The Kelpies are set for a royal seal of approval as Her Royal Highness Princess Anne officially opens the world’s largest pair of equine sculptures and the new canal extension over which they stand guard.
Kicking off at 11am on Wednesday 8th July, the celebrations will see HRH the Princess Royal lead a flotilla of around 40 boats along the Forth & Clyde Canal to the sculptures, before meeting some of the groups and individuals involved in the project. Sculptor Andy Scott will also be on hand with Glasgow City Council’s Clydesdale horses Duke – one of the models for The Kelpies – and Dan to talk the princess through the inspiration behind the 30m-tall structures.
The colossal 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.
Andrew Thin, Chairman of Scottish Canals, said: “We are honoured that Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal, will be joining us to celebrate the official opening of The Kelpies and the Forth & Clyde Canal extension. This event is a fitting culmination of almost a decade of hard work that saw the partners and the local community come together to turn an ambitious idea into soaring, steel-clad reality.
“These magnificent monuments to horse-powered heritage have captured the imaginations of people the world over but they belong to the people of Falkirk, Grangemouth and Scotland itself. We hope everyone will join us in welcoming the Princess Royal to The Kelpies and the new canal on July 8th for a fantastic celebration of the industrial past and bright future of the area and the waterway that sits at its heart.”
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.
Clad in almost 1000 shimmering steel panels, standing the same height as six and a half double decker buses, and weighing more than 600 tonnes, The Kelpies are a monumental addition to the Falkirk and Grangemouth skyline that are estimated to be seen by more than 50 million people per year from the canal, the M9 motorway, and The Helix itself.
Councillor Adrian Mahoney, Falkirk Council’s spokesperson for Culture, Leisure and Tourism, said: “We’re delighted that the Princess Royal is honouring us with a Royal visit.
“It seems particularly appropriate that Princess Anne – with her love of horses – has agreed to officially open the Kelpies, the world’s largest equine sculptures. Standing at around 100 ft tall, they dominate the skyline and act as a beacon to tourists from all over the world.”
He added: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the response to the Kelpies, the canal extension, and the wider Helix park project. Visitors have come in their droves to see the site, and to explore the other great attractions in the Falkirk Council area.
“These are exciting times for tourism, and I hope we can build on the work to date to ensure that Falkirk district is a must-see destination for many years to come.”
The new canal which passes between The Kelpies is one of the most complex sections of waterway ever built in Scotland. Passing beneath the M9 motorway and the A905 trunk road, the new section and sea lock dramatically improve access to the Forth & Clyde Canal’s eastern gateway.
The one-kilometre extension returns the Forth & Clyde back to its birthplace in Grangemouth some 250 years after it was built, and is the final piece in the Millennium Link project that restored the nation’s inland waterways back to a navigable state for the first time in more than 50 years and saw the construction of the iconic Falkirk Wheel.
Big Lottery Fund Scotland Chair, Maureen McGinn, said: “Our £25 million investment in The Helix shows how Lottery money helps realise bold visions – in this case, transforming a derelict area of land into a thriving visitor attraction.
“From the magnificent Kelpies to a major new canal extension, this Living Landmarks project is a fantastic asset not just for the communities of Falkirk and Grangemouth but also for visitors from all over the UK and beyond. It has created many jobs as well as large numbers of volunteering opportunities and I’m delighted that the Big Lottery Fund has been able to play a significant part in making this happen.”
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.
Enthusiastic staff from Falkirk Community Trust, which manages The Helix and a raft of local community volunteers, organise a range of events and activities throughout the site, with everything from Nordic Walking to open water swimming, running and cycling events, and even beekeeping taking place year-round.
The area is also a valuable educational resource attracting school pupils and college and university students, with its unique biodiversity offering learning and teaching opportunities for all ages and stages, as well as less-formal nature walks and discovery events.
Maureen Campbell, Chief Executive of Falkirk Community Trust, said: “We are honoured that Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal, will be joining us for the day. The success and popularity of The Helix continues to grow since the site opened, attracting visitors from all over the world. Now that we have a member of the royal family visiting The Kelpies, we can truly say that The Helix is becoming an iconic visitor destination on the map of Scottish tourist attractions.”