* Prices may differ from that shown
I live 5 minutes from the Falkirk Wheel so it feels fitting to write a review about something so close to where I am. Despite celebrating the 10 year anniversary until I moved to where I am now just 18 months ago I had never seen the wheel up close, only from a distance although to be honest it had never intrigued me to see what it was about. Despite living just 5 minutes walk away it took a further few months until I started taking ways with my son in the summer and we discovered what the Wheel had to offer.
*~* The Story Of The Wheel *~*
There are 2 canals, The Union and The Forth and Clyde, however they never joined as there was a drop of 35ft between the 2 and so to enable them to be joined together and provide canal links between Glasgow and Edinburgh The Wheel was designed by British Waterways as the first and only boat lift that rotates in the world to connect them. Once erected the Wheel was opened by the Queen herself on May 24th 2002.
*~* The Structure Of The Wheel *~*
In my young state when it was first built the wheel was nothing but a hunk of metal to look at from a distance, even now when I drive the road to my mum's house and see it in the distance it looks out of place in an otherwise undisturbed view but as the years have went on I have seen that it is an architectural marvel. When you see it up close and rotating the sheer effort put in to making the landmark is huge. More than that it is a piece of sculpture that adds to Falkirk and gives it something more than just a far out town no-one has heard of. It wasn't actually built on site but instead in Derbyshire and then carried to the site to be put together, certainly a mammoth task which was first considered in 1994.
*~* How It Works *~*
There is a detailed description of how the wheel works on the website but personally I couldn't make head nor tails of it so from my experience it is almost like a Ferris wheel but instead of having a large number of small tanks there are 2 platforms that rotate lifting the boats from the bottom to the top or also in reverse. It is powered by hydraulic motors using just 1.5KW of electricity to turn it which is pretty impressive I think.
It doesn't need 2 boats on the wheel to turn it, there have been multiple times I have seen it rotating with just 1 boat going either up or down so there's no hanging about if there's only one boat needing transported.
*~* Parking and Getting There *~*
I have never had to do either to get there but if arriving by car once you get almost to Falkirk there are lots of those brown tourist type signs that direct you to the wheel although I personally wouldn't have known how to get to it without living where I am, it isn't actually situated in Falkirk but the entrance is in Tamfourhill which is next to Camelon next to Falkirk. I would suggest using a sat nav to guide you, I often have people stopping me looking for directions. Once arrived there is a lot of parking space with a price tag of £2 attached although in the height of good weather (which is rather hit or miss) it can get rather crowded.
If you're travelling by public transport you need to get to Falkirk, there are two train stations, Grahamston and Falkirk High, from there the number 3 bus has to be caught which for an adult single ticket is £2.10 and £3.80 for a return. The bus takes you right the way down to the wheel or there is a stop beforehand which allows you to take a walk next to the grassy area and small forest on the other side. The buses run every 20 minutes from the site so there is decent transport links but as there is only the one bus route it can get busy in the summer.
*~* Arriving At The Wheel *~*
Once you get to the wheel there are plenty paved paths to get to the visitor centre which boasts a Gift Shop selling small souvineirs, a cafe which has a variety of options although I have never used it, it looks clean with friendly staff and great views of the wheel itself. There is a booking point in which you can order tickets for a boat ride although you can also do this on the website beforehand to avoid waiting for a long time if the weather is nice especially. From this point you are also able to book a boating holiday although I have never done it myself.
There are sculptures and huge rocks dotted around the site that my son loves to try and climb. The centre itself is free to visit, the only thing requiring payment is a boat ride or the cafe and gift shop so it can be an educational day out for next to nothing.
Outside there is a children's park which is advertised as 5-15 but my son went last year when he was almost 3 and there was still plenty for him to do. I know a lot of people round my area who go down to the park on a summer evening as it really does have quite a lot of things in there including slides and sprinklers and is much better than anything else around here. Also around this area is picnic benches which are ideal in the summer for taking along a picnic, my son can't wait to go back but with this almost monsoon we seem to be going through there's no hope as yet.
The site is easily accessible for wheelchair users which is excellent I think, blue badge holders are also entitled to park for free in the car park. Dogs are also allowed although only working dogs on the boat and in the visitor centre but there are plenty of area's for dogs to be taken.
