The Kelpies, the world’s largest pair of equine sculptures, and Pinkston Watersports, Scotland’s only urban paddlesports centre, have won top awards at a glittering ceremony celebrating the “most inspiring and exciting waterway-based improvement projects across the UK”.
The Kelpies – the centrepiece of The Helix project located between Falkirk and Grangemouth – took the top prize in the ‘art and interpretation’ category of the Living Waterways Awards, while Pinkston fought off stiff, UK-wide competition to take home the ‘recreation and tourism’ award.
The colossal, 30-metre-tall Kelpies, which tower over a new section of the historic Forth & Clyde Canal, are the centrepieces of the £43m Helix project. The scheme, driven by a partnership of Falkirk Council and Scottish Canals and supported by an award of £25m from the Big Lottery Fund, has transformed 350 hectares of underused land between Falkirk and Grangemouth into a vibrant parkland, visitor attraction and marine hub with the canal and The Kelpies at its heart.
More than one million visitors from all over the world have stood in the shadow of the sculptures since their unveiling in April 2014, bringing renewed vibrancy and income to the area and boosting the local economy by an estimated £1.5m per year. The site is now co-managed by Falkirk Community Trust and Scottish Canals.
David Lamont, Director of Operations at Scottish Canals and former Chief Executive of The Helix Trust, said: “From Neptune’s Staircase to The Falkirk Wheel, Scotland’s canals have been associated with innovative art and engineering for more than 200 years. The Helix and The Kelpies are the latest in that long line of ambitious projects fusing art and industry and we’re delighted to have that achievement celebrated by the Living Waterways Awards.
“This award is the result of a decade of hard work that saw the partners and local community come together to transform an ambitious idea into soaring, steel-clad reality. The Kelpies, The Helix and the new canal are helping put Falkirk and Grangemouth on tourists’ ‘to-see’ lists the world over and serve as a towering tribute to the industrial past of the area and a symbol of its bright future.
“But, while these magnificent monuments to horse-powered heritage have captured the imaginations of people all over the planet, they belong to the people of Falkirk, Grangemouth and Scotland itself. We’d like to offer a huge thank you to everyone who has visited The Kelpies and The Helix by boot, boat or bike since their completion and look forward to welcoming even more visitors in the years to come.”
Inspiration for The Kelpies came from the heavy horses which pulled boats and cargo along the towpaths of the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals in their heyday. The transport arteries of the Industrial Revolution, the canals and the horses that walked them played a huge role in the development of the area. The sculptures’ name was derived from the mythical Celtic water horses which could transform their shape and which were reputed to have the strength of 10 horses and the endurance of many more.
Originally envisioned as a moving boat lift, during the early design process the notion of The Kelpies changed to monumental sculptures symbolising the industrial past of both the canal and the communities that line its banks. Glasgow-based artist Andy Scott – Scotland’s best-known equine sculptor – transformed The Kelpies from idea to reality, imagining a colossal gateway towering either side of the canal to welcome weary sailors and visitors to the nation’s hospitable shores.
Councillor Adrian Mahoney, Falkirk Council’s spokesman for culture, leisure and tourism, said: “The Kelpies and the wider Helix project have transformed an under-used piece of land at the eastern end of the Forth and Clyde Canal into a vibrant new parkland, canal hub and world-class visitor attraction.
“Since the Kelpies were officially launched in 2014, they’ve become a huge hit with the public. The sculptures and the wider park project have also attracted a range of awards. It’s lovely that the project has been recognised Living Waterways Awards.”
“Of course, the real winners are local people and visitors have seen improvements to the local canal network and gained a new greenspace – all dominated by stunning pieces of public art.”
As well as The Kelpies and the canal, The Helix offers a myriad of attractions including a wetland boardwalk, a lagoon, a splash play area, The Horsebox and Plaza cafes, and 27km of flat, traffic-free paths. A new visitor centre, celebrating The Helix, The Kelpies, and the canal over which they stand guard, is also set to open in late 2015. The building will offer a restaurant, retail area, audio visual experience, and visitor information conveniently under one roof.
Pinkston Watersports, located in Pinkston Basin on the Forth & Clyde Canal in Glasgow, also took home glory on the night with a win in the ‘recreation and tourism’ category. Featuring customisable white water and canoe slalom courses – designed by London Olympics 2012 course designer Andy Laird – a clean water basin, canoe polo pitches, affordable club storage, classrooms for wet activity and changing rooms, the centre is Scotland’s first and only competition-standard, purpose-built urban paddlesports venue.
Glasgow Watersports, a charitable body comprised of a group of volunteer watersports enthusiasts, has played a key role in driving the development of Pinkston and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the centre. As well as a training venue, Pinkston also functions as a water safety and rescue facility and a bustling community hub providing a vital opportunity for the people of Scotland, particularly those under the age of 25, to get out on the water and lead more active lives.
Kelpies Key Stats
- At 30m-tall, The Kelpies are the world’s largest pair of equine sculptures
- They are estimated to be seen be more than 50 million people per year from the canal, the nearby M9 motorway, and The Helix itself
- The sculptures are clad in 990 shimmering steel panels
- Each of the sculptures weigh around 300 tonnes
- They each contain over 18,000 components and 1.5 miles of structural steel
- They were constructed onsite in just 90 days
- The foundation of each sculpture is made up of around 1200 tonnes of concrete
- A whole horse sculpture built on the same scale would stand around 213 metres tall