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Friday, 15 May 2009

A Millennium project

The day that Don and Nancy returned their hire car to the airport, I drove there to meet them and take them on a visit to see the fantastic Falkirk Wheel, near, where else, but Falkirk. It was one of the last things on Don's list of things to see in Scotland (this visit), and is somewhere I have been intending to go for quite some time.

To let you understand, Scotland hasn't got a large canal system, but there are four canals, the Caledonian through the Great Glen between Inverness and Fort William, a very busy thoroughfare; the Crinan, a short canal on the west, still in use and a popular little "short cut"; the Forth and Clyde, which took in both of these rivers, crossing from Grangemouth to Bowling; and the Union, which travelled from Fountainbridge in Edinburgh to link with the F&C at Falkirk through a seris of locks. Use of the two latter canals diminished in the 1930s as more freight was sent by rail and later by road, and various sections were subsequently filled in, until the decision was made to restore the canals as a Millennium project and link them with a modern boat lift, instead of so many locks.

The result was a canal that once more links the east and west coasts..... and the Falkirk Wheel! What a fantastic structure, and amazing concept! You can read about how the "wheel" works and its technology, and see a short video here, but nothing can prepare you for the real thing. The first view of the bird-like structure, among trees at first, is quite breathtaking, and getting closer quite awesome!

The shape was said to be inspired by the mythical Scottish kelpie, a water horse, but we were told there that it was based on an old Celtic axe shape??? I still think it looks like a bird, and the analogy of a bird soaring into the sky would fit reasonably well when you think of the "gondolas" containing boat/s gliding up and down.

It was a dreadful day when we were there, the rain just pouring down the sloped visitor centre glass wall, so my photos weren't too good. We watched the sight seeing boat entering the "gondola" inside the lower ring, then the bird dipped its beak towards the water and the gondola was slowly lifted on the rotating wheel to the top.
Meanwhile of course the top gondola was being rotated downwards. These photos are the model on display in the visitor centre.

We had booked to go on one of the sightseeing boat trips, which was amazing! There was no sensation at all of movement. In fact the whole thing was quite disorientating! Were we moving? In which direction? All we were aware of was that everything else around us was moving!

At the top the gates holding back the water inside the gondola and the canal opened (they are still closed in the photo) and we sailed out onto the upper canal to take a short trip along it and through a tunnel built underneath the historic Antonine Wall, to a turning basin, to retrace the journey back to the Wheel again. The same disorientating sensations on the way down! Amazing! Again, photos are poor because of the weather so I think will let the links show you the Wheel at its best!

After leaving the wheel we took a short detour to see the Antonine Wall, the one we had sailed under shortly before, Following directions we found the carpark, and got out in the rain and walked the short distance to where we could see the mounds and ditch that formed the basis of the "wall" 1850 years ago! The ditch was absolutely running with water!

If the Romans got weather like this I'm sure they were very glad when their posting to Scotland was over Add Imageand they could clear off back to Italy, or at the very least further south in Britain!

Just enough time to take photos and then we were off to Linlithgow to see the Palace where Mary, Queen of Scots, was born in 1542. Unfortunately we didn't have a lot of time to explore the huge royal palace ruins, but here are a few of my photos in addition to the ones on the link.
The entrance from the south

The courtyard and fountain

A doorway to a corner turret stair

The great hall...

...and how it is thought to have looked way back in the 1500s

A supporting pillar of a vaulted roof, still intact after 500 or more years

The view from the rootop, of the parish church and its unusual spire, erected in the 60s, much to my dad's disgust I seem to remember! I like it!

So it had been quite an exhausting day, and the next one was also to be an active one so we decided to call it a day and head for the house they were staying at in Whitburn, for a fish supper from Tony's chippie round the corner. I cosied down for the night on the sofa, and was out like a light! The next sounds I heard were the birds heralding the morning.

Talk again soon.

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