The Kelpies: Go Forth in falkirk - Scotland Magazine
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The Kelpies: Go Forth in falkirk

Home to The Kelpies, an innovative wheel, and place of refuge for Mary, Queen of Scots, here’s why Falkirk deserves not to be bypassed Words by Sally Coffey The Kelpies…

Home to The Kelpies, an innovative wheel, and place of refuge for Mary, Queen of Scots, here’s why Falkirk deserves not to be bypassed

Words by Sally Coffey

The Kelpies 10th anniversary

On Saturday 27th April 2024 a special anniversary event will take place at Helix Park, Falkirk to celebrate 10 years of The Kelpies. The event will celebrate Falkirk’s heritage and will involve Clydesdale horses from around the country, marking the breed’s contribution to Scotland’s agricultural and industrial heritage.

Beginning at 10am, the special event will be free to visitors and will feature a concert by up and coming Scottish singer Callum Beattie, as well as a performance by the world’s most famous bagpipe band, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers.

To find out more about the event visit their website here.

What are The Kelpies?

the kelpies
The Kelpies at night. Credit: Mark McNeill

When Andy Scott unveiled his giant horsehead structures, The Kelpies, in 2014, they became a beacon to Scotland’s ingenuity placed strategically in Scotland’s Forth Valley – a region too often passed through by travellers on their way elsewhere.

It’s not the first time Scott has enlivened Scotland’s landscapes – his artworks, which include Arria in Cumbernauld, are renowned for their oversized depictions in galvanized metal that are both eye-catching and thought-provoking and hopefully encourage people to linger.

With the 100ft-tall, 300-tonnes a piece Kelpies, Scott created the largest equine sculptures in the world, and they are undoubtedly considered his masterpiece.

The Kelpies pay homage to Scotland’s industrial heritage, with Falkirk playing a pivotal role as a hub that links two of its most important canals – the Forth and Clyde, and the Union Canal – and specifically the horses who pulled the region’s barges, ploughs, wagons, and coal ships during the Industrial Revolution.

The Kelpies are modelled on two real-life working horses, Duke and Baron, but their huge stature gives them a magical quality. In Scottish folklore, kelpies are shape-shifting water spirits (that often take the form of a horse) and in this case, the name appears to allude to the transformation of Scotland’s inland waterways, from a once integral part of the Industrial Revolution to a place that has finally been reclaimed for leisure activities.

the kelpies
The Kelpies. Credit: Walter Frehner

Where are The Kelpies?

The Kelpies stand in a park known as The Helix, which encompasses 740 acres of former scrubland that has been regenerated to create wildlife habitats and green space for residents. With a café, gift shop, and playground, a large part of the intention behind The Kelpies was to create a place for the community to come together, but it has since gone on to become a major tourist attraction.

The Kelpies can be seen by those travelling the M9, the motorway that connects Edinburgh with Stirling, and they are also an easy day trip from Glasgow.

You can take a tour inside the giant heads to marvel at Scott’s own engineering prowess, and they have become such a part of the landscape over the past decade that they are often used as a backdrop to major events. In 2020 they were illuminated blue in recognition of the NHS staff and other key workers who worked tirelessly to keep the country running during the Covid-19 pandemic, and in 2022, 96 lanterns were released into the water in front of them in commemoration of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s passing (one lantern for each year of her life).

The Falkirk Wheel

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The Falkirk Wheel. Credit: Heartland Arts/Shutterstock

Just over a decade before the arrival of The Kelpies, another landmark along the Forth and Clyde canal began attracting visitors to the area, the Falkirk Wheel – the world’s only rotating boat lift – which connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal by lifting boats a height of 35 metres in place of the 11 locks that were once required.

There are boat trips that allow you to experience the boat lift yourself or you can join one of the many spectators at the visitor centre.

Callendar House

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Callendar House, Callendar Park, Falkirk. Credit: VisitScotland / Paul Tomkins

Just a 10-minute drive from The Kelpies, Callendar House is a historic property whose 19th-century chateau-style façade wouldn’t look out of place in the French countryside, though the oldest part – the tower – dates to the 14th century, and its fairytale turrets contain some intriguing history.

Though Bonnie Prince Charlie and Oliver Cromwell are said to have stayed here, Callendar’s most celebrated association is with Mary, Queen of Scots, who was so close with the Livingston family, who owned the house in her time, that she visited several times. 

Read more about Mary, Queen of Scots here.

The Falkirk History Society has lots of detail on the relationship between Mary and the Livingstons, who were ardent supporters of the Queen – Sir Alexander Livingston was one of the eight nobles into whom’s care the infant queen Mary was entrusted following the death of her father, and he was instrumental in rejecting Henry VIII’s ‘Rough Wooing’

callendar house
Callendar House kitchen.

Meanwhile, Alexander’s daughter, Mary Livingston of Callendar, was one of the Four Marys who famously accompanied the Queen on her exile to France and later, the new Lord of Callendar was one of the nobles who travelled to France in 1561 and invited Mary to return to Scotland.

And so, it should come as little surprise that above a doorway in the northwest of the mansion there was once an inscription that read: “Queen Mary of Scots and her ladies occupied these rooms and those above them, August 12th, 1562; July 1st, 1565; January 13th, 1567, January 24th, 1567; and January 29th, 1567”.

Callendar Park

Within the grounds of Callendar Park, it’s also possible to see a section of the Antonine Wall, which once formed part of the Roman Empire’s northern frontier, while another big attraction is the Georgian kitchen, which played a starring role in TV’s Outlander, and where costumed staff cook up Georgian dishes, some of which even come from the Outlander Kitchen cookbook.

After all this exploring, you’ve surely earned a tea break – or perhaps even an afternoon tea break – in Callendar House’s elegant tearoom, from where you can enjoy views of some of the more than 170 acres of grounds as you reflect on your day’s activities and express relief that you didn’t just whizz through the region like so many others before you.

pineapple house
The Pineapple House in Dunmore Park is available for holiday rental. Credit: Angus Bremner

Plan your visit to Falkirk to see The Kelpies

Getting here

Roughly equidistance between Edinburgh and Glasgow, Falkirk is easily accessible to Scotland’s two largest cities, with regular train and bus connections, though it may make things easier to use a local taxi service to travel between the difference attractions.

Where to stay

By far, the most unforgettable place to stay in the area is the bizarre Pineapple House, managed by the Landmark Trust, which was built in the 18th century for the Earl of Dunmore as a summerhouse and is reflective of the fashion for the exotic of the time – pineapples were first introduced into Scotland some 30 years earlier. This self-catering place, with an open fire in the living room, sleeps four, and if you can’t get booked in, you can still visit its gardens and admire it from outside.

For more Falkirk travel inspiration, go to

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