We Roll up to the Falkirk Wheel

On the final day of our Edinburgh long weekend we took a trip out to Falkirk. Falkirk is located about midway between Edinburgh and Glasgow and it takes about half an hour to get there by train from Edinburgh Waverley.

Falkirk’s most modern attraction is the Falkirk Wheel,

The Falkirk Wheel

a boat lift that reconnects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. The canals were originally linked by a series of eight locks, but with the decline of canal traffic in the 1900s they fell into disuse and were filled in during the 1930s. The Wheel, one of the Millenium projects, was completed in 2002 and the gondolas in the wheel’s eyes can move 600 tonnes of narrow boat and water the 34 metres between the two canals.

Rear view of the gondola at the Falkirk Wheel

Unfortunately the visitor centre is closed for much of the winter so we were unable to take one of the boat trips that allow you to ride the wheel. Still it was a lovely, if chilly morning so we set off to explore the countryside and visit the remains of the Antonine Wall that formed to northernmost frontier of Roman Britain.

Earthworks of the Antonine Wall

Not anywhere like as famous as Hadrian’s Wall to the south, the wall built for the Emperor Antoninus Pius stretched from Old Kirkpatrick to the Firth of Clyde. Construction began around AD 142 and took about twelve years to complete. Principally built of turf, what you can see today are the earthworks and ditches. The wall was only fortified for about twenty years before the Romans retreated back to Hadrian’s Wall, had they stayed a bit longer they might have built some more permanent structures. Having had a look around we decided to retreat ourselves and set out back towards the Wheel.

Just as the wheel was coming into sight I noticed it was on the move, so I legged it to a break in the tree cover to get some shots,

Gondola swinging into place on the Falkirk Wheel

as the wheel completed its action.

Almost back in place

Having seen at least part of the action of this engineering marvel, I didn’t feel quite so cheated about not getting a boat ride!

Next stop on our trip was Callendar House, the family seat of the Livingston family since 1345.

Callendar House

the present building’s facade is mostly 19th century,  the central core is a 14th Century Tower house. Over the years it has had some pretty important visitors including Mary Queen of Scots, Oliver Cromwell and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Today it is home to a very interesting local historical timeline display a working 19th century kitchen, temporary art galleries and the local archives. The grounds also have a stretch of the Antonine Wall.

One of the local industries that features prominently in the timeline is the Carron Ironworks, who used to cast the short stubby Royal Navy cannon known as carronades or ‘smashers’. Nelson had two 68 pound Carronades mounted on the Victory‘s forecastle, that cleared the gun-deck of the French Bucentaur with a single salvo through her stern windows. Carrons later went on to make far less deadly pillar boxes for Royal Mail.

With a bit of time to spare before our train we walked back into Falkirk. From what we saw it wasn’t much different from any number of small towns in the UK with branches of chains like Greggs and Phones 4 You and an abandoned bandstand full of furtively smoking hoodies. The only difference I did note was the large number of Turkish barber shops and tattoo parlours. We did find a friendly pub called the Toll Booth for a welcome pint though.

We got a group save return ticket for four, from Edinburgh Waverley to Falkirk High for £23.90 (about half price), by travelling on the 9.15 train. Admission to all sites was free.

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