*~* Prices *~*
Child (3-15) £4.95
A booking of 2 adults and 2 or more children gets 10% off.
There are also deals for large bookings of schools and clubs and so on so it's worth visiting the website and seeing if there are cheaper prices if you have a large group.
*~* The Boat Ride *~*
The boat ride is a canal boat that boards around 10 minutes before setting sail, definitely worth getting there early if you want a good seat. The trip starts outside the visitor centre and you board the wheel at the bottom which rotates and deposits you at the top sailing onto the Union Canal, this takes around 15 minutes of the 50 minute journey which takes you through a long tunnel, depositing you the opposite sides allowing you to take in the views.
*~* Walks *~*
This is the part that we enjoy the most, the boat ride is a novelty and is exciting but there is infinitely more things you can do with the land around the Wheel. Firstly you can walk the boat ride route which has a lot of informative information boards alerting you to the correct route, the only worry I have with this is that the water is not sectioned off in any way so if walking with a small child you have to be super careful as especially in the tunnel there isn't a large path to walk along. You can walk halfway along the wheel that starts to jut out from the side of the earth to view the sights from a height, I really enjoyed it and my son seemed to be fairly happy with it too.
Of course apart from the boat ride walkway there are lots of little walks you can experience that aren't hugely long, but give you a look at the sights 'Falkirk' has available to offer. I would definitely recommend walking along the canal in the summer, many people from the area make this a jogging or cycling route or a walk with the dog. There are sometimes ducks and swans on the lake and of course you're also able to see the many boats that are privately owned docked up on the canal. This is something we do often and it can be a nice walk or educational.
*~* Weddings And Parties *~*
Parties can be held at the wheel for just £5 per child with a minimum of 20 children. A ride on the wheel can also be arranged for an extra £2.50 per head which works out cheaper than paying the regular rate.
Weddings can also be carried out at the venue starting at £300+VAT there is a number on the website if you are interested in further information.
There are also various events that are held at the Wheel, it is worth checking on their website to see what is going on and when. The most recent event was the 10th anniversary which saw the princess visiting yesterday and a party style today with various events, floats and face painting as well as many many more although with the torrential rain for most of it we didn't head out. We did hear the bagpipes last night and seen the fireworks which were quite a show.
*~* My Opinion *~*
Although I live near it the Wheel is still something that can teach us something, the walkways are lovely. I love getting our shoes on and heading into the sunshine for a walk around the various walkways. The park is lovely to visit on a summer evening and letting my 3 year old run around and burn off energy. The ride is slow enough that you can take in the sights and learn but it's not too slow that you find yourself getting bored and overloaded with facts. I wouldn't say that the transport links are the best especially if arriving by bus but it is accessible and once you've done it once you wouldn't forget in a hurry! There is plenty to do for young children, as I say my son was 2 and a half the first time we done the walkways and he coped tremendously even during the wheel experience there was plenty to do and see, you could easily spend a good few hours seeing it all and even more if you were looking to take a walk. i would definitely recommend a visit if you're near the area. It's worth visiting once in your lifetime.
Whilst in Scotland for a little weekend break with my husband, we decided to drive to Falkirk with the intention of visiting the Falkirk Wheel. We had previously planned to visit this back in the Autumn whilst in Scotland, but with horrendous weather conditions, we put it off, and we were glad we did, as we had wonderful weather this time around in Scotland, making the Falkirk Wheel an ideal place to visit and enjoy.
The Falkirk wheel itself is very easy to find. Directions are all on the falkirk wheel website, and as you approach Falkirk there are brown and white signposts that you follow the whole way to the attraction.
There are several good sized car parks at the Falkirk Wheel at the two different entrances. There is an upper car park, where a lot of the tour buses drop off visitors.
We parked the car in one of the lower car parks, and walked the five minutes or so along the canal and across the bridge up to the visitor centre.
