Just a short drive from Edinburgh are two of the most popular - and impressive - landmarks that visitors often have on their list of sites to see. Although I don't take tours out of Edinburgh, I can heartily recommend a visit to both the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel, and can help you find a great local guide who can show them to you, if needed!
The Kelpies were unveiled in 2014, and have fast become one of Scotland's most iconic pieces of amazing public art. Visible from the M9 motorway between Edinburgh and Stirling, the best way to appreciate the scale and style of Andy Scott's artwork is to visit them up-close. They form part of the Helix park, an expanse of reclaimed land that has been turned into recreational space - great for walking the dogs or letting the kids run free!
The Forth and Clyde canal runs through the area, connecting (as its name suggests) the estuaries of the rivers Forth (on the east coast) and the Clyde (to the west). This cross-country transport link was a key feature of nineteenth-century Scottish trade and industry, although the network was superceded by the railways just a few decades later.
On either side of the canal at this point, the Kelpies are two horses' heads, created from steel and lit from the inside at night. Each of them stands 100ft or 30m high, and are the world's largest equine sculptures.
In Scottish mythology, kelpies were water spirits who could change their shape and appearance, and lived in the country's waterways. The notorious Loch Ness Monster would be an example of a kelpie - mysterious, rarely seen... and probably completely mythological! The beasts seek out human company and contact, sometimes appearing as horses to entice riders to jump onto their backs, before being dragged to a watery grave... Similar creatures occur in other world mythologies, and it's not hard to see a parallel between kelpies and mermaids, luring the unwary traveller to a mysterious end.
Today the Kelpies attract visitors from all over the world, and the canal here has a small visitor centre and a number of little food outlets and coffee huts to encourage you to linger a while and take in the full scale and majesty of the sculptures.
You can also view the maquettes or models of the Kelpies that were created to demonstrate the final artwork.
A few miles further up the canal you'll find the Falkirk Wheel, the world's only 360-degree revolving boat lift. (It's much more impressive than that makes it sound!)
Originally the landscape here would have required boats to navigate a punishing series of 11 separate locks to raise or lower themselves between the levels of the canal. The link fell into disuse in the 1930s, and in was only in 2002 that the Falkirk Wheel provided a modern means of connection.
As you'll see from that timelapse video, the wheel's movement is incredibly smooth and astonishingly impressive to see in real life. It takes about 10 minutes to make a 180-degree rotation, lifting a laden boat in a section of canal between the top and bottom sections.
Redevelopment of the whole site cost in excess of £80m.
Visitors today can take a short boat ride to experience the wheel in action, or just observe it from the viewing area near the visitor centre at the bottom. Water sports aficionados can take part in a variety of water-based activities in the marina nearby.
Explore more of Edinburgh's city centre public artworks - and its canal! - with my private city walking tours!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
Search the blog archive...
© COPYRIGHT GARETH DAVIES 2014-21