Falkirk Wheel
The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift
Boat lift
A boat lift, ship lift, or lift lock is a machine for transporting boats between water at two different elevations, and is an alternative to the canal lock and the canal inclined plane....

 located in Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, UK,
connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal
Forth and Clyde Canal
The Forth and Clyde Canal crosses Scotland, providing a route for sea-going vessels between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde at the narrowest part of the Scottish Lowlands. The canal is 35 miles long and its eastern end is connected to the River Forth by a short stretch of the River...

 with the Union Canal
Union Canal (Scotland)
The Union Canal is a 31.5-mile canal in Scotland, from Lochrin Basin, Fountainbridge, Edinburgh to Falkirk, where it meets the Forth and Clyde Canal.-Location and features:...

, opened in 2002. It is named after the nearby town of Falkirk
Falkirk is a town in the Central Lowlands of Scotland. It lies in the Forth Valley, almost midway between the two most populous cities of Scotland; north-west of Edinburgh and north-east of Glasgow....

 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
Central Belt
The Central Belt of Scotland is a common term used to describe the area of highest population density within Scotland. Despite the name, it is not geographically central but is nevertheless situated at the 'waist' of Scotland on a conventional map and the term 'central' is used in many local...

 to reconnect Glasgow
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and third most populous in the United Kingdom. The city is situated on the River Clyde in the country's west central lowlands...

 with Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

 was led by British Waterways
British Waterways
British Waterways is a statutory corporation wholly owned by the government of the United Kingdom, serving as the navigation authority in England, Scotland and Wales for the vast majority of the canals as well as a number of rivers and docks...

 with support and funding from seven local authorities, the Scottish Enterprise
Scottish Enterprise
Scottish Enterprise is a sponsored non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government which encourages economic development, enterprise, innovation and investment in business...

 Network, the European Regional Development Fund and the Millennium Commission
Millennium Commission
The Millennium Commission in the United Kingdom was set up to aid communities at the end of the 2nd millennium and the start of the 3rd millennium. It used funding raised through the UK National Lottery....

. 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
Convention center
A convention center is a large building that is designed to hold a convention, where individuals and groups gather to promote and share common interests. Convention centers typically offer sufficient floor area to accommodate several thousand attendees...


The difference in the levels of the two canals at the wheel is 24 metres (78.7 ft), roughly equivalent to the height of an eight-storey
A storey or story is any level part of a building that could be used by people...

 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
Antonine Wall
The Antonine Wall is a stone and turf fortification built by the Romans across what is now the Central Belt of Scotland, between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. Representing the northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman Empire, it spanned approximately 39 miles and was about ten feet ...


The structure is located near the Rough Castle Fort
Rough Castle Fort
Rough Castle Fort is a Roman fort on the Antonine Wall roughly 2 kilometres south east of Bonnybridge near Tamfourhill in the Falkirk council area, Scotland....

 and the closest village is Tamfourhill
Tamfourhill is a working-class residential suburb of Falkirk within the Falkirk , Scotland. It is located approximately 1.5 miles west of the city centre.The Falkirk Wheel is located just to the northwest of the village...

On 24 May 2002, Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...

 opened the Falkirk Wheel as part of her Golden Jubilee
Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II
The Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II was the international celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the accession of Elizabeth II to the thrones of seven countries, upon the death of her father, George VI, on 6 February 1952, and was intended by the Queen to be both a commemoration of her 50...

 celebrations. 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
RMJM is an international architectural practice founded in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1956 by architects Robert Matthew and Stirrat Johnson-Marshall. The first offices of the practice were its headquarters in Edinburgh, and another in London...

, from initial designs by Nicoll Russell Studios
Nicoll Russell Studios, Architects
Nicoll Russell Studios, Architects is an architecture practice based in Dundee, Scotland. The firm was established in 1982 by Andrew Nicoll and Ric Russell as a result of the completion of Dundee Repertory Theatre. Andrew Nicoll has since retired, and the practice is now led by Professor Ric...

 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 wheel has an overall diameter of 35 metres (114.8 ft) and consists of two opposing arms which extend 15 metres beyond the central axle and take the shape of a Celtic-inspired, double-headed axe
Labrys is the term for a symmetrical doubleheaded axe originally from Crete in Greece, one of the oldest symbols of Greek civilization; to the Romans, it was known as a bipennis....

. Two sets of these axe-shaped arms are attached about 25 metres (82 ft) apart to a 3.5 metres (11.5 ft) diameter axle. Two diametrically opposed
Antipodal point
In mathematics, the antipodal point of a point on the surface of a sphere is the point which is diametrically opposite to it — so situated that a line drawn from the one to the other passes through the centre of the sphere and forms a true diameter....

 water-filled caissons
Caisson (engineering)
In geotechnical engineering, a caisson is a retaining, watertight structure used, for example, to work on the foundations of a bridge pier, for the construction of a concrete dam, or for the repair of ships. These are constructed such that the water can be pumped out, keeping the working...

