Sunday, 13 August 2017


On a glorious Tuesday morning, Pauline and I set off along the Union Canal from Edinburgh, to join the Forth and Clyde Canal at Falkirk, bound for the worlds largest horse head sculptures, The Kelpies.

From my front door it's around 38 miles, and though it is largely flat all the way that does mean a lot of pedaling. But it is hugely enjoyable.

The Union Canal opened in 1822, but by the 1930's it had fallen into disuse, and thirty years later it was an overgrown unsightly affair, with large sections filled in and lost. A Millenium project was launched at a cost of £82million, and in 2001 it reopened. It had been 70 years since the Union Canal linked up with the Forth & Clyde Canal, but the difference in height over a very short distance where they now met, created a challenge. A further £17million saw what has to be one of the most striking boat lifts in the world built, The Falkirk Wheel, and finally the link was opened in 2002.

The Union Canal is 30 miles long and navigates just a single series of locks along its entire length in order to connect to the Forth & Clyde. As is our desire on a cycle trip, there are plenty of places along the way to stop and have a coffee, and of course, the requisite cake. We were in no hurry, and stopped numerous times to look at various interesting things, one of which is a redevelopment at Ratho. Here houses, small in size but starting at £250K, have been built around their own marina, and in the warm sunshine it looked an idyllic place to live.

Just before the Falkirk Wheel you have to navigate through the Falkirk Tunnel. At just under a kilometre in length it can be a slightly unnerving experience, as the previous times we have been through it has been in complete darkness. Thankfully this time it was brightly lit, which gave us a new experience, as we were able to see the jagged rock ceiling in sections, that had been carved out almost 200 years ago, and limestone formations now oozed down the walls.

It was early afternoon as we swung by the Falkirk Wheel and its hordes of tourists, past miniature models of the Kelpies, and headed north east on the six miles of the Forth & Clyde Canal toward the Kelpies.

There are 14 locks on this section, which are mostly very close together, to take you down 115feet to the River Carron. I imagine it must be quite a chore and slow going making your way by boat along this section of the canal, which, built in 1790, connects the River Forth to the Clyde.

But we were whizzing along on our bikes now, covering the last few miles in very little time. All of a sudden the Kelpies came into view.

Even from a distance they are an astonishing site. The closer you get the more emotion they evoke, and lit in bright sunshine, but framed by distance dark clouds, they looked incredible.

Immediately I thought, that for me, they are the most beautiful man-made structure I have ever seen.

Designed by Glaswegian artist Andy Scott, and opened in 2014 at a cost of £5million, they stand at 30 metres tall. The two horses heads are called Duke and Baron, named after the Clydesdale horses that the artist chose as the life models for the sculptures. Sadly Baron passed away in January this year (pictured here on the right with the artist, and below in sculpture).

The word Kelpie is an old word meaning Scottish mythological water horse, which is entirely appropriate, given they mark the end of the Forth & Clyde Canal.

I stood for a while directly underneath Duke, the Kelpie that has its head bowed down, and it was a very moving experience. It was impossible to take a bad photograph.

I entered the gift shop in the hope of finding a model of the Kelpies, and as a special order they could indeed sell me such, but at £5,000 I declined, feigning having forgot my wallet.

Anyway, nothing compares to the real thing.

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