If you are blessed with good weather, then this is an ideal place to bring a family picnic, as well bikes for cycling, as there are many trails to follow, ideal for families with young children trying to get the hang of cycling. There are also a few trails for walkers to follow as well,
At the visitor centre, there is a small shop, as well as a boat hire centre. The main visitor centre, on through the shop, is where you purchase your tickets. An adult ticket currently costs £7.95. There are reduced fairs for families and children, and under 3's are admitted free of charge.
The Falkirk Wheel visitor attraction is open between March and October, 7 days a week. You can alos book ahead over the internet or phone, but if you there early enough, there should be no problem in getting tickets, and the boats leave very frequently. If you have to wait, you can walk around the large gift shop, read some of the display boards, or enjoy a coffee in the cafe inside the visitor centre.
The boat trip lasts approx 50 minutes. We went on the boat antonine. There is plenty of seating on board the boat, and we had a very friendly, jolly sort of host who would introduce the trip, and tell us about some of the sights that could be seen on the way down, as well as take any questios and address any safety concerns.
There is a 'basin' at the visitor centre, where the boat is positioned ready to go onto the wheel. The Falkirk Wheel is like nothing else in the world, and was built to replace a large chain of 11 lockgates which connected the Union Canal with the Forth and Clyde Canal as part of the Millenium. The Union Canal is 35m higher than the Forth and Clyde and so it was necessary to create a way of linking the canals.
With exact timing and precision, the arm of the wheel slowing transports the boat, surrounded by its own water, to the top of the wheel and onto the aqueduct. This has to be done exactly, so the other side of the wheel, where other boats may be being tranported down, are balanced. A short presentation on board the boat explains the engineering principles behind all the mechanisms of the wheel.
When reaching the top of the wheel, the boat then slowly sails down the aqueduct and then through a 180m tunnel, connecting it to the Union Canal. The boat then turns and you journey back the same way you came.
It takes each boat about 15 minutes to be taken to the top or bottom of the wheel, and it is done so efficiently and effectivly and gently, that you wouldn't even know that you were moving, unless you looked outside. The boat hardly moves.
As you travel back along the aqueduct, we got a chance to see some of the sights nearby as pointed out by our host. There was also plenty of opportunity for photographs to be taken.
All in all, you don't need to be interested or understand engineering principles to appreciate the magnificence of this wheel and its creation. It is extremely effective and although ti took a huge some of money to fund its building, it appears to be worth it, as we saw numerous private boats waiting to use the wheel to bring them up or down to join the other canal. It is also very relaxing as the boat is so smooth, and you can sit back and enjoy the ride, as well as learning a little more!
As this is my 1,000th review I thought I would make sure it was a good one so I hope you all enjoy reading it and may I also take the opportunity to say thank you to all of you who have been reading and rating my reviews since I joined Dooyoo in 2000.
Anyway - let's get on with the review.........
A few weeks ago we spent a day with my sister and her partner on their boat in Northants opening and closing the locks along the river and we got talking about the Falkirk Wheel and I commented that I would love to see it so Dave organised a visit and a ride on the wheel when I went up to Edinburgh with him.
So what is the Falkirk Wheel?
Well it is basically a huge boat lift to move boats from the Forth and Clyde Canal to the Union Canal which is 35 metres higher and back again - but there is much more to it than that!
A bit of history
The two canals used to be connected by a flight of eleven locks which covered a distance of 1.5km in the past when the canals were the main form of transport. With the onset of the railways and roads the canals fell into disrepair and the locks were eventually dismantled in 1933.
The Millennium Link
In more recent years the canals across the UK have seen a renaissance as people have used them for leisure and the Millennium Link project was born. In just three years the whole 112km of the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals including all the locks, bridges and towpaths was refurbished but a boat lift was then needed to move the boats between the two canals.
The Design of the Falkirk Wheel
In 1994 Nicholl Russell Studios in association with British Waterways were commissioned to design the boat lift. There were many designs considered from a giant see saw to a Ferris wheel before the Falkirk Wheel we see today was agreed upon.
The design is based on two huge Celtic double headed axes and is truly an awesome sight to see! We were told that the designer actually used his daughter's Lego set to build a scale model of the wheel to prove that it would actually work.
