The Falkirk Wheel has enjoyed its busiest year since its opening, with more than half a million visitors taking a trip to the world’s only rotating boat lift in 2014.
Overall visitor numbers rose by more than 25% compared to 2013, while over 125,000 people – the highest figures in almost a decade – enjoyed a unique canal boat trip at the working sculpture, which links the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal 35m (115ft) above. The Wheel has welcomed more than 5.5 million visitors since it opened in 2002.
A major factor in the Wheel’s success is the launch of The Kelpies, the world’s largest pair of equine sculptures, which are just a short canalside canter away within the 350 hectare Helix parkland. The 30-metre-tall horse head monuments have attracted more than 800,000 visitors since they were officially unveiled to the world in April last year – with many combining the trip to the sculptures with a turn on The Falkirk Wheel.
Alasdair Smart, Lowland Canals Waterway Manager, said: “It’s been an exciting year on Scotland’s canals and we’re immensely proud to announce that The Falkirk Wheel has enjoyed its busiest 12 months since it first started turning back in 2002.
“2014 saw more than half a million people pay a visit to the world’s only rotating boat lift and we’ve now had more visitors than the entire population of Scotland. Even more than a decade since its opening, the chance to see this iconic feat of engineering in action is still drawing huge numbers of visitors, boosting the economy of the area and helping put Falkirk on tourists’ ‘to-see’ lists the world over.
“The Falkirk Wheel is the jewel in the crown of Scotland’s canal network and now, with The Helix and The Kelpies nearby, the area has even more to offer. With the chance to take a turn on the incredible Wheel or stand in the shadows of the largest horse sculptures on the planet, Falkirk and Grangemouth is fast becoming a vibrant hub of sustainable tourism with the Forth & Clyde Canal at its heart. We can’t wait to welcome even more people to the area in 2015.”
As well as the opportunity to take a one-of-a-kind boat trip on the Wheel, the surrounding area boasts a wide variety of activities available come sun or storm. The visitor centre features a café serving up home-made, locally-sourced savouries and sweet treats, as well as taking visitors through the history of both the Wheel and the nation’s 200-year-old canals.
For the more adventurous, the Wheel also plays host to water zorbing, a variety of woodland walks and cycle routes, and the remains of the Antonine Wall – the northernmost fortification of the Roman Empire – is also nearby for those looking to slake their thirst for history.
Scottish Canals also has big plans for the future and 2015 will see the attraction’s visitor centre revamped as well as the expansion of the Wheel’s ever-popular water play zone, which already features a mini canal and an array of splashtastic contraptions designed to help children explore the engineering and principles of water displacement behind the world’s only rotating boat lift.
Designed to celebrate the history, geography and role of Scotland’s canals, the new water play zone will feature two new pools; water dodgems; water cannons; and a giant map of Scotland made of natural stone and featuring the country’s five canals. Visitors will be able to steer model boats through the pools, manoeuvring their craft through the miniature canals complete with model lock gates and a rotating bucket wheel representing The Falkirk Wheel when the attraction opens this spring.
Scotland’s busiest tourist attraction out with a city centre location, The Falkirk Wheel attracts visitors from all over the world keen to marvel at the working sculpture which combines modern engineering and technology with ancient principles set out by Archimedes more than 2000 years ago.
When one of the structure’s gondolas is lowered, the opposite one rises, keeping the vast, 1800 tonne boat lift in perfect balance as it carries canal barges 35 metres into the air in a matter of minutes. Each gondola holds 500,000 litres of water – enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool. Incredibly, because of the design and application of balance and weight, it takes just 1.5kWh – the same power as it would take to boil eight domestic kettles – for each rotation.
So iconic is its design, the International Federation of Consulting Engineers’ (FIDIC) – an organisation representing consulting engineers in more than 80 countries – judged the Wheel, alongside the likes of the Hoover Dam and The Channel Tunnel, as one of the most significant civil engineering projects of the last hundred years.
Opened in 2002 as part of The Millennium Link, a £78 million project that restored Scotland’s inland waterways to a navigable state for the first time since the 1960s, the Wheel replaced a flight of 11 locks that once stepped the Union Canal down to the level of the Forth & Clyde over a distance of 1.5 kilometres and took more than a day to traverse. The Falkirk Wheel allows vessels to transit between the two waterways in just a few minutes.