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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Falkirk wheel

There are numerous river canals in Great Britain that form an intricate and extensive network. These structures have a long tradition in this country. It is thought that they started out as simple irrigation systems and, in the 18th and 19th centuries, during the Industrial Revolution, turned into means of transportation of merchandise. In some areas, however, some natural barriers had to be overtaken. For that, major engeneering work, such as tunnels and floodgates and, lately, some more ingenious solutions, had to be done.

For a period of time in the last century, the canal network fell out of use and deteriorated. However, recently, interest in these infrastructures has arisen and many canals, that had been closed for some time, were re-opened, mostly for touristic purposes. In Scotland, near the town of Falkirk, an old connection between two unlevelled canals, the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal, was re-built using a crafty mechanism: a rotating boat lift, similar to a merry-go-round, called the Falkirk Wheel.

The enterprise is massive. A huge wheel (with a diameter of 35 metres) spins around an axle, transporting two gondolas full of water where the boats that we want to transport from one level the other are placed. A system of floodgates isolates the water inside the gondolas (that have a 360 000-litre capacity) during transportation. The difference in levels between the two canals is of 24 metres, the equivalent to an eigh-storey building.

This is an elegant work of engineering. The infrastructures stand out from the landscape without being overwhelming and without trying to disguise its mechanical systems. It's hard not to picture some of the earlier steam engines from the Industrial Revolution while your watching the Falkirk wheel move.

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