Take a look around the Kelpies, the world’s largest equine sculptures that pay tribute to both Scottish mythology and Scotland’s industrial heritage
This feature refers to a visit made before the travel restrictions put in place to deal with the 2020 Covid-19 outbreak in the UK and around the world. Please take into account the advice from your local government and the government of your destination before planning travel and click here to see the current UK government advice regarding Covid-19
There are so many wonderful places to see in Scotland, and I’m slowly ticking off my long list each time I visit.
The Kelpies were high up on my list of must-see places to visit in Scotland. And I was very excited to finally pay a visit these breathtaking sculptures last November.
You’ll find the Kelpies just outside the town of Falkirk in Scotland. They are the largest equine sculptures in the world, a pair of 30 metre tall horses heads designed by Scottish sculptor Andy Scott. He has created a number of large steel sculptures around Scotland, but these are the largest.
They are a tribute to both Scottish mythology and the real-life horses who powered Scotland’s industrial heritage.
Read on to discover the myth that inspired the sculptures and to take a look at these amazing works of art.
How to get to the Kelpies
You’ll find the Kelpies at the Helix park, which is just a couple of miles outside of Falkirk. It’s 27 miles from Glasgow on the M80, and if you’re travelling from Edinburgh, it’s around 25 miles away on the M9.
There’s plenty of car parking available at the Helix, and parking charges are very reasonable. If you’re happy to park at the smaller Helix car park and walk down to the Kelpies, parking is free.
If you’re travelling on public transport, there are two train stations a couple of miles away in Falkirk. From there, a number of bus routes will take you to the pink bus stop at the side entrance of the Helix Park – click here for timetables.
The Myth of the Kelpies
The mythological Kelpies are shape-shifting beasts who haunt rivers and streams, and possess the strength and endurance of ten horses.
When they appear as a tame pony by the water’s edge, they are particularly attractive to children. But when you touch a Kelpie, you become stuck to it and then it can drag you off to its watery lair.
They might appear as a beautiful woman to lure a young man, or a hairy stranger ready to jump out at unsuspecting passers by. They also possess ability to summon a devastating flood.
“…When thowes dissolve the snawy hoordRobert Burns, ‘Address to the Deil’
An’ float the jinglin’ icy boord
Then, water-kelpies haunt the foord
By your direction
And ‘nighted trav’llers are allur’d
To their destruction…”
But if you manage to grab hold of the Kelpie’s bridle, it will become your captive. You will then control its mighty strength and endurance.
The Modern Day Kelpies
The Kelpies was chosen as the name of the sculptures at the start of the Helix Park project. They were inspired by a poem by Jim Carruth, and lines from the poem can be seen around the Kelpie Hub.
The concept of the statues represents the heavy horses who played such an important part in Scottish industry, as they pulled wagons, ploughs and barges in the Falkirk area.
The models for the Kelpies are two real-life heavy horses, Duke and Baron. Duke is the horse on the left, and Baron is the horse with his head looking up towards the sky.
Two sets of 1:10 maquettes were initially created, and then in June 2013 the process of building the Kelpies began.
The statues are constructed from structural steel, with a stainless steel cladding that gleams in the sunlight. This gives them an appearance that is as solid the real-life Duke and Baron, but as fluid as the mythical Kelpies.
Each of these giant horse’s heads weighs 300 tonnes, and they stand 30 metres tall above a specially constructed canal lock and basin in the Helix park.
Visiting the Kelpies, Falkirk
The Helix project was conceived in 2003, with the intention to turn disused industrial land into a 350 hectare eco-park.
The Helix opened to the public in September 2013 and construction of the Kelpies statues was completed the following month. Over a million people visited the park in the first year after it opened to the public.
Mark and I visited the Kelpies on our visit to Scotland for St Andrews Day in November 2019, on a crisp winter’s morning without a cloud in sight.
We paid to park at the Kelpies car park and walked the short distance down to the statues. You don’t get a real sense of the scale of the Kelpies until you are up close to them.
They truly are breathtaking.
Arriving first thing on a Sunday morning meant that very few other people were very few visitors around. But it also meant that the temperature was still well below zero. I was very thankful that I’d packed my big winter coat!
But if you visit after darkness falls, you’ll see the Kelpies illuminated in a range of different coloured light. That’s definitely something that I would love to experience on another trip to Scotland.
We spent time exploring the Kelpies Hub and walking along the canalside. The clear blue morning sky provided the perfect backdrop for the gleaming steel structures.
After taking photos from every conceivable angle, my hands felt absolutely frozen. So we headed into the Visitor Centre to warm up with coffee and cake. We had a look around the gift shop as well, which stocks a wide array of gifts from across Scotland.
And we also booked our places on one of the official walking tours around the Kelpies.
The 30 minute guided tour explains artist Andy Scott’s vision, the design process and the inspiration behind the sculptures. And if you’re visiting in the winter months like we did, the tour takes just 20 minutes so that you don’t have to spend quite so long outside in the cold!
You’ll learn about the mythological Kelpies and how the statues’ design draws on the history and industry of the local area.
Going inside the Kelpies
And the great thing about joining one of the official tours is that it’s the only way to see inside a Kelpie.
You’ll venture inside Duke and see for yourself the amazing structure that lies beneath his shimmering skin.
Your guide will talk you through the construction process behind these amazing statues. And you’ll also see a horseshoe from one of the real-life equine models for the Kelpies.
Touching a mythological Kelpie may be a dangerous pursuit, but you won’t be in danger if you touch this one!
While you’re in the area
Whether you’re visiting Falkirk or just passing through, there’s plenty to see and do in the local area.
After you’ve finished your tour, why not pop into the Helix Visitor Centre. There you’ll find a cafe serving drinks, snacks and light lunches, as well as a gift shop and exhibition space.
You could also explore the tracks that wind through the 350 hectare Helix park by foot or on a cycle, or explore the Lagoon by kayak or pedalo. And if you’re visiting the Kelpies with children, you’ll find the Adventure Zone and Splash Play south of the Kelpies Hub.
The Falkirk Wheel is around 4 miles from the Kelpies. It is the world’s only rotating boat lift, connecting two canals to allow coast to coast travel across central Scotland. It’s a work of art as well as an amazing feat of engineering.
And if you love quirky and unusual buildings, travelling around 9 miles northwards will take you to the fascinating Dunmore Pineapple. Or you could head a little further to Stirling and visit the National Wallace Monument.
The Kelpies at The Helix