The Early Days of a Better Nation

Monday, July 14, 2003

Fairground Attraction

Yesterday Carol and I drove a few miles to see the
Falkirk Wheel
, one of the engineering wonders of the world. It's a rotating boat lift, and very hard to describe, and very big (35 metres across). It connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal, replacing several of the old locks, and makes it possible to travel by boat all the way across Scotland. A marvel of elegant design and brute-force solution, it uses very little power - a few hundred watts, I think - to lift one giant trough of water plus boats and at the same time lower another. The helpful and informative visitor centre (which is free) is shaped like a giant slice of melon with a glass side and contains plenty of working explanatory models. Because of Archimedes' Principle (it says here) the troughs (or 'gondolas') are perfectly balanced no matter how many or few boats are in each. The site is well laid out with gentle sloping paths so you can walk from the lower locks to the upper canal (and more locks) very easily, and watch the Wheel in operation. The upper canal passes under a railway line and the remains of the Antonine Wall through a tunnel 180 metres long, with a path along which you can walk to emerge beside a basin whose surrounding slopes are covered with giant daisies, crowsfoot, and clover.

Naturally hundreds of people were there and all the boat rides (the Wheel's main source of income, I guess) were booked, but it's a place we'll go again. Come the 2005 Worldcon in Glasgow I expect it to be over-run with fans.


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