, each with a capacity of 80000 gallons (363,687.2 l), are fitted between the ends of the arms.

These caissons (also known as gondolas) always weigh the same whether or not they are carrying their combined capacity of 600 tonnes (590.5 LT) of floating canal barges as, according to Archimedes' principle, floating objects displace their own weight in water, so when the boat enters, the amount of water leaving the caisson weighs exactly the same as the boat. This keeps the wheel balanced and so, despite its enormous mass, it rotates through 180° in five and a half minutes while using very little power. It takes just 22.5 kW to power the electric motor
Electric motor
An electric motor converts electrical energy into mechanical energy.Most electric motors operate through the interaction of magnetic fields and current-carrying conductors to generate force...

s, which consume just 1.5 kilowatt-hours (5,400,000 J) of energy in four minutes, roughly the same as boiling eight kettles of water.

The wheel is the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world, and is regarded as an engineering landmark for Scotland. The United Kingdom has one other boat lift: the Anderton boat lift
Anderton Boat Lift
The Anderton Boat Lift near the village of Anderton, Cheshire, in north-west England provides a vertical link between two navigable waterways: the River Weaver and the Trent and Mersey Canal....

 in Cheshire
Cheshire is a ceremonial county in North West England. Cheshire's county town is the city of Chester, although its largest town is Warrington. Other major towns include Widnes, Congleton, Crewe, Ellesmere Port, Runcorn, Macclesfield, Winsford, Northwich, and Wilmslow...

. The Falkirk Wheel is an improvement on the Anderton boat lift and makes use of the same original principle: two balanced tanks, one going up and the other going down, however, the rotational mechanism is entirely unique to the Falkirk Wheel.

Since 2007 the Falkirk Wheel has featured on the obverse of the new series of £50 notes issued by the Bank of Scotland
Bank of Scotland
The Bank of Scotland plc is a commercial and clearing bank based in Edinburgh, Scotland. With a history dating to the 17th century, it is the second oldest surviving bank in what is now the United Kingdom, and is the only commercial institution created by the Parliament of Scotland to...

. The series of notes commemorates Scottish engineering achievements with illustrations of bridges in Scotland such as the Glenfinnan Viaduct
Glenfinnan Viaduct
Glenfinnan Viaduct is a railway viaduct on the West Highland Line in Glenfinnan, Lochaber, Highland, Scotland. It was built between 1897 and 1901...

 and the Forth Rail Bridge.


The wheel was constructed by Butterley Engineering at Ripley
Ripley, Derbyshire
Ripley is a town in the Amber Valley area of Derbyshire in England.- Earliest history :Not much information is available as to when Ripley was founded, but it existed at the time of the Domesday Book, when it was held by a man called Levenot....

 in Derbyshire
Derbyshire is a county in the East Midlands of England. A substantial portion of the Peak District National Park lies within Derbyshire. The northern part of Derbyshire overlaps with the Pennines, a famous chain of hills and mountains. The county contains within its boundary of approx...

 under Millennium Plans to reconnect the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal, mainly for recreational use.


The wheel rotates together with the axle, which is supported by four-metre-diameter slewing bearing
Slewing bearing
To "slew" means to turn without change of place; a "slewing" bearing is a rotational rolling-element bearing that typically supports a heavy but slow-turning or slow-oscillating load, often a horizontal platform such as a conventional crane, a swing yarder, or the wind-facing platform of a...

s that are fitted to the ends of the axle and have their outer rings mounted on the plinth
In architecture, a plinth is the base or platform upon which a column, pedestal, statue, monument or structure rests. Gottfried Semper's The Four Elements of Architecture posited that the plinth, the hearth, the roof, and the wall make up all of architectural theory. The plinth usually rests...

s, which in turn are constructed on top of piled foundations.

The slewing bearing at the machine-room end of the axle has an inner ring gear
Epicyclic gearing
Epicyclic gearing or planetary gearing is a gear system consisting of one or more outer gears, or planet gears, revolving about a central, or sun gear. Typically, the planet gears are mounted on a movable arm or carrier which itself may rotate relative to the sun gear...

 which is configured to act as a rotating annulus
Annulus (mathematics)
In mathematics, an annulus is a ring-shaped geometric figure, or more generally, a term used to name a ring-shaped object. Or, it is the area between two concentric circles...

