The Kelpies

kelpies1

My parents have been visiting, and I thought they might like to see The Kelpies. A few years ago we rather enjoyed visiting Jaume Plensa’s Dream, a meditative and beautiful public sculpture commemorating Lancashire’s mining past. Like Plensa’s Dream, The Kelpies celebrate industrial heritage, but are things of water rather than of light. Kelpies are mythical Scottish water beasts, generally malevolent in nature, and able to assume many different forms. The Loch Ness “monster” should perhaps be more accurately described as a kelpie, and in Scottish song, art and literature, kelpies most often take the shape of a horse.

horse

Taking the fabled creature as a starting point, Glasgow sculptor, Andy Scott has constructed a new mythology for the kelpie — one with a refreshingly specific sense of place, and history. Directly inspired by two local Clydesdale horses – Duke and Baron – Scott’s Kelpies celebrate the beasts who once pulled ploughs, carts and barges — effectively powering the industrial revolution in central Scotland through the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries.

towpath

Scott’s Kelpies have been constructed at the basin of the Forth and Clyde canal, near Falkirk. Long before the development of railways and motorways, this important waterway enabled the transportation of finished goods and raw materials between Scotland’s industrial heartland and its ports. First constructed in 1790, it fell into decline in the middle of the last century. But its recent re-opening now enables continuous passage by water between Scotland’s East and West coasts.

canalandsteel

Scott’s Kelpies are constructed from an industrial material – steel – but when the light hits them they also seem to be made of water: rising and straining, sodden and dripping, from the basin of the canal.

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While celebrating the energy and might of Scottish industry, the Kelpies represent, in themselves, a remarkable feat of industrial engineering. Each of the 990 plates that make up the two Kelpies steel “skin” is distinct and different – our guide described them as “snowflakes.” This short time-lapse film documents the process of their construction, and, when you visit, you can examine their incredible structure from the inside.

inside

The Kelpies stand over 30 metres high, and are certainly majestic. Yet to me, it is not their size, but Scott’s very precise sense of detail and characterisation that impresses most: the flared nostrils, the flickering ears, the individual muscularity and movement. Detail at this scale somehow lends these monumental objects an immediacy that is deeply emotive.

eye
nostril

Andy Scott says: “I see The Kelpies as a personification of local and national equine history, of the lost industries of Scotland. I also envisage them as a symbol of modern Scotland – proud and majestic, of the people and the land.” Probably the best thing about the Kelpies, it seems to me, is that they are the focal point of what seems to be a modern and genuinely public space: a landscape that, with its new network of trails, cycle paths and waterways, once again has a practical function for the folk of Falkirk and beyond.

kelpies2

My Mum and Dad and I all enjoyed our visit, and would highly recommend the very reasonably priced tour, as well as our knowledgable and enthusiastic guide, David.

40 responses

  1. Just love your blog! Your posts are always so captivating and so beautifully written. I especially enjoy the wonderful photos and stories from your country.

  2. Thank you for your blog and wonderfully detailed pictures. I have put these high up on my “things to do list” – hopefully more likely once my husband retires at the end of the year!

  3. Breathtaking! Someday I hope to visit these myself. I love how wonderfully interesting they are from every perspective, up-close, inside and from afar. Captivating.

  4. Thanks for sharing this beautiful art with us. As I was scrolling down, reading each piece of information that accompanied the photos, it seemed as if the eyes were following me as if to say, “Look at how majestically beautiful I am.” A must see on my return visit.

  5. How did I not know about these? They will definitely be on the list for a visit on my next trip home – Thanks!

  6. They are wonderful!!!! Nothing touches me like the horse.. Another place I hope to visit. tHANK YOU…..

  7. I think malevolent is right. They look wild and not a little frightening to me. Perhaps I’m just not so fond of horses despite their beauty, maybe because of it. And so huge.

    Unnerving.

  8. I had hoped to visit the Kelpies at the weekend when we were in Larbert at a family wedding but with one thing and another we didn’t manage it. Thanks for sharing the pictures Kate. The Kelpies look fantastic.

  9. Absolutely gorgeous. Funny thing I just got some Kelpie Ale made from Seaweed and the Williams Bros brewery in Scotland. I am in the States and my ‘go to’ beer is Alba from that brewery, made with Scottish Pine needles…YUM!!! Totally enjoyed the films you linked. Thank you.

  10. thank you for that wonderful post, if ever I’m back in that part of the world I’ll certainly make a point of visiting. In Australia, a kelpie is a breed of sheepdog, so there’s still that tradition of service involved in the name.

  11. I’ve noticed these being built on journeys to and from Stirling – you can see them from the motorway, and also from the Glasgow-Edinburgh train if you know when to look! They are wonderful and I am so glad they are now part of a public space. But I haven’t seen them close up yet – on the list. Thanks for sharing!

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