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The Out About Scotland complete guide to The Kelpies
Category: Artwork, Landmark, Park, River, Walk or cycle route
Suitable for ages: 5 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 7 out of 10
About The Kelpies
If you’ve ever driven along the M9 motorway you can’t have failed to see the two enormous metallic horse heads rising up from the side of the road close to where the motorway crosses the River Carron.
These equine marvels are Scotland celebration of a bygone era of horse-drawn barges that kept the nation’s industry going for well over a hundred years, and although Clydesdale’s are no longer a sight on the canals you can at least enjoy the spectacle of the world’s biggest horse sculptures when you go to visit them at Helix Park.
It’s not quite accurate to say these sculptures are of Clydesdale horses though, rather that they were inspired by Scotland’s earliest form of heavy transport.
What the sculptures are actually showing are kelpies – mythical Scottish water horses that supposedly had the strength and endurance of ten normal horses – and I guess that’s a good analogy for the strength of Scotland’s heavy industry back when the old horses used to pull their massive loads along those canals.
The Kelpie sculptures are huge things to stand under, towering a full 30 metres overhead and covered in steel plates that have a mesmerising sheen when the sun starts to fade. Floodlights play out across the surface of the two horses and they almost appear to move if you catch them at the right angle. You just can’t help but be impressed by them.
The two sculptures stand in a custom-built extension of the Forth and Clyde canal near Falkirk and the 300-tonne artworks have become a major tourist attraction in the area since they went on public display in 2013.
Both heads can be walked around in just a few minutes but there are so many photo opportunities that you won’t really know where to begin.
You can wander around them on your own or you can book yourself onto a guided tour, with the tour allowing you to go inside the heads to marvel at the complexity of the construction work before heading over to the visitor centre for lunch in the cafe.
Although The Kelpies aren’t going to keep you busy all day – more like an hour – they can be combined with a visit to the nearby Helix Park to easily last a full afternoon, and because Stirling is nearby you can add them to a visit to the city too. I reckon that makes them totally worthy of a visit if you’re ever in this part of the country.
Things to do at The Kelpies
You can just walk around the site if you like but if you want a deeper understanding of the sculptures there’s a 30 minute guided tour that explains their history, how they were manufactured, and the significance that horses had to the industrial development of the region over the course of a hundred years.
The canals around the site are perfect for walks with the nearby Helix Park being particularly popular with tourists and locals alike. The Helix is an area of Falkirk that links 16 communities by a network of canals and includes a large area of urban parkland that plays host to a lagoon, lots of pathways, and several children’s play areas.
The entire area covers an impressive 860 acres of land and contains over 17 miles of cycleways and footpaths, and if you’re stuck for something to do I’d say a visit there is recommended, especially if you’ve got your bike with you.
You can find out more about The Kelpies in my 1-Day Drive From Edinburgh Itinerary.
The history of The Kelpies
Completed in 2013, The Kelpies celebrate the lineage of the heavy horses that towed barges up and down Scottish canals for much of the 19th century.
In ancient Scottish mythology kelpies are sea horses that have the strength and stamina of ten normal horses, and it’s this quality that prompted artist Andy Scott to recreate them in steel to represent the power and endurance of Scotland’s waterways and heavy industry.
Prior to the creation of the main sculptures at Helix Park the artist created two miniature three-metre high versions in his studio so that any design flaws could be spotted before work started on the ‘real’ artworks. You can see two of these mini sculptures at The Kelpies sister site at The Falkirk Wheel.
What I liked about this attraction
- The Kelpies are really incredible artworks
- Your camera trigger finger will go into overdrive
- The attraction is free to visit (unless you want the tour)
My top tips
- Take a walk through Helix Park after you’ve visited The Kelpies. The park is enormous and perfect for letting the kids burn off some energy. There’s a play park in it too
- If you want to see another nearby attraction that celebrates Scotland’s canals check out The Falkirk Wheel
Address and directions map
- From Edinburgh – take the M9 towards Stirling, exit at Junction 5 for Falkirk/Grangemouth and then follow the brown tourism signs to ‘Helix park and Kelpies’
- From Glasgow – take the M80 towards Stirling, exit at Junction 8 for M876 and join M9, exit at Junction 6 for Falkirk/Grangemouth and then follow the brown tourism signs to ‘Helix park and Kelpies’.
Prices and opening times
Visiting The Kelpies is free, but the guided tour is ticketed as below:
Tour ticket prices
|Adult (16+ yrs)||£7.50|
|Child (under 5)||Free|
|Child (Aged 5-15)||Free*|
*Two free children per one paying adult.
Within the Helix the first car park is free of charge. Charges apply in the second car park, which is situated closer to the Kelpies. The charging period operates from April to October inclusive: 10am – 8pm. From 23rd October to Thursday 29th March there is no charge for this car park.
PLEASE NOTE: The Kelpies car park is closed between 8pm and 8am from October through to March (inclusive). The first car park will remain open for visitors at all times. The distance from the first car park to The kelpies is 0.8km.
- Telephone: 01324 590600
- Website: The Helix
Getting there: Car park on-site
Getting around: Disabled access, Easy-access paths, Pushchair access
On-site conveniences: Gift shop, Hot drinks, Picnic area, Restaurant or cafe, Snacks, Toilets