies there is a tiny version of them in the Wheel plaza.

Falkirk Wheel - Kelpies 2
Miniture Kelpies at the Falkirk Wheel.

No car? No problem.

From Edinburgh, we took a train out to Falkirk Grahamston Station. There’s a second station at Falkirk High that’s a bit out of the main town center, but it’s easy to get to the Falkirk Wheel from both. I can only give directions from Grahamston; follow the A803 west from the station and you’ll hit the canal trail. Once on the trail go to the left and follow it until you see the Wheel looming over you (it will also be on your left).

Bring your walking shoes! The 5 mile round trip walk from Falkirk-Grahamston Station to the park area is easy to navigate and traverse, and once you’re on the canal trail there are places you can stop and rest if need be.

You can visit the Falkirk Wheel at Lime Rd, Tamfourhill, Falkirk FK1 4RS

So in the end, I’m glad we went to visit the Falkirk Wheel. It was surprisingly awesome. A sleeper hit, if you will. I even think I’ll add it to my own personal list of must-see attractions in Scotland. I would definitely recommend a visit for anyone who has a free day in Edinburgh and fancies a something a bit different.

So it’s your turn! Can you tell me about a place that you didn’t really want to visit, but ended up charming you? Have you ever found yourself enjoying an attraction more than you thought? On the flip side, what about a place that fell a little flat for you? Let me know!


PS: Ryan wanted me to name this blog post “This Boat Lock Will Make You Wheel in Excitement”. No.

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  1. I wouldn’t wanna cross you on a bike. Guess we’ll do everything on foot once you’re here. Just in case. Anyway. Seems like world’s best wife succeeded in every way 😉 As always a lovely post full of such interesting facts but I have to admit I’d have voted for Ryan’s header line. You got me giving a big laugh in my office!

  2. From the Ballard Locks to the Falkirk Wheel….I love it!!

    No fish hatchery, I’m assuming? 😊

    Also, props on adding the children’s play areas tip!


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