Tuesday’s marvels of engineering: The Falkirk Wheel
Falkirk Wheel Source: Pixabay

The Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first and only rotating boat lift.

Since the opening in 2002, the Falkirk Wheel became undoubtedly one of the most important thing, that happened in the region. It is located near the town Falkirk in Central Scotland. The Falkirk Wheel connects Forth & Clyde Canal and Union Canal, providing a corridor of regenerative activity through central Scotland.

Falkirk Wheel
Falkirk Wheel
Source: TechFacts

The original concept of a wheel is set back to 19th century but it started to be a solution for Falkirk only in 1994. Dundee Architects, Nicoll Russel Studios presented a Ferris Wheel type design, that was used to secure a project called Millennium Link.

In the beginning of the construction, there was one serious problem, that had to be overcome. Forth & Clyde Canal lay 35 meters (115 ft) below the level of the Union Canal. The British Waterways (now Scottish Canals) came up with very visionary solution. The world’s first and only rotating boat lift – the Falkirk Wheel as we know it now. 

But how does the Falkirk Wheel really works?

Each boat enters the Roughcastle tunnel to the Union Canal. The upper gondola is lowered with water that they float in, to the basin below. At the same time, an equal weight rises up, lifted in the other gondola. 

Each gondola runs on small wheels that fit into a single curved rail fixed on the inner edge of the opening on each arm. In theory, this should be sufficient to ensure that they always remain horizontal, but any friction or sudden movement could cause the gondola to stick or tilt.

Falkirk Wheel
Source: TechFacts

To ensure that this could never happen and that the water and boats always remain perfectly level throughout the whole cycle, a series of linked cogs acts as a back up. At each end are two, in diameter 8 meter cogs, to which one end of each gondola is attached. 

The wheel is closed down for approximately three weeks each year for essential maintenance routines on major components, such as pumps and valves. During shutdown, engineers are able to thoroughly examine the wheel and inspect the structure and make any necessary improvements. It is a definitely great place to visit. 


  • The final design is claimed to have been inspired by a Celtic double headed spear, a vast turning propeller of a Clydebank built ship, the ribcage of a whale and the spine of a fish.
  • 1998 -Work started on the ambitious £84.5million Millennium Link projects to rejoin the two canals.
  • Parts were constructed and assembled, like one giant Meccano set, in Derbyshire, then dismantled and transported to Falkirk in 35 lorry loads before being bolted back together and craned into position.
  • 1,200 tonnes of steel was used to create The Wheel and over 1,000 construction staff helped to build it.
  • The structure contains over 15,000 bolts which are matched with 45,000 bolts holes. Each of these bolts was hand tightened.
  • The 600 tonne gondolas hold 500,000 litres of water, enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool.
  • The Wheel only uses 1.5kWh of energy to turn, the same amount as it would take to boil 8 household kettles.

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