A Scottish dream come true . . .
For six years, Gisborne couple Barry Teutenberg and Sandra Walsh have lived on a canal boat cruising most of the 3000 kilometres of navigable inland waterways of England and Wales. With few left to tick off, featuring high on their ‘bucket-list’ was the unique Falkirk Wheel in bonny Scotland. Sandra shares their thrilling adventures . . .
The four canals north of the border are unconnected to waterways of England and Wales so we weren’t sure how we’d achieve our dream to experience the unique Falkirk Wheel in Scotland.
We jumped at the chance when a fellow live-aboard boater announced she’d be hiring three narrowboats to celebrate her 50th birthday in July 2017, specifically to visit this outstanding modern structure.
We weren’t disappointed. It was a thrilling adventure — in more ways than anticipated as I managed to fall headfirst into the canal on the first evening! But that’s another story . . .
The floating journey took us from Falkirk to Edinburgh, then Glasgow, ending in a return to base after six splendid days, to visit another awe-inspiring spectacle. Put into context, you could visit the same places by car in a day. Cruising at 5 kilometres an hour, it’s far more time-consuming — and infinitely more enjoyable. Festina Lente, “make haste slowly”, is unsurprisingly a common narrowboat name.
Until 1933, the Forth and Clyde and Union canals we travelled on were joined by a flight of 11 locks, which carried boats 35 metres uphill from one to the other. By 1965 both canals had closed, and weren’t brought back to life until 2001 following a multi-million pound restoration. The following year the Falkirk Wheel opened, re-connecting the two waterways.
This magnificent structure proudly boasts being the only rotating boatlift in the world, and can simultaneously move up to four 20 metre-long narrowboats up, and potentially another four down. Each time the massive 6.5 metre-wide cassions rotate, an incredible 35,000 tons of water is used. With water levels balanced to within 37mm of each other, the slightly heavier cassion causes the wheel to turn, using only the same energy as boiling eight kettles of water. Incredible! Experiencing moving within this engineering masterpiece not once, but twice, was breathtaking.
We ascended the wheel on the first evening of the trip. Almost immediately there’s a two-lock flight, then an illuminated tunnel. Once through, it’s a 55-kilometre, lock-free journey to Edinburgh.
Aptly named a “contour canal”, it hugs the shape of the changing landscape, rather than using tunnels, cuttings (through hills), or locks, which would produce a straighter, and ultimately shorter (distance wise) route.
Our procession reached the newly-rejuvenated Edinburgh Quay the following evening. Barry had lived in this fine city for around six weeks during his OE in the autumn of 1976. It was a poignant return. We made the most of a few precious hours to explore and reminisce.
From Edinburgh we returned over a couple of days to be expertly taken back down the Falkirk Wheel.
We then headed to Glasgow on the Forth and Clyde Canal. This waterway connects the Irish and North Sea, meandering through some of Scotland’s most densely-populated areas. Urban areas weren’t apparent cruising the tranquil waters surrounded by greenery and mountains, moving up four manned locks, and passing places with enticing names such as Kirkintilloch and Bonnybridge.
Glasgow was another one-evening exploration, and the venue for the 50th birthday bash on and off the boats.
The following day we hurried back to base (as much as that’s possible at 5km an hour!) to travel by foot and car a short distance to gaze in awe at The Kelpies. Partnering the Falkirk Wheel, these beautiful beasts are the world’s largest equine sculptures, conceived and constructed to represent the heavy horse of Scottish industry and economy that pulled wagons, ploughs, barges and coal ships in
Opened four years ago, they were built on-site like a giant jigsaw puzzle in just 90 days — 928 stainless steel plates lifted piece-by-piece from the ground, and attached securely to frames. You can watch this mesmerising spectacle on a YouTube ‘Time-Lapse’ video (www.thehelix.co.uk/things-to-do/the-kelpies).
At night they’re colourfully illuminated, dominating the skyline for miles around. During daytime the metal shimmers in reflection of the changing seasons and weather. It’s also possible to walk inside the giant monuments and listen to a commentary, but sadly our cramped itinerary didn’t get us there in time.
We left wishing we’d had more time, vowing a return to explore at an even more leisurely pace.
• To read more of our boating adventures, visit www.nbareandare.com