19th Century, 21st Century, boat, boatman, canal boating, canals, Edinburgh, engineer, Falkirk, ferris wheel, Glasgow, gondola, Grangemouth, leisure, locks, log flume ride, pictures, railways, slide show, solution, water, World
In my travels around the interweb I occasionally stumble across something that truly appeals to my sense of design style, architecture and fun. Things that appeal to me, as I am sure to others as well, involve an intermingling of lines and grace with usefulness and then, of course, there has to be a dose of fun infused. Life is just too short not to have a little playfulness in all the aspects of our existence. The engineer(s) that designed this little treat have just the right stuff.
Their design is an innovative solution to a canal problem in Scotland. Now these canals date from the late 1700’s. They were originally constructed as a means of commerce and transportation and I suppose were state of the art for 1790. The problem stems from the elevation differences. There is an 80 foot vertical rise between the canals. Not that there is an 80 feet tall obstruction between them to be tunneled through. One is simply located on ground that is 80 feet higher than the other. And they needed to be connected.
I immediately thought of the log flume ride at our local waterpark, which would be a wonderfully fun solution as far as transportation goes – at least one way – and a great diversion as well. One could stand alongside the banks of the canal and watch the expressions of those lucky few who were being transported along the canal. I imagine you would see a great many fun and interesting expressions. Probably you could hear a few choice words as well. Not so great for the commerce part though as I suppose the 80 foot free fall might cause a little “shifting during transport”. Like those little warning labels they put on the overhead compartments on commercial airlines. Also not so great if you were wanting to travel in the other direction. I guess there is probably a reason that I wasn’t the Design Engineer.
The 18th century solution to this conundrum was series of eleven locks to compensate for the elevation difference. Now that’s not the only set of locks along these canals. The first portion of the canal is 35 miles long stretching from Glasgow to Grangemouth. There are numerous locks along this passage. The second portion runs 30 miles with no locks at all starting in Edinburgh and then the two canals are linked at Falkirk, originally by the series of 11 locks that scaled the 80 foot elevation difference. This is 1790’s state of the art engineering at its finest!
Of course, the canals fell out of use over the years, due in part to the rail system and the motorways, and eventually closed in the 1960’s. Portions of the canals were filled in to make way for housing and commercial developments. Fickle is the ways of man.
Fast-forward to the late 1990’s, when a resurgence in interest in the canals began. Traveling the canals
started to become a popular and pleasurable leisure pursuit. Developers began to realize the potential the canals had as far as making an area more desirable. So those portions that had been obliterated in the 1960’s for other development were re-dug. The problem still remained of the 80 feet difference in elevation, though. Those 11 locks that were an acceptable solution in the early 1800’s were no longer an attractive alternative for the 21st century boatman. The resulting solution is truly as much Art as Architecture.
This innovation, called the Falkirk Wheel only takes the space of one lock. It reminds me of an enormous two-car “ferris wheel”. Essentially, it is two gondolas that fill with canal water and are mounted at opposite ends of the “wheel”. The boat enters the “gondola” and the wheel turns bringing the lower gondola with boat in it up and the upper gondola down. Because water finds its own level the boats ride smooth and stay upright – This Engineer must have been a real amusement park fan!!
Armchair visitors can travel by clicking here. Or you can watch the slideshow below.