Opened in 1790, the Forth & Clyde Canal became the main highway across Scotland; a route enhanced by the Charlotte Dundas, the world`s first practical steamboat, and later with the 1822 connection at Falkirk of the Union Canal from Edinburgh.
The 35m/115ft higher Union Canal has now been extended one mile further west to link with the Forth & Clyde Canal at the outstanding piece of modern engineering, the Falkirk Wheel; the world`s only rotating boatlift and eye-catching working structure. Operated by Scottish Canals, the Wheel which cost £17.5 million to build (Millennium funds well-used) is Scotland`s busiest tourist attraction out with a city centre location, attracting over 5.5 million visitors since opening in 2002.
Other interests, apart from taking a trip on the wheel, include a variety of woodland walks…..and then there is a stroll along the Forth & Clyde Canal towpath to the Kelpies.
The Helix Park development by the M9, previously an industrial site by the River Carron end of the Forth & Clyde Canal near Grangemouth, has won the Saltire Society 2014 Civil Engineering Award. The development contains Scotland`s newest cultural landmark, the Kelpies…..two majestic 30m-tall horse head sculptures towering over the canal. These, the world`s largest equine sculptures, created by the artist Andy Scott and unveiled in April, have quickly become another iconic must-see attraction.
A kelpie is a water spirit usually in the form of a horse, though the artist`s inspiration came from the working horses which once pulled barges along the canal.
In the company of Rhona, a stroll from the Wheel to the Kelpies, and back, following the tow path of the Forth & Clyde canal (oddly enough the only part of either canal I had yet to walk) was an obvious low level winter walk.
From the Falkirk Wheel (Lime Road, Tamfourhill…tourist info 0845-859-1006) cross the footbridge to the far bank tow path, nowadays a tarmac way. Turn right as signposted Carron Sea Lock 4 miles. After one mile, note on the far side of the canal the impressive white building, the Union Inn, once the meeting point of the two canals. The 11 lock connecting flight was dismantled in 1933.
Lock 16 marks the top end of the long flight of locks to Grangemouth; a gradual lowering scarcely noticeable to the pedestrian. Just in case you are tempted, swimming in the canal is not allowed! At lock 15 is the Canal Inn on Canal Street and at lock 11 the A803 passes overhead. Given the busy conurbation the canal now passes through, the way at times can seem remarkably secluded. There is a small detour at lock 9 where the railway crosses the canal.
The lower section is slightly less attractive in passing through an industrial area. The canal goes under the B902 then for a mile-long level stretch by Bankside. So far no sight of the Kelpies, but eventually go under the A9 and there they are! At lock 3, with the Kelpies enhanced by the distant backdrop of the Ochils, cross by footbridge to the far side for a closer view of the Kelpies astride the canal.
It is possible to visit the inside of the Kelpies as part of a guided tour. Telephone 01324-506850.
Rhona and I briefly extended the walk, continuing with the canal under the M9, then parallel to the muddy banks of the River Carron, to reach the A905, Glensburgh Road, and Rhona`s pre-placed car. I then walked back to the Falkirk Wheel; an out and back outing perhaps more family-appealing if cycled.
Map: Ordnance Survey map 65, Falkirk & Linlithgow
Distance: 8 miles
Terrain: Mostly tarmac towpath
Start Point: Falkirk Wheel, Lime Road, Tamfourhill, Falkirk
Time: 3 to 4 hours
Nearest Town: Falkirk
Refreshment Spot: Falkirk Wheel Cafe