click here to return to the Millennium Link Resource Home PageThe Falkirk Wheel Experience
1st July 2002

click for full resolution...The ticket on the right entitles you to a trip on the Falkirk Wheel!
Board a barge or launch provided by British Waterways and travel with us on the world's first rotating boat lift! Click on the ticket to see more.

Richard, Peter, Tony and I went on the first bookable trip on the morning of the 1st July 2002. Non-bookable tours had been run for most of June, to trial the system and satisfy public demand, after the Royal Opening on the 24th May.

After waiting for the first boat of the day (which was delayed till 10:00) we set off from the Visitor's Centre, onto the quay adjacent to the Wheel. 

The Wheel's size is difficult to get away from as we prepared to board the waiting barge, "Shanks First".


This is one of the barges that will carry visitors on the wheel until the Amphibious Vehicles arrive in the Spring of 2003. It is named after the waste disposal company who's land-fill tax donations were used for it's purchase.

(Peter McCulloch - 7th July 2002)

With the wheel so close the barge easily manoeuvred in New Port Downie Basin and lined up to enter the lower caisson, with a little help from the British Waterways staff on the side.

Once in the lower caisson of the wheel we were given a short "safety" talk by one of the staff member's on board. As always with such announcements many people in the photograph are more interested in looking out of the windows at what was about to happen next!

After answering a few questions about the wheel, we were off!

There are some good pictures, and an explanation of how the caisson (or gondola) is separated from New Port Downie Basin before rotation, on the Doors and Seals page.

The caisson swings out and up, raising us 24metres out across New Port Downie basin. The picture shows us just below half-way with an unusual angle on the upper aqueduct.

Notice the red line painted on the deck in the picture, this is the cill line, marking the limit of where the door sits when it is open.

Approaching the top! The water levels are nearly in line, the rotation is almost complete. 

Note the view through the aqueduct and the Antonine Tunnel to the upper basin at the end of the tunnel.

The boat is untied ready for the continuation of our experience, along the aqueduct.

(Tony Cowlin)

There is a series of pictures taken at this point that show the gates being lowered that connect our caisson to the water in the Aqueduct.

(Peter McCulloch)

We sailed south over the Aqueduct, the Roman Antonine Wall is now directly in front, with the Tunnel taking the canal beneath it.

Note the winding hole (turning circle) in the foreground, with the Dry Stone Walling Association bench to the left.

(Richard McCulloch)

The tunnel is very narrow so one crew member stands at the front of the boat and signals the skipper to steer the boat through.

Even with fenders at water level the walls of the tunnel did show some evidence of boat damage already. This is made worse by the spray-concrete finish on the tunnel which is very abrasive.

(Peter McCulloch)

Racing the red light! At 145m long this is not a long tunnel, however it is the only canal tunnel to be built in the UK for over 100 years.

(Peter McCulloch)

The tunnel exits into the south basin. 

The exit of the tunnel is actually behind us in this picture, what you are looking as are the reinforced concrete beams of the bridge taking the main Glasgow - Edinburgh railway line over the tunnel. Although a separate structure, it is so close to the tunnel entrance that it appears to be an extension of the tunnel.

The boat then turns in the top or south basin. 

Lower right of this picture there is a double lock taking the canal up to the correct level for the Union Canal, there are no further locks for over 30 miles to Edinburgh.

Upper right the canal has just come out of the tunnel / Railway under-bridge.

In the centre-left of the picture the building work is the construction of the ramp to allow the Amphibious Vehicles access to the basin.

(Peter McCulloch - 7th July 2002)

Having turned in the basin we get the first sight of the spectacular view as we sail back to the Wheel. 

See the clear sight lines leading you from the tunnel, to the hoops on the aqueduct to the Wheel itself.

(Tony Cowlin)

Exiting the tunnel on the north side.

The grey leaden sky doesn't do justice to the spectacular view that opens up from this location.

Above: The view from the turning hole to the Aqueduct, Wheel, Forth Valley, and the Ochil Hills beyond. Notice in the foreground the narrow pinch point. This allows the aqueduct beyond to be isolated and drained if needed. Unfortunately it is just wider then the barge we are travelling in, and because it isolates a very small body of water in the aqueduct, the piston effect of the boat as it enters the pinch point makes it very difficult to navigate!

Right: The boat having carefully negotiated the narrow pinch point sails out along the aqueduct to the waiting wheel caisson.

(Richard McCulloch)

As we sailed into the wheel a brief glimpse of the upper control panel for the wheel.

Also note on the left, a trap door cover in the raised position that allows access to the machinery underneath the Aqueduct end.

(Richard McCulloch)

This is a picture of the same place on the 2nd April 2003, some protection for the operator!

Interestingly enough, extra sensors were added to the wheel between 2002/2003 and this allowed BW boats to use the Wheel without an operator at the top station (as shown) or bottom station of the wheel. The boats 2 man crew and the Control Room staff operated the wheel.

Above: The panorama from the end of the Wheel out across the Valley. Will this gate really hold back all this water?

(James Gentles composite)


Left: Going Down! Looking over the side of the Caisson down to the Visitor Centre.

(2nd April 2003)

Descending the wheel. The caisson swings out over the Visitor's Centre, and affords more views of the Aqueduct from unusual angles.

(Tony Cowlin)

The descent afforded this close-up view of the "technology" associated with the upper gate.

There is a full account on the operation of the gates in the Doors and Seals page, and also an insider view of the Drive Chamber.

(Peter McCulloch)

The opposite beak rises high into the air as we complete our trip, full circle, on the wheel.

(Tony Cowlin)

The end of the journey, as the next boatload of visitors gather on the right for they're trip on the wheel all that was left for us was the short trip into the basin (Richard McCulloch composite).

We hope you enjoyed your trip on the Wheel, but it goes without saying, you really have to experience the scale of the Wheel for yourself, and see The Falkirk Wheel Experience.

Image on left by Robert Walker
15th July 2002

Story and Pictures James Gentles (unless otherwise credited)
1st July 2002.

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