Scottish industry: The Helix

I recently read an article in The Guardian that described The Kelpies - a sculpture of 30m-high horse heads in Falkirk - as bland, banal and obvious. My December visit to the sculpture in redeveloped area The Helix made me think the article's author had missed the point. As we approached Andy Scott's sculpture of two Clydesdale horse heads that tower above the M9, I couldn't take my eyes off them. The late-afternoon sun was shimmering upon and through the jigsaw pieces of steel, illuminating curves that captured lines from real horses. In Celtic mythology, Kelpies are water horses that oscillate between helpfulness and nastiness. One of the horses looks to be writhing, as if demonstrating their troublesome side. That they are situated in water beside the Forth and Clyde canal nods to the mythology, while their resemblance to Clydesdale horses represents the role of the horse in local industry. I thought the best view was from the motorway, but we did park and walk around the dramatic heads. Up close, as a horse lover, I saw that the expressions replicated those of horses I have known - something of a calculated intelligence. But the most striking thing about them is their size. As I stood beneath them, I was in awe - not wanting to reach out and touch, but simply look.
We continued our visit to the area at the nearby Falkirk Wheel. It was constructed to replace 11 lock gates that until 1933 connected the Forth and Clyde canal to the Union canal. The former is 115ft lower than the latter, so a boat lift was required to connect them. The result is the world's first rotating boat lift. It is shaped in graceful curves that seem to effortlessly transport 500,000 litres of water from top canal to bottom, while keeping it entirely flat. Perhaps the most remarkable fact I learned was that the wheel uses the equivalent of only 8 household kettles to turn!
The final part of our visit took us back to ancient industry - the Roman Antonine Wall. It was constructed in layers of turf, rather than stone, and has shaped the landscape. On a frosty morning, we followed the canal from Bonnybridge into woodland, ending up on the old military road beneath the wall. I'm guilty of having dismissed Falkirk as ugly and industrial (prejudice caused by never having visited) but I was utterly thrilled to discover all this history and culture in the area. It makes for a truly interesting weekend trip.
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