Modern Canal Wonders – 22nd May 2022

A lot of this posting is going to be a bit geeky and lean towards any of you who have an engineering bent.

We were the first cab off the rank this morning to go up the wheel onto the Forth and Clyde canal at 10.00am. Wolfgang has put together this great video which gives you a very good understanding of how the wheel works in visual terms. Suggest you turn down the volume as poor quality.

The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal and reconnects the two canals for the first time since the 1930s. It opened in 2002 as part of the Millennium Link project.

The wheel raises boats by 24 metres (79 ft), but the Union Canal is still 11 metres (36 ft) higher than the aqueduct which meets the wheel. Boats must also pass through a pair of locks between the top of the wheel and the Union Canal. The Falkirk Wheel is the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world, and one of two working boat lifts in the United Kingdom, the other being the Anderton Boat Lift which we have also done.

By the 1930s the canals had fallen into disuse, and the locks were dismantled in 1933. The Forth and Clyde Canal closed at the end of 1962, and by the mid-1970s the Union Canal was filled in at both ends, rendered impassable by culverts in two places and run in pipes under a housing estate. 

In March 1999 the first sod of turf was dug to begin work at lock 31 on the Forth and Clyde Canal. Over 1000 people were employed in the construction of the wheel, which has been designed to last for at least 120 years.

The wheel was fully constructed and assembled at the Butterley Engineering plant in RipleyDerbyshire. The structure was then dismantled in the summer of 2001, and transported on 35 lorry loads to Falkirk, before being reassembled into five sections on the ground and lifted into place. Construction of the canal required a hell of a lot of work.

On 24 May 2002, Queen Elizabeth II opened the Falkirk Wheel as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Since the wheel opened, around 5.5 million people have visited and 1.3 million have taken a boat trip, with around 400,000 people visiting the wheel annually.

As to our experience on the wheel – surreal is a good way to describe it. There was a lot more movement within the caisson than we were expecting and of course a deal more wind. The whole experience took us about 20 minutes.

We still required the passage through two tunnels and then up a staircase of two locks before we were on our way east to Edinburgh.

Plans today were to get a little beyond the village of Linlithgow. We have found the going very slow as the canal is narrow and shallow so we couldn’t get a decent speed up to meet our target comfortably. We anticipated on doing the trip to Edinburgh in two days but it is going to take two solid days of cruising to get there. About seven hours per day which is a lot. One of the joys of canal boating is to take it slow and take in the scenery, rather than turn it into a slog.

We arrived at Linlithgow about 3.00pm and went out for a meander. It being Sunday, a lot was closed.

We headed towards Linlithgow Castle which we had done some fact finding out about before. The palace was one of the principal residences of the monarchs of Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Mary, Queen of Scots, was born at Linlithgow Palace in December 1542 and lived at the palace for a time. I think we all know where she died! The Kincaid Clan were also “constables” of the palace.

Ten points to anyone who knows what this edifice is. We were all rather aghast when we eventually discovered its purpose and somewhat disgusted. To give you a clue – it is a place of nurturing food.

We then cruised for another couple of hours and tied up for the night. Our first full day of cruising and all of us were tired and in bed by 9.30am. Though you are not necessarily expending a lot of energy, the fact that you are outside all day in the frsh air, you get very tired.

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