Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Due to good fortune and the WUWT readership, we got the chance to not only see the Falkirk Wheel, but to take a ride on it … what a marvelous piece of Scottish engineering. No wonder the engineer on the Starship Enterprise was “Scotty” … here’s the wheel, on a lovely day of rain and sun, but mostly rain. Or what is known as “un-made whisky”, as I’m told rain is called locally:
The wheel rotates to move boats up and down, in lieu of a system of locks, to overcome the difference in height between two canals above and below. When you’ve been moved up from the bottom to the top, you are looking out along an elevated waterway that you can see below:
We didn’t go far on the canal, just through the tunnel and back. The gorgeous ex-fiancée and I take care of her father, who is 85 and legally blind. We’re always looking for things that he can do, and so we were graciously given a very short ride on a boat that is used to carry disabled people along the canals, so that they can be safely out and moving in the fresh air. It would be perfect for the old man, he loves the water but has trouble on the ocean, so we’ll see if we can find something equivalent back in the States.
The boat is one of ten that is operated by a charity called the “Seagull Trust Cruises”. I have been amazed by the amount and extent of work that is done by various charities in the UK. Many things that are done (poorly) by the government in the US are done, and done well, by the charities in the UK. For example, the Seagull Trust Cruises operates totally on public donations, and is staffed entirely by volunteers … and they’ve given free rides to over a million disabled people to date. What a wonderful gift for someone cooped up in a nursing home, or homebound for some chronic medical problem, to be able to take a canal cruise.
So I put £20 into the charity right there on the spot, and if anyone else is so inclined, their website is here, it’s a good cause. They’re set up to take people on wheelchairs, and every penny of the money goes to the actual operating expenses—no one, from the highest to the lowest, takes any money at all for their time.
The engineering on the Falkirk Wheel is so well-balanced that it only takes about the amount of energy needed to toast three slices of toast to rotate the wheel by a half turn, boats, water and all … it’s all computer controlled, and if the water levels in the two chambers are different by more than 75 mm (3″), the whole thing stops. Here’s a view from the top of the wheel, just prior to starting back down:
From there, an old sea-dog who reads WUWT took us on a tour of the “kirk”, or church, for which Falkirk is named. First, though, we stopped at the Antonine wall. It served the same purpose as the better-known Hadrians wall, regulating commerce. Unlike Hadrian’s Wall, however, it was built of turf, and has since disappeared. All that is left are the trench that was excavated to provide the turf for the wall and increase its height, and the heap of earth on the left that is where the wall once stood:
Of stalwart warriors’ spendid dreams
The aftermath …
We were then taken on a guided tour of the Falkirk church. “Falkirk” means “spotted church”, because the original church (built in 36,000BC or some such date) was built with stones of different colors. The church feed lunch every day to the homeless, and the cost of that is recovered by selling the same meals to anyone who comes in … so we started out with lunch at the church. Like the Seagull Trust, the restaurant is completely staffed by volunteers.
Inside, the church is very unusual, because it’s rounded. Unlike most churches, it felt well-worn and well-loved. The best part of the tour, though, was we went up into the belfry.
I’ve never been up in an actual belfry before, in the US churches generally have loudspeakers … the old sea-dog said bells were a gift from the Dollar family of San Francisco … “The owners of the Dollar Steamship Lines?” I asked, because that name is very familiar on the West Coast. Yes, I was told, the family came from Falkirk, and they had the bells made in the US and shipped back to the old country after they’d made their fortune.
And wonder of wonders, I was invited to play the bells! Rather than subject the entire city to a novice, I just played a few notes … I’ve never, ever played an acoustic instrument of that power, it was astonishing. The only thing I can compare it to, which some may understand, is driving a D10 Caterpillar dozer … raw unbridled strength at my fingertips.
Parts of the church are made of sandstone … and it is so old that the very stones themselves have been worn away, not by people or by traffic, but by the rain … where I grew up, that only happens to mountains. The folks of Falkirk appear to be harder than their sandstone, however, if this plaque near the church is accurate …
The old sea-dog had graciously invited us to spend the night at his home, and on the way there we stopped at the Carron Iron Works … or more accurately, a monument to the former Carron works, cheaper ironwork from the Japanese drove them out of business. There I learned that a “carronade”, which is a small cannon which I’d read about in many histories of the period, was named after the Carron works. It’s a lethal affair designed to shoot “grape-shot” at infantry, basically a shotgun on steroids.
All that’s left of the works now are a couple of cannons and carronades … the cannon in the background is one of two surviving cannons from the battle of Waterloo, the other is to the left of it just out of the picture.
We had a lovely evening with the old sea-dog and his good lady, listening to stories of life at sea as recounted by he and his wife, who had accompanied him around the world, and tales of battles in Falkirk won and lost. I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality and the insights into Scotland and life in the north.
The next day we rolled on to Edinburgh, where we are now … but that’s a story for another day, we’re off to see Mary King’s Close.
My best to all, more to come,