Posted by: ramblinrobert | May 2, 2008

Exploring new and old in Falkirk (pictures added)

I was up early on Tuesday, sharing breakfast with a few “stragglers” from the tour who didn’t have 6 a.m. flights like the others. With great anticipation, I headed out to Falkirk to see The Wheel, one of the reasons I came to Scotland. After a stop at the hostel to store some unneeded items, I caught the underground to downtown and a train to Falkirk. It turned out I caught an express and made the journey quickly and quietly in 21 minutes. (I like the trains here!) A cab ride later and I was at the wheel. This is an impressive piece of engineering, joining the Union Canal with the Forth & Clyde Canal. With these two canals connected, now it is possible to travel by water across central Scotland. The Wheel was part of Great Britian’s Millenium Project and was the winning design for the proposed connection, replacing the now defunct locks used previously. In short, it is a giant Ferris Wheel, with two large cars or caissons to carry boats. The trick is that the caissons also carry water. As Archimedes discovered, boats displace their own weight in water, so it doesn’t matter if there are no boats or one, two or three in the caisson; the two caissons are always equally weighted and counterbalanced. Thus, it takes very little energy to actually turn the wheel. Other advantages over locks (the previous connection used 11 locks to connect the two canals and took all day to move a boat through) is that very little water is lost between the two canals and the rotation takes only about four minutes. With locks, the higher canal must have sufficient water to flood and drain the locks to raise and lower boats. With The Wheel, lower water is moved back up to the top with each half rotation. (To be accurate, there are still two locks, one above and one below The Wheel, so it would take time to move boats through them also.)

In short, I was enthralled. I skipped the boat ride that was leaving soon after I arrived, so I could take pictures. This also gave me the chance to meet Nick, a retired policeman turned boat operator. He was very helpful, walking me around the grounds showing me where to go to walk the area and see the aqueduct and tunnel the boats also go through. So, after my boat ride, I started walking.

Nick also told me how to get to remnants of Antonine Wall, a wall built by the Romans across central Scotland. Most people are familiar with Hadrian’s Wall, which runs across England. The Antonine Wall is similar, being a turf and stone wall 37 miles long between the River Clyde and the Firth of Forth. Two things amaze me about this wall. First is that it was constructed in just two years. I can’t imagine this happening today (although we’ll see how quickly the U.S. builds the proposed wall separating the U.S. and Mexico). Second is that evidence of the wall still remain, 18 centuries later. (I’ll bet anyone lunch that the wall between the U.S. and Mexico won’t be around in 18 centuries.) I walked for about a quarter mile along this remnant, thru a grassy, tree-covered linear park.

After a relaxing lunch in Falkirk’s Dollar Park I found the central Falkirk train station and bought my ticket to Edinburgh. While waiting, I met a woman waiting for her husband to come in on the train. She provided more evidence of the major migration that has taken place from eastern Europe to Scotland in the past few years. (One article I read while here said 1 million eastern Europeans have come to Great Britain since 2004.) She was from Ukraine and her husband from Lativia. Although we had difficulty communicating, I did learn that she’d been to a soccer game to see Glasgow play her home team from Ukraine, and when the locals found out she was from Ukraine they treated her to beer. She also told me that she and her husband were celebrating their second wedding anniversary the next day. She opened a box of chocolates from her mother-in-law and gave me one. After biting into it, I discovered it was filled with a liqueur. I made a mess, but her kindness (how did she know?) gave me my chocolate fix for the day.

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