The photographs here were taken on the day – Monday 22nd September, when The Helix Project received the Best Environment Project award in the 2014 National Lottery Awards.
The Helix Project has created a 300 hectare park between Falkirk and Grangemouth, with the river, an extension to the Forth and Clyde Canal, linking to the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, with art installations, walkways, paths, woodland, parkland and a spectacular playpark for tinies. The Helix runs a programme of activity events which is always worth checking out.
Andrew Thin, Chair of Scottish Canals, has described the initiative as having been transformative for the local area and with an impact extending far beyond it.
The art installations in Helix Park include the literally legendary Kelpies – the tallest [‘head-up’] being thirty metres high, designed by sculptor Andy Scott.
In legend, kelpies were shape changing spirits whose favourite – but not exclusive, manifestations were as horses.
Andy Scott’s Kelpies may be made of stainless steel coated in military grey but they too are shape changers. When the light strikes from different angles, they take on new characteristics; and standing in different relationships to them discovers other features of their natures.
Standing almost in front of ‘head-down’ for example, sees him playing a little coy. And ‘head-up’ can seem anguished or joyful – and all moods in between.
£25 million of the cost of the imaginative and life enhancing overall Helix project came from the National Lottery – and on the evidence of last Monday, it is being well used. Monday is not a normal ‘downtime’ busy day – but there was not only a constant stream of visitors to the Kelpies but kids setting off on bikes for a ride in the park, families in the playpark, along the canalside and others setting off for what was clearly going to be a decent walk. Little nooks and crannies found individual local folk tucked away with newspapers in what seemed a daily habit.
The Kelpies – which straddle the entrance to the turning circle at this point of the canal – are four miles away from the Falkirk Wheel and people coming from a distance away would enjoy making time to visit both of these magnificent additions to the canalscape.
There are little wooden service cabins behind the Kelpies – offering locally made ice creams of bewildering variety and fabulous flavours; coffee, tea etc. There are lavatory cabins behind them, with disabled access – and the Kelpies are accessible, surroundable and enterable by wheelchair.
Only one is fitted for public entry – ‘head-down’, although the doors fitted to ‘head-up’ indicate future development. While the park is free and includes access to the Kelpies, you need to take the tour if you want to get inside one.
We recommend this – the engineering of these giant sculptures is as magnificent as the end results themselves. They were computer modelled from Andy Scott’s designs – which were themselves fed by the experience of two living and working Clydesdales, Duke [‘head-down’] and Baron [‘head-up’] whose professional lives were in Pollok Country Park in Glasgow but who made a series of visits to The Helix for the cameras.
Andy Scott not only saw them and photographed them in detail – he felt them, his hands telling him of their musculature, their sinews, bone structure, hinges, manoeuverability.
He had already made the maquettes, 20 foot high models of the Kelpies – and the structures that have travelled to New York for Scottish Week earlier this year. After his hands had taught him what his camera could not about the living mobility of the Clydesdales, he had to do some hefty rebuilding of parts of the maquettes as he understood these heavy horses so much better.
It is this precision of knowledge and empathy with the movement of another creature in the sculptor that has enabled him to create beings in steel that seem to observe, breathe and summon the strength and stability to hold their own positions.
The computer translated his designs into the construction process, with great stainless steel tubes gently bent into individual curves for the structural framework to which 464 steel plates are riveted for each Kelpie. There is no straight line anywhere in the design and no flat steel plate. Everything curves – often in two or three dimensions.
Their fabrication and building is itself a work of art. The jigsaw pieces were made by a Finnish firm based in Yorkshire; and the Kelpies were built on site by a workforce that in total numbered around four hundred people.
The photographs chosen for inclusion here deliberately focus on detail, showing the astonishing fluidity of the complex steel plates in conjuring these creatures to warm and tactile life. They are lit at night, from installations within their structures, which can only be magical.
Baron, by the way, retired last year and is in a rest home for horses up north somewhere- Aberdeenshire or Caithness. Duke is retiring this year and since ‘his’ Kelpie [‘head-down’] is the one open to the public, at the base of its neck in the interior, is one of his cast off horse-shoes, his signature, if you like.
We recommend taking the tour, not only because you get inside Duke to see the structure – and a dizzying ladder for maintenance access to the heights of him [look also at the fabulous operation of the ‘aircraft type’ door as you go in]; but for the guides themselves. They are a dream – lively, well informed, friendly, funny, individual and so joyful in the job they do, with the Kelpies and the park.
Anyone going there without SatNav [and as map-devotees we cannot say whether SatNav can manage access to The Kelpies] needs to be aware that signage is shockingly absent and unclear as you get nearer to the park. The best tip is to look for the roundabout with the Falkirk stadium beside it on the A504 and even if you have to go round the roundabout twice before you suss it out, this is where you turn off to get down to the entrance to the park.
If your main purpose is to see the Kelpies, ignore the first car park on the left and drive on until you see a second one on the right. The ticket office for the tours and lavatories are on this car park – and it is minutes away from the Kelpies.
Two warnings: if you’re approaching Falkirk from the west on the M90, keep your mind on your driving. There is a point where the Kelpies suddenly rear over the hedge on the far side of the carriageway on your right – a moment which could damage your health and that of others. And the canal stinks.
These creatures are not only visually unforgettable, they are, somehow, incredibly therapeutic. You come away better than you arrived, eased, with something important but not describable, confirmed.