The Helix: Home of The Kelpies

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The Helix,

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The Kelpies, created by Glaswegian sculptor Andy Scott, are more than just a centrepiece to The Helix Park.

In Scottish folklore, a Kelpie is a shape-shifting water spirit that typically takes the form of a horse. It haunts the Lochs and rivers of Scotland, of which there are many. In order to safely cross such a body of water, a person would need to tame the Kelpies, or risk being led astray.

When plans were made to extend the Forth and Clyde Canal, linking it with the River Carron, and create a recreational space for the local communities, a Kelpie-inspired installation was a natural choice. After all, so many of Scotland’s waterways and lochs have their own Kelpie stories to tell, so why not here? The result can only be described as jaw-dropping, and I’m still amazed every time I see Andy Scott’s epic creation.

The Kelpies you see today are two 30 metre, 300 tonne horse heads made of painstakingly placed three metre high pieces of steel. They have already become one of the most photographed pieces of public art in Scotland since they opened in 2013, and rightly so.

When you’re driving along the M9 from Edinburgh towards Stirling they are absolutely impossible to miss. Stretching high into the sky and appearing like they could come to life at any moment, the Kelpies at Helix Park are well worth a stop on your road trip itinerary.

Image courtesy of Falkirk Community Trust

Until you stand in the shadow of the Kelpies you don’t realise quite how big they are. While one of the Kelpies is tossing his head back, the other is looking down. It’s an eerie feeling looking up, directly into its eyes. Although the Kelpies were eight years in the planning, their actual construction only took one summer, with 90 days from beginning to end. Ten skilled craftsmen put the puzzle of the Kelpies together a piece at a time, with over 18,000 pieces used in total!

  • Image courtesy of Falkirk Community Trust
  • Image courtesy of Falkirk Community Trust
  • Image courtesy of Falkirk Community Trust

When Andy Scott was designing the Kelpies, he modelled them on two Clydesdale horses called Duke and Baron, and the names have stuck. Although the Kelpies of folklore may have been more delicate creatures, Scott chose to use the Clydesdale working horses to incorporate the role they had in local history, in farming and pulling barges along the canals. The Clydesdale horses may have long-since retired from the industry, but they are now forever embodied in modern art – with the help of the latest technology and expert craftsmanship.

Helix Park - Michel Curi/Creative Commons

I always look out for the Kelpies if I’m driving along the M9 as they’re right next to the road, but the glimpse you get is too fleeting to fully appreciate their majesty. Keep an eye out for the exit at Junction 5 that comes before the statues, and then follow the brown tourist signs until you arrive at Helix Park. There are two car parks to choose from. A free one is around a 20 minute walk away, while the other charges between April and October but is right next to the Kelpies.
Be sure to stop in at The Helix Visitor and Information Centre. Here, you can learn more about the Kelpies through its always-on exhibition or simply take a break in the café. It’s open from 9.30am to 5pm, seven days a week. For the ultimate Kelpies experience, take a guided 30 minute walking tour that includes entrance inside one of the Kelpies. From here, you can view the magnificent engineering from within.

Image courtesy of Falkirk Community Trust

Tickets can be booked on the day at the visitor centre, or in advance online.

Scotland’s past is full of fascinating tales, important historical events, and striking locations that are still glorious today. Learning more about these attributes is integral to a great Scottish road trip, and the Kelpies is a great point of interest to get you started. We’ve all heard of the Loch Ness monster after all, but what about the legendary Kelpies?