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The Surreal Appeal of the Falkirk Wheel

On how a remarkable piece of engineering bridges the eight story gap between two waterways. The only rotating boat lift of this type in the world, the Falkirk Wheel must be seen to be believed.

Connecting two separate water ways may seem, on paper, and easy objective to achieve. What happens, though, when the two systems are twenty four meters apart? Plus, the word apart here means in terms of height. The solution? An incredible rotating boat lift that looks like something from a steampunk movie.

So, what did the Victorians do for you? For the inhabitants of the United Kingdom, one of their legacies was a huge network of canals. The motorways of their age, they were the major transport arteries of the early industrial revolution but by the mid part of the twentieth century their days were numbered as a method of industrial transport. So it was for the people of Falkirk, in Scotland. The system of eleven locks between the Union and the Forth and Clyde Canals were, by the nineteen thirties, unused, unloved and irreparable. Eventually they were filled in and the land upon which they once raised and lowered countless thousands of people was built upon.

This sad state of affairs meant the Scottish capital city, Edinburgh and its second city, Glasgow, had no water based connection for seventy years. It wasn’t until almost the dawn of the new century that this situation was reconsidered and the idea of the Falkirk Wheel was taken seriously and put in to action. Now the wheel, as well as a connector between the two cities, is a remarkable and awe-inspiring tourist destination in its own right. However, if it wasn’t for the prodigious gambling habits of the British people this amazing structure would never have been built.

Gambling? At the end of the twentieth century the Millennium Commission was established to help communities with projects both large and small. It was an independent body whose commissioners were appointed by Queen Elizabeth – no doubt in pursuit of a Golden Age akin to that of her eponymous predecessor. Of course, Betty Britain did not sit down and come up with the names herself; she was advised by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, himself advised by cohort after cohort of Whitehall civil servants. The money for these projects was provided by the income generated by the UK National Lottery. All in all over two billion pounds was invested in projects before the Commission wound down in 2006. The self evidently expensive Falkirk Wheel took thirty two million pounds from the National Lottery, about half the price of its construction.


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