The Kelpies: Mythological Horses Power Again through Scotland

16 November 2013

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An extraordinary work of art has just been completed in Scotland.  The Kelpies by figurative sculptor Andy Scott surge upwards in steel, whinnying and snorting alongside the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal near the town of Falkirk.  These fantastic beasts from Gaelic mythology have risen again as monuments to the horse-powered industrial heritage of Scotland.

The Kelpies
The final touches were put to these astonishing 30 meter high (that’s just shy of a hundred feet) beasts in October and they are due to be opened to the public early next year.  Yet the choice of Gaelic folklore has confused some people.  After all, the kelpies were said to lure people to ride on their backs, then pull them underwater and devour them.

The Kelpies
Image Credit Flickr User Paradasos
Yet despite the ancient name the modern sculpture is intended to have a more contemporary resonance.  These two magnificent horse heads symbolize the role of the animal in the industrial revolution, where despite the advent of huge machinery, countless horses were used to pull the barges and boats that were used on the country’s inland waterways to transform not least the Falkirk area but the whole of Scotland.

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2013-08-24 (Day 236) More Kelpies
The process of creation began five years ago when Scott created one-tenth scale models in his studio.  Laser scanners were employed so that the steel fabricators could reproduce the various parts to the final, enormous full-scale. The structure (understandably) took the company responsible for fabrication the entire five year period to make.

Image Credit Flickr User Paradasos
Image Credit Flickr User 4652 Paces
These latter-day kelpies form part of The Helix, a project to improve connections around the Falkirk area – a process of both regeneration and transformation.  As a pair, they create a mammoth (yet nonetheless equine) gateway at the easternmost starting point of the Forth and Clyde canal.

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The cladding is made from both steel and stainless steel and each of the kelpies weighs in at a staggering 300 tonnes.  As the structures took shape, they soon began to dominate the local skyline. The frames were painstakingly constructed, a process requiring no little engineering skill. Then, close to a thousand stainless steel panels have been joined to the cladding, giving the horses their incredible sheen.

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The power and fortitude of the beasts of mythology have been transmuted in to a colossal representation of Falkirk’s own long history of resilience and grace under pressure.  Yet, you may well ask how much this all cost.  The entire Helix Project comes in at £43m (that’s $US70m) but that price includes the visitor centre, a water sports cove, wildlife wetland, with more than sixteen miles of walking and cycling paths.

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Kelpies
Yet it is believed that the horses (and the project as a whole) will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Falkirk area each year.  Not only that, some estimations suggest that the boost to the local economy will be worth several million pounds a year.  The kelpies may have returned to Scotland but their homecoming will not be associated, this millennia, with folk being dragged to a watery grave, rather a renaissance in Falkirk’s fortunes.


Kelpies
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The Kelpies
The Kelpies
Andy Scott's The Kelpies, at Night
Andy Scott's The Kelpies, at Night
Kelpies at the Helix Falkirk
The Kelpies at the Helix (1)
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