Canal Guide

Falkirk Wheel

Falkirk Wheel

Ideas for canal boat holidays & canal boat hire


Connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal.

Researched and written by Jeannette Briggs


The Falkirk Wheel is truly a unique structure.  Not only the first boat lift of its type anywhere in the world but it is also a marriage of engineering ingenuity and architectural imagination combining an eyecatching working "sculpture", and a superb tourist attraction in its own right. It is the World's first rotating boat lift, and the first boat lift to be built in Great Britain since the Anderton Lift in Cheshire 1875. It is 115 feet high, 115 feet wide and 100 feet long standing in a huge water basin with mooring for 20 boats.

Top of Bridge

The Falkirk Wheel is located Falkirk in the lowlands of Scotland, about half way between of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Here the two main canals that traverse the centre of Scotland - the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde canal - join enabling canal boaters to travel across the central plain of Scotland.

Presently, the junction of these two canals at Falkirk was made possible by a flight of 11 locks, but this flight fell into disrepair and was closed in 1963. Following closure of these locks the two canals continued operations as separate entities, but they entered a spiral of decline and abandonment. 
It was not until the approach of the Millennium that plans were made to reconnect the two canals and re-open the through route from Glasgow to Edinburgh. Thus it became known as the Millennium Link, where the prime aim was to encourage new canalside development and canal boat holidays and other leisure activities across the whole of Scotland's central area.  However, it was acknowledged that this concept would have problems from the outset, because the route of the two canals was obstructed in 32 places by infilled bridges or pipelines, and most of the locks, bridges and aqueducts needed some repair work. From the very first it was apparent that the single most difficult problem on the whole Millennium project would be that of re-connecting the two canals at Falkirk. Several ingenious ideas for connecting the canal were proposed an overhead monorail with the boats carried beneath, a funicular railway and a giant see-saw.
Gradually, the concept of a turning wheel was developed, envolving into todays exciting and innovative design.


The engineering principle behind the design of the Falkirk Wheel is a relatively simple one. The boats enter a reinforced steel and concrete aqueduct which is linked to the Wheel's upper gondola. The gondola takes the canal boat and water which is then lowered by the wheel to the basin below. At the same time an equal weight of boats and water rises up in the other gondola. The Wheel is totally balanced by a series of five cogs so that it always remains horizontal and this is balanced so efficiently that it can be turned by a group of hydraulic motors powered by electricity costing just a few pence for each half revolution! The structure of the giant wheel involved 1200 tonnes of steel plus two 50 tonne gondolas. These were cast in a Derbyshire steelworks and delivered in 35 huge lorry loads to the site at Falkirk where they were bolted together like a giant Meccano set.

The whole structure was finally completed in 2002 and opened by The Queen. The Falkirk Wheel in a few short years has become a major tourist attraction and a destination for canal boat holiday makers and for day visitors alike.

The Falkirk Wheel Visitor Centre

The Visitor Centre opened alongside the Wheel, and you can take a ride on the Wheel in specially designed day boats - the round trip takes about 15 minutes. The whole scheme now offers people sea to sea boating facilities including canal boat hire, unrivalled walking and cycling opportunities, plus a varied selection of wildlife and rare plants.



Facts and Figures! 

Height from the Union Canal above the Forth and Clyde Canal - 25 metres
Height of the Falkirk Wheel - 35 metres
Weight of the Falkirk Wheel itself - 1800 tonnes
Amount of power used to drive this in one revolution - the same needed to boil water in 6 kettles!
Weight that the computer controlled machinery can lift - 500 tonnes of boats plus water
Weight of steel needed to construct the Wheel - 1,200 tonnes
Number of bolts - 15,000
Number of bolt holes - 45,000
Total journey time for one revolution - 15 minutes




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