I seem to have a thing for sculptures at the moment. Recently I wrote about the artwork we found at Thorpe Meadows in Peterborough: 17 sculptures by the River Nene. Festival Boat might have looked a little like a rack of lamb or a bloated cow to some people. Thankfully, there’s no confusing the identity of the two figures that make up The Kelpies, an extraordinary piece of art that has been drawing crowds to Falkirk, in Scotland, since it was unveiled in 2014. They are definitely horses.
Scottish Canals commissioned artist Andy Scott to design the sculpture. Scott developed the idea of The Kelpies as ‘proud equine guardians’ of the gateway to the Forth & Clyde canal. They each weigh 300 tonnes and stand at 26.5m and 30m high. To put that into context, Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North is 20m and Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro is 38m.
Scott always visualised the Kelpies as heavy horses, the powerhouses of the industrial revolution. He was also influenced by the Clydesdale horse, Carnera, possibly the largest working horse in the world. At 19 hands, it pulled the wagons for the local drinks company, A.G. Barr in the 1930s. No wonder they needed strong horses if they were pulling crates of Irn Bru. Made in Scotland. From Girders – according to the advert. Real Clydesdale horses, Duke and Baron, were the life models for the project.
Construction began in late 2013 and it took just 90 days for 10 people to put 30,000 pieces of this giant puzzle together. The Kelpies are stunning to look at from afar and when they’re lit up in the evening, they take on a mysterious, ethereal glow; frightening the life out of unsuspecting motorists on the M9 motorway. Close-up these steel sculptures are just as impressive. Duke, the kelpie that looks down, is more than happy to oblige with a kelpie selfie (kelfie?) whereas his partner, Baron, is above all this nonsense as he tosses his head back in disdain.
Located at The Helix, The Kelpies are part of a land transformation project to regenerate Falkirk and improve waterway connections between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Part funded by lottery money, the project ties in with the incredible Falkirk Wheel, which was built to join the Falkirk & Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. Originally 11 locks had to be negotiated and these were dismantled in 1933.
We visited the Falkirk Wheel a few years ago, before The Kelpies site had been opened. Standing at a massive 35m high, it’s a rotating boat lift, designed by Tony Kettle of architects’ RMJM. The design was inspired by a double-headed Celtic spear, the propeller of a ship, the ribcage of a whale and spine of a fish.
I’d highly recommend a trip to both the Falkirk Wheel and The Kelpies, next time you’re in Scotland. Both attractions are a testament to British design and engineering and are superb places to take the family. There are visitor centres and excellent cafes at both sites and you can book tours to take a closer look at the sculptures and a ride on the wheel. Children will have loads to do, particularly at the Falkirk Wheel site, as there are pedal boats, bumper boats, waterzorbing and a splash zone. Check the website for opening times as some activities are only at weekends or in Spring/Summer.
And if you’re driving on the M9 anytime soon, make sure you keep your eyes on the road. These mythical beasts are beautiful but bewitching.
The Kelpies: The Helix, Falkirk, FK2 7ZT
The Falkirk Wheel, Lime Road, Tamfourhill, Falkirk, FK1 4RS
This article is a longer version of an article written for the Lincolnshire Free Press.