The Building of the Falkirk Wheel
The wheel was built by Butterley Engineering of Derby where the whole thing was built and then dismantled and loaded onto 35 lorries for transportation to Falkirk in the summer of 2001 where it was then reconstructed on site. The whole construction had to be built to an accuracy of 10mm to be sure that it would fit together and work correctly once it was in situ.
Where is it?
It is just outside Falkirk in Scotland and is approximately 23 miles from both Glasgow and Edinburgh. There are excellent local transport links and of course it is accessible by car. The actual address is Lime Road, Tamfourhill, Falkirk FK1 4RS - so you know what to put in the sat nav! Incidentally it has been built on the site of a redundant tar works about 3km from where the original flight of locks were. The Falkirk Wheel is very well signposted from quite a distance away so it was very easy to find. As you get closer you will be able to see it on the horizon - believe me it is BIG!
It would be easy to arrive by bicycle or on foot as part of a walk along the canal as the towpaths have been refurbished as part of the whole scheme and are now ideal for both cycling and walking along the canals.
We arrived by car and parked on the free car park which was big enough for the number of visitors and so it was easy to find a space. We had expected more people to be there but we did realise afterwards that people were arriving and departing during the day as the boat trips were every hour or so. The walk from the car park to the wheel was pleasant, being for the most part along the canal and it took us about ten minutes. (Mind you I have got a broken toe!)
There was a further, smaller car park nearer to the wheel for disabled visitors. This is available for anyone to use at the cost of £2, so if you can't walk very far but don't have a disabled sticker this is an option for you.
As we approached the site we could see how beautifully it had all been designed and built. The paths were nicely paved and as such were nice and flat and easy and safe to walk on. There were also plenty of grassy areas suitable for picnics and an ice cream vendor selling a variety of nice ice creams.
We entered through a small gift shop with an information point and then out into the main site. We turned left into the main gift shop, cafe, toilets and booking area and then out through the other side to the wheel itself.
There is also a booking office on site where you can book a boat holiday - what a lovely idea.....
There are some lovely stone sculptures and two amazing horses heads made from pieces of silver coloured metal. I am not normally a fan of modern sculptures but these are beautiful.
A bridge leads over the canal to a children's play area and, although we didn't visit this, we could see a helter skelter amongst other things there. Again there are a lot of nice grassy banks for picnics and play and they also have various events there from time to time. The day that we visited there was a falconry demonstration.
The whole site is accessible to the disabled visitors and is free to visit for everyone.
We had booked online (more about booking later) and had arrived about an hour and a half before our ride was due to board so we headed for the cafe.
This is an amazing building with an angled glass roof to give fabulous view of the wheel. When we were there at about 12 noon it was very comfortable but I would imagine that it would get hot in there when the sun was on it in the middle of the afternoon.
We bought two pots of tea and I had a scone with jam and cream and Dave had a bacon and egg bap which cost us £7.85 in total. We sat at a table near the edge of the room next to the window so that we could watch the wheel whilst we enjoyed our snack, which was very nice indeed. It is also worth mentioning that the service in the cafe was excellent and the members of staff were friendly and helpful as they all were across the whole site.
The Price and Booking
We had booked our ride on line before we went to the wheel so that we could make sure that we got the time that we wanted. We had chosen a ride departing at 12.30pm and paid by Visa whereupon we were given a form to print out which we were to take to the desk in the centre to get our tickets.
The ride on the boat takes about an hour and the current costs are as follows:
Child (over 3) £4.25
Children under 3 ride free
Family Ticket £21.05
The site is open daily from 9.30am until 6pm from April to October with slightly more restricted times during the winter. The boat trips are about every hour or so. For full details see the website at www.thefalkirkwheel.co.uk
If you book online you are asked to arrive at least half an hour before your trip so that you will have time to collect your tickets and board the boat (which boards about ten minutes before it is due to sail). When you book online you are also given the opportunity to request disabled access - this is quite important as there are limited wheelchair places on the boats.
The wheel itself is going to very difficult for me to describe but I will try to do so without attempting to get too technical! Again all the technical stuff is on the website if you want it.
The bottom of the wheel sits in the canal basin and the top is on the end on the upper canal. It has two gondolas - one at each end - which are effectively extensions of the canals where the boats drive in and moor up for the ride.