. The rotating annulus is driven by ten hydraulic motors which are assembled on a stationary bearing and motor assembly known as the planet carrier which in turn is also mounted onto a plinth similar to the one at the other end of the axle. The drive-shafts of the motors have pinion gears which act as stationary planetary gears
Sun and planet gear
The sun and planet gear was a method of converting reciprocal motion to rotary motion and was utilised in a reciprocating steam engine....

 in this train of gears and engage the rotating annulus ring gear
Starter ring gear
A starter ring gear, sometimes called a starter ring or ring gear, is a medium carbon steel ring with teeth that is fitted on the periphery of a flexplate or flywheel of an internal combustion engine, mostly for automotive applications....

. An electric motor drives a hydraulic pump which is connected to the hydraulic motors by means of hoses and drive the wheel at 1/8 revolution per minute.

How the caissons are kept level

The caissons need to rotate at the same speed as the wheel but in the opposite direction to keep them level and to ensure that the load of boats and water does not tip out when the wheel turns.

Each end of each caisson is supported on small wheels which run on the inside face of the eight-metre-diameter holes at the ends of the arms, allowing the caissons to rotate. The rotation is controlled by means of a train of gears: an alternating pattern of three eight-metre-diameter ring gears and two smaller idler gears, all with external teeth. The central large gear acts as a stationary sun gear
Sun and planet gear
The sun and planet gear was a method of converting reciprocal motion to rotary motion and was utilised in a reciprocating steam engine....

. It is fitted loosely over the axle at its machine-room end and fixed to a plinth to prevent it from rotating. The two, smaller, idler gears are fixed to each of the arms of the wheel at its machine-room end and act as planetary gears. When the motors rotate the wheel, the arms swing and the planetary gears engage the sun gear, which results in the planet gears rotating at a higher speed than the wheel but in the same direction. The planetary gears engage the large ring gears at the end of the caissons, driving them at the same speed as the wheel but in the opposite direction. This cancels the rotation due to the arms and keeps the caissons stable and perfectly level.


The docking-pit is a drydock-like port which is isolated from the lower canal basin by means of watertight gates and kept dry by means of water pumps. When the wheel rotates and stops with its arms in the vertical position it is possible for boats to enter and exit the lower caisson when the gates are open without flooding the docking-pit. The space below the caisson is empty.

If it were not for inclusion of the docking-pit the caissons and extremities of the arms of the wheel would be immersed in water at the lower canal basin each time the wheel rotates. This would result in a number of undesirable situations developing, such as providing buoyancy
In physics, buoyancy is a force exerted by a fluid that opposes an object's weight. In a column of fluid, pressure increases with depth as a result of the weight of the overlying fluid. Thus a column of fluid, or an object submerged in the fluid, experiences greater pressure at the bottom of the...

 to the bottom caisson and the viscosity
Viscosity is a measure of the resistance of a fluid which is being deformed by either shear or tensile stress. In everyday terms , viscosity is "thickness" or "internal friction". Thus, water is "thin", having a lower viscosity, while honey is "thick", having a higher viscosity...

 of the water causing an increase in the required power.

How the canal was routed through 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
An aqueduct is a water supply or navigable channel constructed to convey water. In modern engineering, the term is used for any system of pipes, ditches, canals, tunnels, and other structures used for this purpose....

 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 in Dudley
Dudley is a large town in the West Midlands county of England. At the 2001 census , the Dudley Urban Sub Area had a population of 194,919, making it the 26th largest settlement in England, the second largest town in the United Kingdom behind Reading, and the largest settlement in the UK without...

, 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
Antonine Wall
The Antonine Wall is a stone and turf fortification built by the Romans across what is now the Central Belt of Scotland, between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. Representing the northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman Empire, it spanned approximately 39 miles and was about ten feet ...

 without disturbing its archaeological remains. Just at this point the tunnel also passes below a road and the main Edinburgh to Glasgow railway line
Rail tracks
The track on a railway or railroad, also known as the permanent way, is the structure consisting of the rails, fasteners, sleepers and ballast , plus the underlying subgrade...


Costs and prices

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
National Lottery (United Kingdom)
The National Lottery is the state-franchised national lottery in the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man.It is operated by Camelot Group, to whom the licence was granted in 1994, 2001 and again in 2007. The lottery is regulated by the National Lottery Commission, and was established by the then...


The Falkirk Wheel Visitor Centre
Visitor center
A visitor center or centre , visitor information center, tourist information center, is a physical location that provides tourist information to the visitors who tour the place or area locally...

 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. , the boat tour costs £7.95 for adults, £4.95 for children aged 3–15 (free for children under 3), OAP
OAP may refer to:*OAP Tower, or Osaka Amenity Park Tower, plaza and office developments in Japan,*Old Age Pensioner - a person who has retired, and now collects a pension*One Australia policy - a proposal in the 1980s to limit Asian immigration to Australia...

 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.

