About The Wheel
Have you used the canal in the past month?

Design and engineering

The original concept of a wheel to act as a boat lift actually dates back to 19th Century Europe, but it was first seriously considered as a solution for Falkirk in 1994. Dundee Architects, Nicoll Russell Studios presented a Ferris Wheel type design that was used to secure Millennium Commission Funding for the Project.

This outline design was then reappraised to create a functional lift that could raise and lower boats swiftly whilst celebrating the reconnection of the two historic canals with a structure worthy of a new millennium.

Ideas and concepts were numerous, and varied from rolling eggs to tilting tanks, giant see-saw to overhead monorails and included some complex counterbalanced structures. The final outcome was The Falkirk Wheel, which successfully combines both function and design, creating a stunning piece of working sculpture.

The unique shape of the structure is claimed to have been inspired by various sources, both manmade and natural, such as a Celtic double headed spear, a vast turning propeller of a Clydebank built ship, the ribcage of a whale or the spine of a fish. The canal network as a 'backbone' connecting Scotland, east to west seems appropriate and there is a true beauty in the repetitive sweeping shape of the aqueduct. The arches over the aqueduct also add to the drama of the structure, forming a complete circle with the reflection in the canal to extend the feeling of the tunnel. The fact the canal literally ends in mid air creates a thrilling sense of sailing off the edge in to the spectacular scenery of the horizon.


The various parts of The Falkirk Wheel were actually constructed and assembled, like one giant Meccano set, at Butterley Engineering's Steelworks in Derbyshire. A team there carefully assembled the 1,200 tonnes of steel, painstakingly fitting the pieces together to an accuracy of just 10 mm to ensure a perfect final fit.

In the summer of 2001, the structure was then dismantled and transported on 35 lorry loads to Falkirk, before all being bolted back together again on the ground, and finally lifted by crane in five large sections into position. The total 600 tonne weight of the water and boat filled gondolas imposes immense and constantly changing stresses on the structure as it turns around the central spine. Normal welded joints of steel would be susceptible to fatigue induced by these stresses, so to make the structure more robust, the steel sections were bolted together. Over 15,000 bolts were matched with 45,000 bolt holes, and each bolt was hand tightened.

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