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Falkirk 25th August

Yacht Quintet
Above Lock 16

25th August, 2005

<-Kirkintilloch 24th August Grangemouth 26th August->

Click for a larger imageThe moorings at Kirkintilloch are in deep shade first thing in the morning so today we woke to a somewhat gloomy atmosphere. This is, of course, different from the gloomy atmosphere we keep waking to when it is blowing like hell and pouring with rain. But this morning there was neither wind nor rain and once we had left the shadows of the narrow cutting where the moorings are sited, we burst out into warm, bright sunshine.

We had been told to be at the swing bridge just east of the town by about 9.15. Waterways won't open any of the bridges before then because of the disruption to traffic. We had been told that it would take fifteen to twenty minutes to get there so we were somewhat surprised when, within just five minutes, our path was barred by a closed bridge.

We sat in the sunshine and waited for today's Waterways team to arrive. A narrowboat turned up to share our locks for the day, or so we thought, and we exchanged 'Good morning's. Eventually at about 9.15 a BW truck turned up and at 9.24 the bridge swung open to allow us to continue towards the Firth of Forth, or so the log records.

Our plan today was just to go as far as the Falkirk Wheel. We both wanted to see this masterpiece of waterways engineering and we had been told that there were excellent and safe moorings there with full facilities including laundry and it's been two weeks since we last laundered and I have run out of clothes. So we would be stopping early afternoon.

At 11.20 we entered our first lock of the day. Our descent to sea level and the east coast had begun. Surprisingly, the narrowboat with which we had started our journey was nowhere to be seen. We waited a while but she didn't arrive so we began without her, and we never saw her again. We did pass a boat coming the other way, the first in two days. Perhaps migration is generally east to west in the spring and west to east like us in the autumn, and it bloody feels like autumn, I'll tell you.

At noon we were at Bonny bridge, which does have a bridge and it's quite bonny, as bridges go. It is also the first time that we have reached 56o North, almost as far north as this voyage will go. And just before 2.00 pm we turned a corner and there was the 'wheel', the famous and beautiful Falkirk Wheel, in all its glory.

Click for a larger imageIt is surprising that for all its size, the Falkirk Wheel is hidden from view until the very last moment. It seems to retreat shyly, embarrassed by its own beauty and only shows itself when it can hide no more. And it is a truly stunning bit of engineering, deserving all the superlatives which have been used for it.

As the world's first and only rotating boat lift, the Falkirk Wheel is unique. It is the proud centrepiece of the 'Millennium Link', the UK's largest canal restoration project which reconnects the Union Canal with the Forth & Clyde Canal, reestablishing the waterways link between Edinburgh and the east and west coasts and Glasgow.

The wheel links two canals with water levels 115ft apart, which originally required a flight of eleven locks. British Waterways were keen to present a more visionary solution and the perfectly balanced Falkirk Wheel was the eventual outcome.

Click for a larger imageThe revolutionary design of the Falkirk Wheel uses minimum energy to turn a huge mass of water and steel with grace and elegance. Lifting 600 tonnes of water over 35 metres in less than four minutes, the wheel is powered by ten hydraulic motors that turn the two caissons, each of which may accommodate up to four 20 metre long vessels at any one time. Despite the scale of this task, each turn of the wheel uses virtually no water and the same energy as just two boiling kettles, or so they say. Mind you, if it takes as long as boiling two kettles of water on Quintet's spirit stove, the boaters had better be patient.

And the curly bits on each end serve no purpose other artistic. Isn't that nice?

We were not taking Quintet through the wheel. We were heading for the east coast. The wheel is only used by those going to and from central Edinburgh. But there are trip boats taking visitors on to the wheel and up to the top level before a short journey on the upper arm and then turning round and reversing the process. I was going to go on one but then decided that I would have no excuse to come back and hire a boat and do the trip myself one day.

One of the trip boats is called Archimedes. We decided it was so named because the driver seemed to 'screw' it up every time he parked it. No wonder these trip boats are bedecked with huge, soft fenders and signs all round the boat screaming that passengers must not put any appendage outside the boat for fear of it being crushed.

We had planned to launder at the Falkirk Wheel. When we discovered that each wash and each dry cost 3.00 and the machines were hardly huge, we decided that our funds would be insufficient. We would save our washing until we could sponge off my mates Harry and Sheila when we got to the Firth of Forth.

We asked for the location of reasonable pubs with reasonable food and were told that they were not accessible from this side of the canal. We were advised to move further east, to just above lock 16, where there was access to a number of pubs and restaurants. So I had a quick shower in the nice, clean facilities at the wheel and then we moved the boat as directed.

The Union Hotel, right next to the canal, is a big Victorian pub full of builders. They might sell much more beer if the barman would do one job at a time. It took us twenty minutes to get a beer.

We moved to a pub called 'Lock 16, The Canal'. It was so much nicer, the service was excellent and the beer was pretty good too. They didn't do food so we asked a local about the fish and chippie on the corner. As you'd expect, it turned out that he had returned to Falkirk for the first time in twenty years just three days before so he wasn't an expert. But others said it was good so we trotted off to try it.

It was good, and pretty cheap and after wolfing it down, we went back to 'Lock 16' where we have spent the rest of the evening.

Tomorrow, we must go down to the sea again!

Les Sutcliffe

<-Kirkintilloch 24th August Grangemouth 26th August->