Every day this last week we have been looking at the weather forecast for this area, and it has not been looking good: severe storms and lashings of rain. Oh dear. This morning, however, it is dry, albeit with some pretty threatening clouds.
Up until the 1930s, the Forth & Clyde and Union canals were linked by a series of 11 locks which took the best part of a day to travel through.
In the 1990s, after 60 years of the connection between the two canals being closed, planners decided to create a dramatic 21st-century landmark structure to reconnect the canals, instead of simply recreating the historic lock flight. A number of options were considered for re-opening the passage between the two canals, including rolling eggs, tilting tanks, a giant see-saw and overhead monorails! The final design is claimed to have been inspired by a Celtic double headed spear, a vast turning propeller of a Clydebank built ship, the ribcage of a whale and the spine of a fish.
Hence the rotating boat lift was born.
Construction started in 1998, with 1,200 tonnes of steel parts assembled in Derbyshire and transported to Falkirk where everything was bolted together (each and every one of the 45,000 bolts was tightened by hand) and placed in position via a huge crane. Over 1,000 construction staff worked on building the wheel.
In 2002 the world’s first and only rotating boat lift was opened by Her Majesty, The Queen.
Here's a few screen prints taken from the official website.
Once the boat navigates to sit inside the water-filled gondola, the lift takes a mere 4.5 minutes to lift the us to the top level.
This animation on Wikipedia best shows the wheel in motion:
When we reach the top, we can leave the gondola: a barrier which has kept the water inside the gondola as we rose, is lowered, sealing the gap and filling it with water.
From the wheel we travel across the aqueduct at the top, with amazing views of the site and the surrounding countryside.
The canal then goes through the Rough Castle Tunnel before we have to turn around as the boat is too large to navigate up the staircase locks that would take us to the Union Canal.
Instead, the skipper skilfully turns the boat around in the winding point and takes us through the tunnel again.
And back into the top gondola, where we have to wait for another boat to join us before going down, in order to conserve the (small amount) of energy the boat lift uses. Truly an environmentally friendly operation.
All the while we get a useful and fun commentary.
Back on dry land and it looks like it is not going to stay dry for much longer!
The rain does, however, stave off while we stay around and watch a complete circuit of the wheel.
We are not the only ones watching the show – although I think these juvenile swallows are more interested in food from their parents than the amazing piece of engineering at Falkirk Wheel!
Firth of Forth
The Firth of Forth is the estuary or firth of Scotland's River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea, between Fife to the north and Lothian to the south. Geologically, the Firth of Forth is a fjord, formed by the Forth Glacier in the last glacial period.
We stop for a while at South Queensferry to take some photos of the estuary, bridges and the cobbled streets of the village itself.
The main draw for us to here is the Forth Bridge, recently brought to our attention by its inclusion in the UNESCO Heritage list earlier this summer. The bridge – which dates from 1882 - is considered an iconic structure and a symbol of Scotland. It was the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world until 1917 when the Quebec Bridge in Canada was completed. It continues to be the world's second-longest single cantilever span.
The rail bridge was the first major structure in Britain to be constructed of steel and currently carries up to 200 trains a day. I you look carefully at the photo below, you can see a train crossing the bridge.
Time for a road trip along the shores of Loch Lomond. But first a stop at a rustic little coffee shop in Balmaha for one of the best carrot cakes I have ever had. We meet a lady who is spending the entire summer travelling around the UK in a campervan, who gives us some very useful tips for a time in the future we would probably like to do that.
Just loved the café's door-stop!
Loch Lomond is the largest inland freshwater lake in Great Britain at 39 x 8 kilometres. The loch contains many island and is a well-loved leisure area, popular with walkers, water-sports enthusiasts, cyclists, picnickers and sightseers like us.
Back at the hotel, we go for dinner, but are all struggling to understand the waitress – the local dialect may as well be a foreign language!