The Kelpies along the Canal

The Forth and Clyde canal is so named as it connects these two rivers but its eastern end drops into the River Carron which flows down to the Forth. Living in a town right in the middle, I’d walked and cycled to Glasgow and from there cycled to Bowling, at the western end, and I wanted to walk to the other end. There be Kelpies!

These water horses, creatures of Celtic legend, have inspired two sculptures in sheet metal and I’d seen them from afar but never visited the site itself. I suppose I felt that, with all the hype, the reality would be a disappointment. I’d felt like that about the Falkirk Wheel and yet, when I saw it, I could only agree that it was an elegant feat of engineering.

The recent ice had melted on the canal by St Valentine’s Day and I decided to continue my walk the following day. Previously I’d walked as far as Falkirk High train station so I started from there, with my dog Ben, at about ten past two in the afternoon.

Signpost at Falkirk High
Signpost to the Kelpies, outside Falkirk High train station

It was a lot more pleasant to walk along the canal towpath in daylight.

Towpath west from Falkirk High
Footpath winding down to the towpath going west from Falkirk High

The last time I did this it was pitch dark! This time I could see the old stone structure of the Union canal, as I walked west towards the Falkirk Wheel which connects the Union and the Forth and Clyde canals.

Old stone and trees on Union canal
Old stone walling and trees along the Union canal

The towpath to the tunnel and the top lock of the Falkirk Wheel was closed so I took the shortcut over a bridge and popped into the Visitors Centre. There it was strange to see the basin dry and the Wheel itself surrounded by scaffolding, awaiting its reopening in May.

Dry basin at Falkirk Wheel
Dry basin of the Falkirk Wheel marina
Scaffolding around Falkirk Wheel
Scaffolding around the Falkirk Wheel

But the café was open, with its friendly staff, and I picked up some supplies.

towpath-tillergraph-and-crisps.jpg
“Towpath Talk”, “The Tillergraph” and two bags of crisps on a hexagonal wood and plastic table

A map near the door of the Visitors Centre shows the canals and rivers around Falkirk.

Map of canals and rivers around Falkirk
Map stenciled on three panels of French windows showing the Forth and Clyde, joined by the Union at the Wheel, running northeast to the Kelpies, the Carron and the Forth

I walked across the wooden bridge to the north side of the Forth and Clyde canal.

Canalboats at Falkirk on the Forth and Clyde
Wooden bridge and canalboats along the Forth and Clyde looking east

The canalboats that are usually in the marina, or somewhere along either canal, were now tied along the bank near the entrance to the Wheel.

More canal boats at Falkirk
More canalboats on the Forth and Clyde

By this time, it was almost three o’clock and I thought we would have light enough to reach the Kelpies but I didn’t want to be walking back along the canal in the dark, again! My first idea was to take the train to Camelon, where legend sites the Camelot of King Arthur (the central lowlands of Scotland have a lot of evidence of Brythonic heritage that links to the people now in Cumbria, Cymru and Kernow, so this is not as far-fetched as it sounds) but I couldn’t get a return ticket so then I had the idea of retracing my steps from Falkirk High. But in the light! Present-day Camelon (pronounced ‘Kamelin’) is quite prosaic.

Camelon
Terraced housing around a park with swings and trees, a hut with WELCOME TO KEMLIN in the foreground

Some of the wildlife, like this magpie who fluttered away through the branches, are quite shy.

Magpie and nest
A magpie hiding near his nest among the branches

Some, like these swans, are more inquisitive.

Swan family
A family of three swans swims towards the bank with a small pretty canalboat in the background

The canal skirts the north of the town and a series of locks provide interest and pretty locations for some canalside cafes and pubs.

Lock 16 to 11 on the Forth and Clyde canal
Lockgates and an information board on a grassy verge of the canal, with trees and houses
Pleasant walking along Forth and Clyde canal
A bridge and lockgates with a mother and child walking in the distance
Pontoon on Forth and Clyde
Ben the dog runs past a pontoon near lockgates, with pubs and factories ahead

The industrial heritage is evident in the factories, such as this one for whisky, along the banks.

Old whisky factory
Three modern steel sculptures of whisky bottles with an old factory on the other side of the canal
Scottish Canals industrial heartland board
Scottish Canals information board explaining how iron, vinegar, rope and chemicals were made and transported along the canal

I also loved the whimsical graffiti of dragonfire and an umbrella-wielding hero, on an old stone lintel set in a wall.

Dragonfire and umbrella grafitti on old stone wall
Bricked up door with funny graffiti above

Further along, the canal seemed more functional than pretty.

Towpath sloping up to road
Ben waiting obediently on the path as it ascends from the canal to a busy road

Heading out of town, to avoid scrambling through a lock-keeper’s garden, we had to climb a steep flight of steps to the road and immediately descend. But the reedbeds further on were unexpected and no doubt a valuable contribution to the local ecology.

Reedbeds across the canal
Reedbeds on the other side of the canal

By now we’d been walking for two hours and I felt there was something familiar about this bridge. Had I seen it in an article about the Kelpies?

Ben waiting under the last bridge
Ben waiting under a bridge

The ducks ahead swam over to investigate us.

Ducks on the canal
A pair of Mallards and a white duck swim towards us

Which was nice but aloud I wondered, “Where are the Kelpies?” And looked around…

First sight of the Kelpies across the fields
First sight of the Kelpies across fields to the left

There, across the fields. We hurried on, with fresh energy. In minutes I was seeing them just across the canal.

Kelpies across the canal
The Kelpies closer now, just across the canal to the right and along the path

Then just at the end of the path!

Kelpies along the path
The Kelpies at the end of the path

Then, of course, I had to get close. Ben went back on the lead and we approached the western waterhorse. Which has been sculpted so expressively.

Beautiful Kelpie up close
The western Kelpie, looking down and to the right, with a beautiful expression

Before approaching the eastern Kelpie, I wanted to walk to the end of the canal. And witness the last few feet of water, pouring down the lockgate and into the River Carron.

Last lock on the Forth and Clyde canal
The Forth and Clyde canal plunges over the last lockgate
Canal ends at the Carron
Below the lockgate, the canal joins the Carron

From there, the river flows under a bridge and down to pass industrial Grangemouth on the Forth.

Canal and the Carron under a bridge
The River Carron flows under a bridge down towards Grangemouth on the Forth

But then we walked back to more legendary beauty.

Kelpie and the moon from base
The head of the eastern Kelpie rearing up towards the moon
The Kelpies up close
The two Kelpies side by side

Technology, wild nature, myth and beauty. I sat at a table in the café. And fell in love.

The Kelpies
The Kelpies at sunset with a pylon tower to their left, trees in the background and water below

[All photos ©Alan McManus 2019. Use permitted with link to this post]

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