If you love innnovative engineering projects and Roman military history, then a visit to the Falkirk Wheel and Antonine Wall in Scotland are must-sees.

The Falkirk Wheel

So, what exactly is the Falkirk Wheel, and why is it so special? Well, for starters, it’s the world’s only rotating boat lift.

The Falkirk Wheel

But why would you need to lift a boat, you may ask? Well, the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals are on different elevations, so something needed to connect the two. Back in the 19th Century, the two canals were connected by a series of 11 locks. Going through these locks took a full day to travel through! The locks were dismantled in 1933 after falling into disuse.

Construction on the Falkirk Wheel started in 1998 after years of planning and design. It cost upwards of £84.5 million and took 35 trucks to bring the pieces over from Derbyshire, where it was built. The wheel weighs approximately 1800 tonnes, 1200 of that coming from the steel components. And as if that’s not impressive enough, each gondola can transfer up to 250 tonnes of boats and water!

Falkirk Wheel, Scotland

The wheel opened in 2002, with Queen Elizabeth II in attendance. Over 1000 construction workers assembled the wheel, hand-tightening more than 15,000 bolts to hold the parts together! The wheel is also environmental, as it only requires 1.5kWh of energy per half turn.

So how is the wheel so energy-efficient? Well, the wheel is an example of the Archimedes Principle of displacement. This means that as a boat enters the gondola, it displaces exactly its own weight in water. The weight in each of the gondolas remains the same, no matter how many boats are being lifted or lowered. This keeps the wheel balanced, and therefore requires very little power.

The Falkirk Wheel was part of the Millennium Link project – where coast-to-coast navigation of the Scottish canals was re-established for the first time in over 40 years.

Falkirk Wheel, Scotland

The wheel works by raising boats up 79 feet from the Forth and Clyde Canal to reach the Union Canal. But the Union Canal is still 36 feet higher than the aqueduct that leads to the wheel. So boats have to pass through two locks to enter the Union Canal.

The Falkirk Wheel, Scotland

You have a couple of tour options if you want to experience the boat lift for yourself. There’s a 35 minute Revolution tour, or you can take the Original tour. The Original tour takes you round trip and lasts a full hour.

boat on the Falkirk Wheel

We ended up not taking the tour as tickets were sold out up to a certain time, and this was just a mid-afternoon stopover on our journey to Edinburgh. But if you have the opportunity I would highly recommend taking the ride, it looked really neat!

boat on the Falkirk wheel

The site offers several other attractions to keep you busy, including a children’s activity zone, water park, water activity zone, bicycle rentals, canoeing, water zorbing, Canoeing, and more!

While the Falkirk Wheel is an amazing feat of engineering, a much older engineering project nearby appealed to us more – the Antonine Wall.

The Antonine Wall

The Antonine Wall is just a short walk from the Falkirk Wheel, yet it’s not even a fraction as busy. In fact, it seemed as though no one even knew that it’s here. This suited us just fine, since the crowds at the Falkirk Wheel were a bit tiring.

Antonine Wall sign, Scotland

The Romans built the Antonine Wall from 142 AD to 154 AD. Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered the project to mark the northernmost span of the Roman Empire. By its completion, the wall extended 63 kilometers between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. The site has handy interpretive signs such as this one:

Antonine Wall interpretive plaque

Rough Castle was one of 16 known forts along the Antonine wall, and is the best-preserved. Here you can see ditches, an annex, defences, and the tallest surviving portion of the wall rampart. The ditch is the most prominent feature today.

defensive ditches
Defensive ditches

The Romans built the 3-4 meter wall from dirt and turf on a stone base. The Military Way road connected all of the forts behind the rampart.

Antonine Wall

It may not look that impressive now, but this wall was quite the engineering marvel at the time of construction! The wall may have also had a wood-framed defensive structure on top called a breastwork. But there are little to no traces of such a structure today.

Antonine Wall ramparts

However, there is one feature remaining that stands out very clearly.

See these honeycomb-style holes in the ground? These are the remains of defensive lilia pits.

defensive lilia pits

The Roman armies dug these lilia (“lily” in English) pits to thwart enemy attacks. These pits often had sharpened stakes inside them, just for that added bit of defence. The Romans then hid the pits among brushwood.

defensive lilia pits close up

Originally there were probably 10 rows with 20 pits each. The pits lie just north of the Rough Castle.

lilia pits

Archaeological excavations in 1902-1903, 1932 and 1957-1961 helped to outline the original fort and defences. The fort once contained a headquarters building, commanding officers house, barracks, bath house and a granary. These stone buildings collapsed soon after the Romans abandoned the site around 162 AD, but their foundations remained.

The Antonine Wall is self-guided, which is great for those who like to take their time. There are no restrictive barriers anywhere either, allowing you to roam freely across the grassy site.

Getting There:

The Falkirk Wheel and Antonine Wall are approximately 37 kilometers from both Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Getting to the Falkirk Wheel:

By Car: 

  • From Edinburgh – take the M9 west for Stirling. Exit at Junction 8 of the motorway, and follow the brown and white tourist signage for The Falkirk Wheel.
  • From Glasgow – from the M80, then M876 and exit M876 at Junction 1. Follow signs for Falkirk and then the brown and white tourist signage for The Falkirk Wheel.
  • From the North – Follow the M9 south and take junction 9 (Stirling Services). At the large roundabout, take the fourth exit for The Falkirk Wheel and Denny (A872). Follow the brown and white tourist signs.

By public transportation:

There are regular services from Glasgow, Edinburgh Perth and Stirling to Falkirk stations. Visit www.scotrail.com for timetables and tickets.

The Falkirk Wheel is a short taxi ride from Falkirk Grahamston, Camelon or Falkirk High Station. Visit www.traintaxi.co.uk for details of taxis available for hire at these locations.

The number 6 bus runs between The Falkirk Wheel and Falkirk town centre. For more information and timetables please visit www.firstscotlandeast.com

Getting to the Antonine Wall:

To get to the Antonine Wall and Rough Castle, you can remain parked at the Falkirk Wheel and follow the signposted path up from the visitor centre. It’s about a 15-minute walk.

You can also follow the signs for Rough Castle from Bonnybridge off the B816 if you want to drive there directly. The wall is free to visit and open all year round.

2 Replies to “The Falkirk Wheel and Antonine Wall, Scotland”

  1. Thanks! It’s strange how the Antonine Wall seems to have so few people visiting it. On the other hand, it helps to preserve the site, so it’s a mixed blessing!

  2. I loved this – so unique and informative – a really cool place to visit!

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