Once the boats are all in the gondolas - and they can take up to six each, side by side if necessary, depending on the size of the boats - a gate is raised to keep the water and the boats inside and you're ready to go.
There are then a series of safety checks which are performed in an electronic sequence and if any one of these fails the ride is aborted until the situation is fully checked and resolved.
Once the safety checks are all complete the ride begins to move. The two gondolas rotate about a central pivot using a huge outer cog which remains stationary whilst inner cogs move round within it keeping the gondolas level at all times. The ride is complete when the two gondolas have changed places with one another.
We collected our tickets at about 12 noon and I heard someone say that the next ride booking was the 1.30pm so that wouldn't have been a bad wait for those just arriving but, if you do want a specific ride time it is worth booking online.
We boarded the barge ready for our ride at about 12.20pm. The barge seats about 100 people in red plastic seats in sets of three with an aisle down the centre and there is a space at the back for about four wheelchairs.
Next a lady with a camera arrived on board and took photographs of each person, couple or group and they were ready for viewing back in the shop once we got off the boat. Photographs and key rings were available to buy but we didn't bother.
The next person we saw was one of the two crew members who were going to take us on our ride. He had a microphone and was telling us lots of information about the wheel, the boats etc and he was so funny! He told us that he had one of the two lifejackets available on board and the other crew member had the second one. Seriously it was only because the safety rules dictate that they have to wear them because they are constantly jumping on and off the boats. He did go through the safety information as well so that we all knew what to do in the very unlikely event of an emergency.
As the ride began to move there was an on board commentary backed up by television screens on board showing information films. Again this was very interesting and not at all dull. Sometimes I find myself getting very bored by these sorts of things but not with this one. It was technical enough to be interesting and informative without being so technical that my mind switched off!
The ride moves very slowly and soon we could see the views across the surrounding landscape. I am not good with heights but after an initial uncertainty as it started to move I felt absolutely fine and I was happy to look out at the views.
When the ride finally came to standstill the water pressure in each gondola was equalised with that on the canal beyond and the gates were opened.
Our boat then exited at the top and travelled along the short aqueduct and through a tunnel to a turning place where we turned and then returned to the wheel for the downward journey. More information was given to us about the tunnel and the way the canal here used to be used.
As the boat travels into the gondola for the return journey it looks as though it is going to continue over the edge as the canal at the top stops in mid air! The man doing the commentary asked people who thought that we weren't going to stop to raise their hands and one or two did! He explained that the gate at the end was built to withstand a collision of more than the weight of the boat at a faster speed than we had been travelling so we were never in any danger!
He then pointed out some of the local and not so local landmarks - we could see for miles from up there! Then the ride began to move and we again exchanged places with the other gondola.
Once the boat had exited the gondola and moored up at the side of the canal basin where we initially boarded we were able to disembark thanking the crew members on the way as they had been brilliant and had really made the journey come alive.
We headed back into the shop where there was a range of the usual gifts consisting of pens, pads, key rings, fridge magnets, sweets, books, toys and drinks to name but a few of the items available. We bought a guide book about the wheel for my sister which cost £4.50 and we got a pen, pad and magnet too.
Just a Bit of Other Stuff
The Queen opened the wheel on 24th May 2002 by pressing a button to start the first revolution of the wheel - except that she didn't! They had gone out the day before and bought a bell from B & Q for £4.99 and wired it up so that when she pressed it, it rang in the operations room and the man in there started the wheel! She didn't even get to have a ride, presumably because of her schedule - she missed a treat!
Although we paid for our ride on the wheel commercial traffic travels for free just as you would through any lock or bridge.
The wheel is always balanced whether or not there are boats in both gondolas as Archimedes theory tells us that each boat displaces a weight of water equal to itself.
Would I Recommend a Visit?
You bet your life I would! It is an amazing structure to go and see even if you don't want to go for a ride. We thought that the ride itself was wonderful and a very reasonable price when you compare it to some of other visitor attractions around the UK. It was safe, interesting, entertaining, visually stunning and generally good fun - what more do you want?
The bit of technical information included in this review has been taken from the guide book, the website and the information given by the crew on the boat.
A rotating boat lift connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal.