Richard's Retirement Blog

Falkirk Wheel

13th March 2011

Click on any photo for a larger version


Having moved on from Galloway to Glasgow to visit family, the weather turned even worse: it snowed. So for a couple of days we didn't go far; but today, we were able to make an expedition.

The Falkirk Wheel, built 1999-2003 as a Millenium Project, is a vital part of the project to restore the east-west canal route across Scotland, lost when the eleven former locks at the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde Canals were closed in 1933. I shan't recapitulate the history in detail: it's here.

Like the original Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire it relies on the two gondolas remaining in weight balance at all times, which they will if the water level is kept constant since, says Archimedes Principle, a floating body will displace its own weight of water. One gondola can then be raised and another lowered with very little power. However, the Anderton Lift, a canal-era design, is a pair of vertically-rising gondolas connected hydraulically, not a wheel.

The Forth and Clyde Canal (at the bottom)

Looking towards Glasgow


The Union Canal (at the top)

The canal approaches the upper pool by a staircase of three locks, then reaches the upper pool via an aqueduct (above). There are some fine views from up there (below), though it doesn't help to photograph them through the boat windows on a rather desultry day. (I would like some nice, sunny weather. Wouldn't you? Pretty-please, somebody?)

The Wheel

Seen from the towpath of the lower canal ...

... and from closer to. Note the aqueduct.

The next six photos show the wheel turning anticlockwise, the empty gondola descending to the left and the laden one rising to the right.

These show close-ups of the bottom of the gondola: there is a gearing mechanism using two equal-sized sun gears and an idling planet gear to ensure that as the wheel turns, the gondolas remain upright (a desirable design feature, no doubt), running on bogeys in a circular carrier.

Other features of the design:

Part of the dry dock into which the descending gondola drops, thus avoiding using power to overcome the drag as the gondola drops into water.

The top of the water gates can be seen, which separate the basin from the gondola before the wheel can be turned.

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