THE Falkirk Wheel- one of Scotland’s most popular visitor attractions – is set for a mini revolution as a £1million programme to refurbish the world’s only rotating boat lift gets underway.
The revitalisation of the Wheel, the construction of which formed a key part of the £84.5 million Millennium Link project, comes on the back of its busiest year ever, with more than 600,000 people enjoying a visit to the working sculpture in 2015.
The project will see the 13-year-old Wheel, which links the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal 115ft above, refurbished inside and out, with the existing visitor centre, trip boats, conference rooms and activity hub refreshed with new branding, signage and interpretation celebrating the engineering behind the iconic structure.
The Falkirk Wheel will remain open throughout the works, which are due to be completed this summer.
The project forms part of a phased investment plan which will see further improvements and exciting new visitor experiences developed over the coming years to keep the attraction fresh and encourage people to come back time and again.
It’s hoped the project will encourage even more people to take a turn on The Falkirk Wheel in the years to come, with the profits generated by the attraction reinvested in safeguarding the rich heritage of Scotland’s 250-year-old canals.
Steve Dunlop, chief executive of Scottish Canals, said: “The Falkirk Wheel is a towering symbol of the renaissance of Scotland’s canals and one of the nation’s top tourism attractions.
“Even more than a decade since its opening, the chance to see this iconic feat of engineering in action is still drawing huge numbers of visitors, boosting the economy of the area and helping put Falkirk on tourists’ ‘to-see’ lists the world over.
“This investment will build on that success, refreshing the Wheel’s existing attractions, and encouraging even more people to take a turn on the world’s only rotating boat lift.
“Whether you’re soaring through the sky on the Wheel itself, taking to the water in a floating dodgem, or relaxing in the new and improved café and watching the world – and one or two boats – pass by, there’ll be no shortage of things to do.”
He added: “The Falkirk Wheel is the jewel in the crown of Scotland’s canal network and the income it generates plays a vital role in safeguarding the rich heritage of the nation’s 250-year-old waterways.
“With the completion of this project, and The Helix and The Kelpies nearby, the area will have even more to offer visitors. With the chance to take a turn on the incredible Wheel or stand in the shadows of the largest horse sculptures on the planet, Falkirk and Grangemouth is fast becoming a vibrant hub of sustainable tourism with the Forth & Clyde Canal at its heart.”
The Falkirk Wheel is Scotland’s busiest tourist attraction outwith a city centre location, welcoming more than six million visitors since its opening in 2002.
It attracts tourists from all over the world keen to marvel at the working sculpture which combines modern engineering and technology with ancient principles set out by Archimedes more than 2000 years ago.
The Wheel replaced a flight of 11 locks that once stepped the Union Canal down to the level of the Forth and Clyde over a distance of 1.5 kilometres and took more than a day to traverse.
The Falkirk Wheel allows vessels to transit between the two waterways in just a few minutes.
When one of the structure’s gondolas is lowered, the opposite one rises, keeping the vast, 1800 tonne boat lift in perfect balance as it carries canal barges 35 metres into the air in a matter of minutes.
The Wheel’s gondolas hold 500,000 litres of water – enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool. Incredibly, because of the design and application of balance and weight, it takes just 1.5kWh – the same power as it would take to boil eight domestic kettles – for each rotation.
So iconic is its design, the International Federation of Consulting Engineers’ (FIDIC) – an organisation representing consulting engineers in more than 80 countries – judged the Wheel, alongside the likes of the Hoover Dam and The Channel Tunnel, as one of the most significant civil engineering projects of the last hundred years.
As well as the opportunity to take a one-of-a-kind boat trip on the Wheel, the attraction also boasts a range of activities, from water zorbing, a water play park, woodland walks and cycle routes, to Segway tours.
The remains of the Antonine Wall – the northernmost fortification of the Roman Empire – can also be found nearby for those looking to slake their thirst for history.
Scottish Canals is responsible to the Scottish Government for the management and development of the Union, Monkland, Forth and Clyde, Crinan and Caledonian Canals.
As well as the waterways themselves, Scottish Canals care for 251 bridges, 212 buildings, 256 locks, The Falkirk Wheel and 19 water supply reservoirs in locations across Scotland.
The reservoirs cover an area equivalent to 7,494 football pitches and supply the canals with the 332 million litres of water which flow through them each day.
The Forth and Clyde, Union and Monkland canals in the Lowlands, the Crinan Canal in Argyll and the Caledonian Canal in the Highlands together extend over 137 miles from coast to coast, across country and into the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness.