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Falkirk Wheel of Scotland

The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift located in Scotland, UK, connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal, opened in

2002. It is named after the nearby town of  Falkirk which is in central Scotland. The two canals were previously connected by a series of 11 locks, but by the 1930s these had fallen into disuse, were filled in and the land built upon.

The plan to regenerate the canals of central Scotland to reconnect Glasgow with Edinburghwas led by British Waterways with support and funding from seven local authorities, theScottish Enterprise Network, the European Regional Development Fund and the Millennium Commission. It was decided early on to create a dramatic 21st century landmark structure to reconnect the canals, instead of simply recreating the historic lock flight. Designs were submitted for a boat lift to link the canals, with the Falkirk Wheel design winning. As with many Millennium Commission projects the site includes a visitors’ centre containing a shop, café and exhibition centre.

The difference in the levels of the two canals at the wheel is 24 metres (79 ft), roughly equivalent to the height of an eight-storey building. The Union Canal, however, is 11m higher than the aqueduct which meets the wheel, and boats must pass through a pair of locks to descend from this canal onto the aqueduct at the top of the wheel. The aqueduct could not have been positioned higher due to conflicts with the historically important Antonine Wall.

The structure is located near the Rough Castle Fort and the closest village is Tamfourhill. On 24 May 2002, Queen Elizabeth II opened the Falkirk Wheel as part of her Golden Jubileecelebrations. The opening had been delayed by a month due to flooding caused by vandals who forced open the Wheel’s gates.

   Architectural services were supplied by Scotland-based RMJM, from initial designs by Nicoll Russell Studios and engineers Binnie Black and Veatch.The main project architect was an RMJM architect named Tony Kettle.

Bachy/Soletanche and Morrison Construction Joint Venture won the contract to design the wheel and receiving basin, a new section of canal, a tunnel beneath the Antonine wall and a section of aqueduct. In turn the Joint Venture appointed Butterley Engineering to design and construct the wheel. Butterley undertook all construction work for the wheel and set up its own team to carry out the design work. This team comprised Tony Gee and Partners, to undertake the structural design responsibilities and M G Bennett & Associates to design the mechanical and electrical equipment for the wheel.

The route chosen to take the Union Canal to the site of the wheel involved building a completely new section of canal, leading from the original terminus at Port Maxwell to link up with a new basin to the south of the wheel.

The water level in this basin is the same as the aqueduct at the top section of the wheel, the two being joined by the new 150 metre long Rough Castle Tunnel with elliptical cross section. This is the most recent new canal tunnel to be built in the UK since canal excavation inDudley, West Midlands.

There are two locks to drop the canal level from that of the Union Canal to this basin. The tunnel was required because the canal had to pass underneath the route of the Antonine Wall without disturbing its archaeological remains. Just at this point the tunnel also passes below a road and the main Edinburgh to Glasgow railway line.

The Falkirk Wheel cost £17.5 million, and the restoration project as a whole cost £84.5 million (of which £32 million came from National Lottery funds).

The Falkirk Wheel Visitor Centre offers scheduled one-hour, round trip boat tours, called “The Falkirk Wheel Experience”, that include passage on the wheel. The tours start below the wheel in the Forth & Clyde Canal, ascend via the wheel to the Union Canal, visit nearby areas on the Union Canal, and then return. As of 2010, the boat tour costs £7.95 for adults, £4.95 for children aged 3–15 (free for children under 3), OAP concession £6.95, student/state benefits concession £6.95, and family price of £23.24 (2 adults and 2 or more children -10% discount) with a discount of 10% for a group of 20 or more. 

A similar design of boat lift has been suggested for a proposed new canal that would run along Marston Vale in Bedfordshire. It would be part of a large-scale project creating an area of leisure and tourism facilities linked to the future expansion of Bedford and Milton Keynes. The lift would link the Grand Union Canal at Milton Keynes with the River Great Ouse at Bedford.

A future expansion of the Forth & Clyde canal at the entrance to the River Forth has been proposed. It would use two new boat lift structures, with horses’ heads around 115 feet (35 m) tall. Models of the Kelpie (mythological horse) heads planned for use in this new boat lift can be seen at the basin of the Falkirk Wheel

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