Heritage Locations

Falkirk Wheel

The world's only rotating boat lift


Period of construction:
1950 - 2000

Transport Trust plaque:

Transport Mode:

Lime Road, Falkirk, FK1 4RS


Nearest Town:

Heritage Centre:

The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal in central Scotland. The difference in the levels of the two canals at the wheel is 24 metres (79 ft), roughly equivalent to the height of an eight storey building. The structure is located near the Rough Castle Fort and the closest village is Tamfourhill. On 24 May 2002, Queen Elizabeth II opened the Falkirk Wheel as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Architectural services were supplied by Scotland-based RMJM, from initial designs by Nicoll Russell Studios and engineers Binnie Black and Veatch. Bachy/Soletanche and Morrison Construction Joint Venture won the contract to design the wheel and receiving basin, a new section of canal, a tunnel beneath the Antonine wall and a section of aqueduct. In turn the Joint Venture appointed Butterley Engineering to design and construct the wheel. Butterley undertook all construction work for the wheel and set up its own team to carry out the design work. This team comprised Tony Gee and Partners, to undertake the structural design responsibilities and M G Bennett & Associates to design the mechanical and electrical equipment for the wheel.

The wheel, which has an overall diameter of 35 metres (110 ft), consists of two opposing arms which extend 15 metres beyond the central axle, and which take the shape of a Celtic-inspired, double-headed axe. Two sets of these axe-shaped arms are attached about 25 metres (82 ft) apart to a 3.5 metres (11 ft) diameter axle. Two diametrically opposed water-filled caissons, each with a capacity of 80,000 imperial gallons (360,000 l/96,000 US gal), are fitted between the ends of the arms.

These caissons always weigh the same whether or not they are carrying their combined capacity of 600 tonnes (590 LT/660 ST) of floating canal barges as, according to Archimedes' principle, floating objects displace their own weight in water, so when the boat enters, the amount of water leaving the caisson weighs exactly the same as the boat. This keeps the wheel balanced and so, despite its enormous mass, it rotates through 180° in five and a half minutes while using very little power. It takes just 22.5 kilowatts (30.2 hp) to power the electric motors, which consume just 1.5 kilowatt-hours (5.4 MJ) of energy in four minutes, roughly the same as boiling eight kettles of water.

The wheel is the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world, and is regarded as an engineering landmark for Scotland. The United Kingdom has one other boat lift: the Anderton boat lift in Cheshire. The Falkirk Wheel is an improvement on the Anderton boat lift and makes use of the same original principle: two balanced tanks, one going up and the other going down, however, the rotational mechanism is entirely unique to the Falkirk Wheel.

The wheel was constructed by Butterley Engineering at Ripley in Derbyshire under Millennium Plans to reconnect the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal, mainly for recreational use. The two canals were previously connected by a series of 11 locks, but by the 1930s these had fallen into disuse, were filled in and the land built upon. (See also entry for the Anderton Boat Lift)


Atterbury, Paul. English Rivers and Canals. W W Norton, ISBN. 0 297 78318 1 (1984)

Fisher, S., The Canals of Britain: A Complete Guide, Adlard Coles Nautical, ISBN-10: 1408105179 (2009)

Hutton, Guthrie, Scotland's Millennium Canals: The Survival and Revival of the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals, Stenlake Publishing, ISBN-10: 184033181X (2002)

Ransom, P. J. G., Scotland's Inland Waterways: Canals, Rivers and Lochs, NMSE Publishing, ISBN-10: 1901663221 (1999)

RMJM, The Falkirk Wheel: Art and Engineering, RMJM Ltd, ISBN-10: 0952973812 (2002)

Uhlemann, Hans-Joachim Canal Lifts and Inclines of the World. Internat, ISBN 0954318110 (2002)

Tew, David, Canal Inclines and Lifts, Sutton Publishing, ISBN-10: 0862990319 (1984)

Opening Times:
Normally open during daytime hours - visit website 

How To Find:
By road: Leave M876 at J1 - off Bonnyhill Road


Weather Feed currently unavailable.