Future rotating boat lifts

A similar design of boat lift has been suggested for a proposed new canal that would run along Marston Vale
Forest of Marston Vale
The Forest of Marston Vale is an evolving community forest in Marston Vale, which runs south west from the towns of Bedford and Kempston in Bedfordshire, England towards the M1 motorway. It is operated by a registered charity called the Marston Vale Trust....

 in Bedfordshire
Bedfordshire is a ceremonial county of historic origin in England that forms part of the East of England region.It borders Cambridgeshire to the north-east, Northamptonshire to the north, Buckinghamshire to the west and Hertfordshire to the south-east....

. It would be part of a large-scale project
A megaproject is an extremely large-scale investment project. Megaprojects are typically defined as costing more than US$1 billion and attracting a lot of public attention because of substantial impacts on communities, environment, and budgets. Megaprojects can also be defined as "initiatives that...

 creating an area of leisure and tourism facilities linked to the future expansion of Bedford
Bedford is the county town of Bedfordshire, in the East of England. It is a large town and the administrative centre for the wider Borough of Bedford. According to the former Bedfordshire County Council's estimates, the town had a population of 79,190 in mid 2005, with 19,720 in the adjacent town...

 and Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes , sometimes abbreviated MK, is a large town in Buckinghamshire, in the south east of England, about north-west of London. It is the administrative centre of the Borough of Milton Keynes...

. The lift would link the Grand Union Canal
Grand Union Canal
The Grand Union Canal in England is part of the British canal system. Its main line connects London and Birmingham, stretching for 137 miles with 166 locks...

 at Milton Keynes with the River Great Ouse
River Great Ouse
The Great Ouse is a river in the east of England. At long, it is the fourth-longest river in the United Kingdom. The river has been important for navigation, and for draining the low-lying region through which it flows. Its course has been modified several times, with the first recorded being in...

 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 (35.1 m) tall. Models of the Kelpie
The kelpie is a supernatural water horse from Celtic folklore that is believed to haunt the rivers and lochs of Scotland and Ireland; the name may be from Scottish Gaelic cailpeach or colpach "heifer, colt".-Description and behaviour:...

 (mythological horse) heads planned for use in this new boat lift can be seen at the basin of the Falkirk Wheel.

See also

  • Canals of the United Kingdom
    Canals of the United Kingdom
    The canals of the United Kingdom are a major part of the network of inland waterways in the United Kingdom. They have a colourful history, from use for irrigation and transport, through becoming the focus of the Industrial Revolution, to today's role for recreational boating...

  • List of boat lifts
  • Anderton boat lift
    Anderton Boat Lift
    The Anderton Boat Lift near the village of Anderton, Cheshire, in north-west England provides a vertical link between two navigable waterways: the River Weaver and the Trent and Mersey Canal....

    , Anderton, Cheshire
    Cheshire is a ceremonial county in North West England. Cheshire's county town is the city of Chester, although its largest town is Warrington. Other major towns include Widnes, Congleton, Crewe, Ellesmere Port, Runcorn, Macclesfield, Winsford, Northwich, and Wilmslow...

    , UK
  • Peterborough lift lock
    Peterborough Lift Lock
    The Peterborough Lift Lock is a boat lift located on the Trent Canal in the city of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, and is Lock 21 on the Trent-Severn Waterway....

    , Ontario
    Ontario is a province of Canada, located in east-central Canada. It is Canada's most populous province and second largest in total area. It is home to the nation's most populous city, Toronto, and the nation's capital, Ottawa....

    , Canada
  • Strépy-Thieu boat lift
    Strépy-Thieu boat lift
    The Strépy-Thieu boat lift lies on a branch of the Canal du Centre in the municipality of Le Rœulx, Hainaut, Belgium. With a height difference of between the upstream and downstream reaches, it is the tallest boat lift in the world, and will remain so until the Three Gorges dam boat lift in...

    , Le Rœulx, Belgium. The tallest boat lift in the world.
  • Lifts on the old Canal du Centre
    Lifts on the old Canal du Centre
    The lifts on the old Canal du Centre are a series of four hydraulic boat lifts near the town of La Louvière in the Sillon industriel of Wallonia, classified both as Wallonia's Major Heritage and as a World Heritage Site . Along a particular stretch of the Canal du Centre, which connects the river...

  • Forth to Firth Canal Pathway
    Forth to Firth Canal Pathway
    The Firth to Forth canal pathway runs from the Firth of Clyde to Firth of Forth and is a long footpath and cycleway that runs across Scotland, between Bowling, west of Glasgow, and Lochrin Basin in Edinburgh. The path runs on the towpaths of the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals and is entirely off...

  • Falkirk Helix
    Falkirk Helix
    -Project Overview:The Helix project will transform under-used land between Falkirk and Grangemouth into a thriving urban greenspace covering some 300 hectares....

External links

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