Throughout 2020, we have been celebrating the Year of Scotland’s Coasts and Waters (with articles on Urquhart Castle and Newhaven). This week’s virtual exploration is a perfect way to continue the celebration. Living up to their name, The Kelpie sculptures, rise out of the water as if by magic at a height of 30m (100ft) and appear to glisten in the sunlight. In this article, we will take a closer look at these amazing sculptures- their history, the artist who designed them, and tips on how to visit.
The Kelpies are located in Falkirk about a 30-minute drive from Edinburgh. They make their home within The Helix- an ecopark that opened in 2013. However, before we get into the logistics of visiting the Kelpies, let’s explore their origin story.
The Importance of Water & Myth
Water has played an important part in Scotland’s past and continues to do so in the present. Next to the Kelpies is a canal extension that links the Forth and Clyde Canal to the sea. It is part of Scottish Canals- the organisation that commissioned the artist, Andy Scott, to create the Kelpies. The canal system throughout Scotland is extensive and historically important (we will do a standalone post on this soon).
Scottish Canals wanted to recognise the important role of water in Scottish history while also taking the concept of the kelpie and bringing it to life. So, at this point, many of you might be asking- what exactly is a kelpie? Kelpies are shape-shifting mythical beings that lived in the lochs and rivers of Scotland. They could take on the shape of a horse when in the water but were also able to take on human form when on land. Horses- mythical and real- have played an important part in the history of Scotland. So how did myth become reality with our Kelpie sculptures? We look to their creator to learn more about their story.
Andy Scott: The Artist Behind the Kelpies
As stated above, Scottish Canals commissioned Andy Scott- a native of Glasgow- to bring the myth of the kelpie to life. However, when he started his work on them, his methods were rooted in studying a different Scottish equine icon.
On the VisitScotland website, Scott states, “I always research the social history of the area, the industries, the people, the past, and the future”. Further information can be found on his website, which points out that he was “inspired by the cultural heritage of the Clydesdale horses, draught horses, which worked hard to help people along the canals and on the land.” Therefore, when Scott got to work on creating the maquettes (preliminary models) of the Kelpies, he had two Clydesdale horses brought to his studio to model.
The City of Glasgow provided Scott with two horses who worked in their parks pulling drays- Baron and Duke. The two giant gentlemen were already popular locals in Glasgow and proved to be the perfect models for Scott as they happily posed for him (reminds me of our ‘gentle giant’- Sawyer- our Golden Retriever tour guide😉).
It took quite an effort to go from the maquettes to creating the full-size Kelpies. According to Scottish Canals, they had to put down over 1200 tonnes of concrete foundations that were “sunk down almost 40 metres on to bedrock to hold them firm”. They then had to create massive steel frames to which they adhered 990 stainless steel panels to create the ‘skin’ of the Kelpies. Each Kelpie is made up of more than 18,000 individual components and weighs around 300 tonnes! The Kelpies opened to the public on 21st April 2014.
If you come to Scotland, we highly recommend that you take the time to visit the Kelpies in person as they are simply stunning. In fact, they are the largest equine sculptures in the world. Appropriately, their enormous steel heads are coming out of the water with one head posing down (this is Duke and he shares name of the Clydesdale he was modelled after), and the other head rearing up quite regally (this is Baron- the name of the Clydesdale he was modelled after). Looking at Scott’s vision come to life, we are left with two incredible works of public art that embody Scottish mythology and cultural heritage.
It is important to point out that the Kelpies are not Andy Scott’s only works of art. He has done other sculptures throughout Scotland and his art can also be found in private collections around the world. For example, in Edinburgh, you can see his sculpture, Lulla-Bye, in Princes Street Gardens. For more examples of his fantastic works of art, please head over to his website.
Visiting the Kelpies
As I said previously, the Kelpies are located within The Helix Park in Falkirk. The Helix is an excellent place for locals and visitors as there is much to do. According to their website, the Helix “connects 16 local communities throughout extensive path networks stretching over 27km.” The pathways provide a great place for cyclists, joggers, or for those seeking a relaxing walk. Within the Helix Park (which is dog-friendly) are cafés, an Adventure Zone play park for kids, and a Visitor Centre. Speaking from experience, the Visitor Centre Café is a great place to take a break from exploring to get a delicious lunch or a wee treat. They highlight that their “ingredients are sourced where possible from Scotland and food is handmade by our team of Cooks”.
As of the date of this article, the Helix is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, once travel resumes, please be sure to check out their website for important trip planning information.
As we have been saying on our social media channels, Scotland will wait for you. The same goes for us. When you are able to visit the Edinburgh area, be sure to book a walking tour with us. Sami and Sawyer would love to meet you and show you around our magnificent capital city.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!