Visiting: The Falkirk Wheel

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Infrastructure projects are probably the least glamorous in the built environment space, but occasionally, a little gem is created. One of these is the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland. Opened in 2002, this engineering marvel completes a continuous waterway between Edinburgh and Glasgow by connecting the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal.

I first visited the Wheel when it opened, but it was only during my recent visit to Scotland that I took the time to fully understand the ingenuity behind the design and to take the time to photograph it.

The Wheel comprises two gondolas into which barges can navigate and on rotation, one rises 25 metres to the Union Canal and the other drops the same distance to the Forth and Clyde Canal. Although the wheel weighs 1800 tonnes, it uses only 1.5kW hours of electricity for a single half turn – this is due to the wheel being in perfect balance. The main challenge of the design was to ensure that the gondolas remain perfectly level as the wheel turns – this is achieved by a simple but accurately engineered system of bogie wheels and cogs. Since boats displace their own weight in water the gondolas are even in perfect balance with only one gondola occupied!

Until 1933, what used to take a full day, opening and closing 44 lock gates, now takes a mere 15 minutes to transition between the two canals. It is now a major tourist attraction with visitors being able to experience the complete journey to the top and back. This is a ‘must see’ destination for anyone interested in engineering, boats and canals.

For more information: The Falkirk Wheel.

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The canal appears to disappear into mid-air.

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A barge approaches the platform and the gondola at the far end.

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The barge, safely in the gondola, makes the downward trip.

 

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One barge safely down at Forth and Clyde Canal level and the other up at the Union Canal.

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