Walk 65: Falkirk Town Walk: A really, wheelie great walk

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 2 miles (3.22km)

Time to walk: Depends how long you want to stay at the Wheel, but this is a leisurely stroll that can easily be done in an hour, but there’s lots to see

Difficulty: Pretty much all on hard paths, apart from a short grassy section along the Antonine Wall. Flat & easy walking

Parking: We parked outside the Union Inn for free

Public toilets: The Union Inn, or at the Wheel

Map of the route:

Map

We’d seen & heard about the Falkirk Wheel on the television programme Great Canal Journeys starring Timothy West & Prunella Scales so, when we were working in the area, had to take the opportunity to have a look, especially as it was a gorgeous warm summer evening

Falkirk lies in the Central Lowlands of Scotland within the county of Stirlingshire, 23 miles north-west of Edinburgh & 20 miles north-east of Glasgow. The town lies at the junction of the Forth & Clyde Canal, & the Union Canal, a location which proved key to the growth of Falkirk as a centre of heavy industry during the Industrial Revolution. In the 18th & 19th centuries Falkirk was at the centre of the iron & steel industry. In the last 50 years heavy industry has waned & the economy of the town relies increasingly on retail & tourism

In a 2011 poll conducted by STV, it was voted as Scotland’s most beautiful town, ahead of Perth & Stirling in 2nd & 3rd place respectively

We’ll pick up more of the history of the area as we go, so…

Let’s Walk!

1. Park outside the Union Inn next to Lock 16 on the Forth & Clyde Canal…

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The Forth & Clyde Canal opened in 1790, crossing central Scotland & providing a route for the seagoing vessels of the day between the Firth of Forth & the Firth of Clyde at the narrowest part of the Scottish Lowlands. It’s 35 miles long & runs from the River Carron at Grangemouth to the River Clyde at Bowling

The view from where we parked

The view from where we parked

2. Facing the front door of the Inn, turn left & head up the tree-lined path to the main road. On reaching it turn right & walk towards the the junction

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At the junction turn right into Tamfourhill Road in the direction of the Antonine Wall & the Falkirk Wheel

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3. Look for a kissing gate in the fence on the left leading into the trees…

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We’re now walking along the historic Antonine Wall & you’ve the option of staying in the gully, or walking along the top edges – we did both!

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The Antonine Wall was a turf fortification on stone foundations, built by the Romans across what is now the Central Belt of Scotland, between the Firth of Forth & the Firth of Clyde. Representing the northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman Empire, it spanned approximately 39 miles & was about 10 feet high & 16.5 feet wide. Security was bolstered by a deep ditch on the northern side. It’s thought there was a wooden palisade on top of the turf. The barrier was the second of two “great walls” created by the Romans in Northern Britain. Its ruins are less evident than the better-known Hadrian’s Wall to the south, primarily because the turf & wood wall has largely weathered away, unlike its  stone-built southern predecessor

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Construction began in AD 142 at the order of Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius & took about 12 years to complete. Antoninus Pius never visited the British Isles, whereas his predecessor Hadrian did. Pressure from the Caledonians may have led Antoninus to send the empire’s troops further north. The Antonine Wall was protected by 16 forts with small fortlets between them & troop movement was facilitated by a road linking all the sites known as the Military Way. The soldiers who built the wall commemorated the construction & their struggles with the Caledonians in decorative slabs, twenty of which still survive. The wall was abandoned only eight years after completion & the garrisons relocated back to Hadrian’s Wall. In 208 Emperor Septimius Severus re-established legions at the wall & ordered repairs. The occupation ended a few years later & the wall was never fortified again

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Most of the wall & its associated fortifications have been destroyed over time, but some remains are still visible – the stretch we’re on now is the best preserved section of the whole lot

4. We’re only walking this part for a couple of hundred yards & soon reach Watling Lodge…

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In the garden of Watling Lodge was an Antonine Wall fortlet, but no visible traces survive. Here’s what it looked like at its height

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5. Turn right down the steep steps & through the gate at the bottom to return to Tamfourhill Road…

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…& continue along it to the left

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6. Ignore the sign towards the Wheel – be patient for a bit longer as our approach to it is amazing. Instead turn left into Maryhill Place

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This is a rather drab looking street with some flats you wouldn’t particularly want to be around at night. The area reminded us of parts of our own Corby & you could see the Scottish influence…

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7. Continue to the top of the street…

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…& at the end, turn left up the path towards the railway bridge

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8. Cross over & turn right down to the canal path, which is really pretty with the gorse in full bloom in early June on very warm day …

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We’re now walking along the Union Canal which connects to the Forth & Clyde Canal via the Wheel. It’s a lovely short stretch

The Union Canal runs from Falkirk to Edinburgh & was constructed to bring minerals, especially coal, to the capital. It was opened in 1822 & was initially successful, but the construction of railways, particularly the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway, opened in 1842, diminished its value as a transport medium. It fell into slow commercial decline & was closed to commercial traffic in 1933. It officially closed in 1965, but was fully restored & reopened in 2002, under the Millennium Link project

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The lads on the jetty above had given up on fishing & were trying to catch tadpoles in jam jars

9. Upon reaching the shed beside the locks take the right side path down the hill…

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At the basin at the bottom turn round & have a look at the locks. They’re a lot bigger & steeper than the ones near us. They also had signs saying “Danger no swimming” yet the local kids were ‘bombing’ off the side!

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10. Follow the path round the basin. Now…this is the more exciting approach to the Falkirk Wheel that we promised you! Enter Roughcastle Tunnel…

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It’s only about 200 yards long &, as you emerge, ahead’s the Falkirk Wheel. How convenient of one of the tourist boats to meet us…

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11. There’s a clear path running down the hill on the right towards the Wheel…

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The further you get along the path, the more you realise how big this thing is, so walk down to the Visitor Centre to have a closer look

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12. Enter the Visitor Centre area & turn left to watch the machine work…

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The Falkirk Wheel is the only rotating boat lift in the world & raises boats by 79 ft. It’s designed to look like a Celtic axe. The Wheel was fully constructed & assembled at the Butterley Engineering plant in Ripley, Derbyshire. The structure was then dismantled in the summer of 2001, & transported on 35 lorry loads to Falkirk, before being reassembled into five sections on the ground & lifted into place

Halfway up & down...

Halfway up & down…

The caissons, or gondolas, always carry a combined weight of 500 tonnes of water & boats, & care is taken to maintain the water levels on each side, thus balancing the weight on each arm. According to Archimedes’ principle, floating objects displace their own weight in water, so when the boat enters, the amount of water leaving the caisson weighs exactly the same as the boat

It takes about 9 minutes to rotate &, as there are frequent boat trips, you’ll see it operate whilst you’re there. We found a fantastic time-lapse video of it in action…

13. You could sit & watch all day & even take a trip, but the one we saw was the last of the day so we will return. For now though head right round the corner & cross the bridge to the towpath…

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…where it’s now a case of turning right & following the canal all the way back to Lock 16

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There’s the Union Inn on the other side so walk up to the bridge to return to where we parked & the start of this walk…

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Before crossing the bridge, if you’re hungry then we can recommend a bag of chips from the Union Chippy on the corner – really good & they also do a selection of fine local cuisine (which we didn’t try…)

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So…the end of a superb little 2 mile walk with so much to see in such a short space. It’s easily a walk that could be combined with another part of the town known as The Helix which is a regenerated area containing The Kelpies. We saw them from the road & they’re truly impressive

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A great way to easily spend half a day so…

Go Walk!