Across Scotland, from the Firth of Clyde to the North Sea

Jul 6, 2017 | Hot Topics

Hi, all — welcome back! So much to catch up on: Autodesk has a new leader, Hexagon may or may not be for sale (but you know, deep down, that all companies are for sale, always, so last month’s news reports aren’t really surprising) and more. But that’s work and it’s summer so I’m going to start back in with a vacation picture. This

is the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland. It’s a truly cool engineering feat: it lifts and lowers boats between the Forth & Clyde (below) and Union Canals (above), replacing a series of 11 locks to cover 80 feet of vertical distance between the two canals. Boats float into a basin at the top or bottom. They displace their weight in the basin, so both basins always weight the same amount; a tiny push and the wheel slowly turns to move the top basin to the bottom and the bottom to the top — and, presto, you’re in the other canal.

Why is this cool? So many reasons. Because it uses next to no energy (Wheel staff told us it uses the equivalent of boiling a couple of electric teakettles full of water). Because it’s a great way to teach physics to the millions of tourists who come to check out the Wheel. Because it was an important element of reinvigorating Scotland’s canal system, which had fallen into disuse and disrepair due to the emergence of, first, rail and then, automotive transport of cargo. Because it created jobs, commerce and growth in a part of Scotland that was a bit stagnant. And because I got to twirl from the bottom (Forth & Clyde) to the top (Union), cruise around a bit on the Union Canal and then go back down. Here’s a video of the Wheel in action:

Why was I in Falkirk? My husband and I spent a couple of weeks walking across Scotland, from to the west of Glasgow to the East of Edinburgh and Falkirk is more or less in the middle. We meandered along the Forth & Clyde canal, saw where James Watt invented the condensing steam engine (while the guidebook directed us to nearby Renaissance tapestries — oops), and walked along the shore at the Firth of Forth to see the most stylish bridge, EVER:

We covered something like 140 miles from end to end, along canals, high streets, fields and beaches. We started in the little town of Helensburgh on the Firth of Clyde near Glasgow and ended on the North Sea, in Dunbar, where I took the title picture. Along the way, we saw the remains of the Roman Antonine Wall, ruined castles, massive manor houses, and went by more golf courses then we could count. We hung out with pub-goers who were waiting for Britain’s new air craft carrier Queen Elizabeth to be set sail from the shipyard in Rosyth –we didn’t see her go by, though we looked often– and other interesting people all along the way. We wandered along the trail with dog walkers (how do they do it? Such well-behaved dogs) and other locals, but met very few other long-distance walkers.

It was awesome. Discovering a place at walking speed lets you take it all in, talk to people and get their recommendations for where to eat and what to see, which is often far more useful than a guidebook — and infinitely better than screaming by at 65 mph and missing it all.

But now it’s back to work. Look for more PLMish content starting next week.