Standing majestically at the base of the Union Canal – the Falkirk Wheel – is one of Britain’s finest modern day inventions.
For pint-sized Ruaridh (6) and Flora (4) it was “a giant spanner, which goes upside down’’! Sounds fun, doesn’t it? And it is, especially when you are 35ft in the air and ready to sail gently onto the calm waters of the Union Canal in Scotland.
Built using a multitude of grants, the world’s only rotating boat lift is the equivalent of eight double buses piled on top of each other.
The hour long trip begins in the bottom cassion of The Wheel and you are gracefully rotated upwards, giving a chance to survey the beautiful surrounding countryside, only blighted by the now infamous Grangemouth Refinery.
Then you gently sail along the Union Canal, through the 180 metre Roughcastle Tunnel, under the historic Antonine Wall and back down again. And what a pleasant and fascinating trip it is. Infact it inspired Ruaridh so much, that he was even more happy when he got off and discovered an Invention Bus which had parked up for the day by the visitors centre, which meant he and Flora also had the chance to discover lots of other unusual inventions.
Scotland, like Lancashire has an abundance of canals and the introduction of the Falkirk Wheel in 2000 has allowed the water network to grow and it was lovely to see lots of colourful barges utilising the wheel and the canals.
As well as having a visitor centre, the wheel also has a splash and play park for the children to enjoy, while the adults watch the wheel go up and down. And there are lots of outdoor activities on site to.
Specialist Eddie McGhee runs Outdoor Trax and his firm encourages young and old to take advantage of the canals and surrounding bike and walking trails using bikes and canoes which he hires out to visitors. One fun activity is the water waltzer or better described as a giant plastic ball into which young Ruaridh was carefully plonked and then spent 10 minutes happily impersonating a hamster eager to run around its wheel! The waltzers are on the water by the Falkirk Wheel and Ruaridh thought it was brilliant fun, Flora stood on the sidelines and loved to hear Ruaridh’s voice echo with excited shouts!
The wheel is based just outside Falkirk and was a few minutes drive from our base at The Macdonald Inchrya Hotel and Spa, which lies just on the outskirts of Grangemouth.
The hotel is housed in an old manor set in extensive grounds and recently underwent a multi-million refurbishment. The family room we stayed in was the size of a house and boasted its own sitting room and to the children’s delight, two televisions! All the rooms have been carefully redesigned in tasteful colours and have all the mod cons to make sure you have a good night’s stay. The Vital Health and Wellbeing Spa is top of the range, with a 20 metre swimming pool, with no restrictions on time for the children, heated loungers and a wonderful steam and sauna with ice or rainforest temperatures to spark the old body back into life and a shot in the technogym.
The staff in the hotel are exceptionally friendly and helpful and the restaurant served up a sumptuous breakfast cooked from order, with the Stornonway black pudding a big favourite for Ruaridh. Lunch and dinners are concentrated on The Scottish Steak Club where top quality and aged steaks are served with perfection for the palate and come with nicely cooked side dishes. Starters included freshly caught mussels, venison or good old fashioned haggis, neeps and tatties and the puddings were to die for, from classic knickerbocker glory to hot fudge sundae, all washed down with fine wines and soft drinks.
Not far from the hotel, Scottish Canals has been working hard to promote the waterways and the latest addition is The Helix. Utilising spare land between Falkirk and Grangemouth, work has begun to provide a top quality recreational area, with the main attraction being two giant silver horse heads known as The Kelpies, these can be seen all around and will no doubt bring the visitors in.
From new to old and a short distance at Airth is a wonderful building called The Pineapple. Built in 1761 as a garden retreat, you are treated to a grand house with a stone pineapple adorning the top. Its set in a lovely walled garden and there is a pond which is an oasis for greater crested newts. It really is a bizzare, but fascinating building, which is now cared for by the National Trust for Scotland.
From ancient monuments to modern day inventions, this part of Scotland is packed with gems to visit!
Accommodation: The Macdonald Inchyra Hotel and Spa, Falkirk is an ideal base to tour the surrounding countryside and canal network.
Log on to www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk for special offers and more information on the hotel.
Activities: The Falkirk Wheel is a fantastic invention. Log onto www.scottishcanals.co.uk for information on the wheel and The Helix park.
Outdoor Trax run by Eddie McGhee offers outdoor activities utlising the Scottish lowland canals. Log onto www.outdoortrax.co.uk