Day 23 – an Engineering Wonder

Linlithgow to Falkirk, 19Km

Once again, there was quite a lot to see along the John Muir Way today. After a brief riverside walk I reached the Union Canal which opened in 1842 to bring coal from Falkirk to Edinburgh. Soon I was walking over the impressive Avon Aqueduct, 250m long and 26m high, supported by 12 arches. Later I came to Callendar House which looked a little out of place in Scotland but had nice grounds for children.

A short diversion followed, to the Falkirk Caffe Nero. I was recently promoted to VIP customer of this chain and received a coupon for a free cappuccino so I only had to pay for the apricot Danish.

The Union Canal continues through Falkirk until it meets the Forth & Clyde canal, 35m below. For 150 years this gap was bridged by 11 locks but these have now been replaced by an engineering wonder of the modern age: the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. Archimedes would understand it. It’s all perfectly balanced and each rotation takes four minutes and consumes just 1.5 kWh of electricity, even with 8 boats in 60 tons of water per gondola. That’s like boiling a kettle of water.

Here’s a speeded up video so you can see the whole rotation in 29 seconds.

The Falkirk Wheel in action, 29 seconds
Here’s how it works
Traditional solution
Linlithgow Palace with the connections from Mary Queen of Scots to Queen Elizabeth II
The Avon Aqueduct carries the Union Canal over the River Avon
Walking over the Avon Aqueduct
Happy family – or lining your swans up
Callendar House, a 19th century implant

12 comments on “Day 23 – an Engineering Wonder

  1. Vikki McLean

    Hello Tim,
    Glad that all is continuing well. When I saw your initial fascinating photo of the Falkirk Wheel I thought, ‘I wish Tim had taken a video of that in action’ then, low and behold, my wish was granted just a few short paragraphs later! Thank you. A wonderful, eco-friendly piece of engineering. Not the most beautiful construction but certainly efficient.
    Wishing you interesting onward travels.

    • Hi Vikki, it was begging for a time lapse video. They sell boat rides through it as well

  2. Philippa

    The Falkirk wheel is impressive in a slightly scary way (at least when speeded up). I wonder if this year’s calendar will feature swans? And maybe Highland cattle when you get further north?

  3. Amazing . I saw that wheel for the first time on ‘ Great Canal Journeys ‘ with Prunella Scales and her husband( whose name escapes me at the moment).
    Maybe one day I will see it in the flesh.

    • There’s so many secret places to visit but at least TV can open our eyes to some of them

  4. Hello Tim, continuing to follow you with envious interest! Tim

    • Very kind, Tim but will you be so envious when the inevitable rain starts? The weather has been extraordinarily kind so far. I will probably be marooned on Orkney all winter 🥶

  5. The Falkirk Wheel is absolutely brilliant. I now have lots of questions (don’t worry I will investigate for myself) – Who designed it? Why have no more been built (need, cost?)? How long did it take to build? How many boats access it daily?… All the sorts of questions the enquiring minds at school may ask.
    On a different note – I am now convinced there is something in the Scottish water that helps swan reproduction!

    • You’re right, there are many canals with multiple locks to overcome a few metres. It’s mostly Scottish engineering but was built in Derbyshire

  6. Vicky Williamson

    Kia Ora, Tim, that Falkirk Wheel is an amazing piece of design and engineering so thank you for the short video. Another example of such a machine is the Three Gorges Ship Lifter which I have seen in action. Worth a quick look. Kia kaha, Vicky.

    • Thanks for that. I looked at the lift. These things are fascinating

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