A weekend with kelpies and old books

Another lovely weekend in Central Scotland meant I could cross off two more items on my summer “must visit” list. The Kelpies are the latest large-scale public art installations by sculptor Andy Scott. Sitting next to the Forth and Clyde Canal in Helix Park, Falkirk, the two horses’ heads tower over 26 metres high – they’re not just art, they represent a massive engineering achievement too. If you’re wondering what a kelpie is, it’s a mythical water-being inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland which usually appears as a horse, but is able to adopt human form. Scott modelled his sculptures on two real-life Clydesdales in honour of the horses which used to pull the barges along the canal, so they might be mythical, but they’re also very real.

We chose to take a tour which meant we were able to go inside one of the heads (Duke, the one looking down, the other is Baron) and learn more about how they were made. They have 928 plates which took 130 days to construct on site using over 300 tons of steel. Awesome!

A word of warning about Helix Park itself – the facilities are awful. We got there just after 11am and were able to park, but from then on there was a constant queue of cars looking unsuccessfully for spaces. The advice given is to use overflow parking at the Falkirk Stadium, but that’s at least a 20 minute walk from the Kelpies, so if you’ve booked a tour you might well miss it – and if there’s a football match there, presumably you can’t use it anyway. The café is also about 15 minutes away, and when we got there just after 1pm they had no lunch left, just crisps and snacks. This is a fairly new attraction, so maybe they will get their act together soon, and I guess it’s good news in one way if more people than they expected turn up. A Visitor Centre is under construction and I assume it will have extra catering, but they need to sort the parking problems too.

Saturday was our last chance to catch Dunblane’s Leighton Library – it’s only open during the summer and we don’t have another weekend free before it closes at the end of September. This is the oldest purpose-built private library in Scotland, opening in 1687 as the result of a bequest by Robert Leighton. He had been Bishop of Dunblane from 1661 to 1670 and wanted to leave his books for the benefit of the clergy of the diocese. His own collection of around 1400 volumes eventually grew to over 4000 – all are held on the first floor, with the lower storey originally being living quarters for the librarian. From 1734 to about 1840 it functioned as a lending library, until the growth of public libraries rendered it obsolete. Despite the worthy nature of most of the tomes, the most borrowed book was a novel – Zeluco (1789) by Scottish author John Moore, which relates the vicious deeds of the eponymous anti-hero, the evil Italian nobleman Zeluco. Another novel, The cottagers of Glenburnie by Stirling author Elizabeth Hamilton, was so popular that it went missing. Now why does that sound a familiar tale? It happened regularly in every library I’ve ever worked in, that’s why!

Dunblane Museum is also worth a look – it too only opens summer hours and was closed on our last visit in December. For more on the town and its year-round attractions, such as the Cathedral, see my previous post Scottish snapshots: Dunblane.


  1. Duke and Baron, I love it. :). You stated in your article that the sculptures are composed of 928 steel plates. On Scottishcanals.com, they state that it’s 30,000 pieces. 928 sounds much more reasonable! I wonder if by 30,000 they are including everything from the plates to the bolts to the screws. I think I’ll amend my blog. Glad I saw that!


  2. Your Kelpie shots are fabulous, Anabel. 🙂 I’ve seen them on another blog and intend to go and see them one day but I had no idea the backdrop was so lovely or that you can go inside one. Got to see them at night too. 🙂


  3. The kelpie statues are amazing. They probably weren’t expecting so many people. Possible reason for the limited parking, facilities and food? I love that little library. It reminds me of the library at the Swedish Institute.


  4. Hopefully they will get their act together because the horses are beautiful and one is named after my brother(Baron):) I think, as time passes, the heads of this area will see the issues and make it better for people. The library looks so nice. isn’t it a shame that books go missing. I once bought a book in a used book store and when i got home and looked in the back (I don;t know why I didn’t do that before), there was the old library card in there and it was from 1973!


    • The horses are amazing – I get the impression they had no idea how popular they would be. Poor market research. Library books quite often turn up in second hand bookshops here – sometimes legitimately if they’ve been withdrawn, but sometimes they have been stolen. Shocking!


  5. Glad that the Kelpies lived up to your expectations. I LOVE them! I totally agree that apart from the excellent tour, the visitor experience is dire and proper facilities should’ve been organised before the opening, We’re local so knew where to go for lunch but visitors from further afield would be stuck with a poor choice on site. It’s not easy to find from the motorway either as I’ve had friends phone me for directions. Hopefully, its instant success as an attraction will ensure that the facilities are developed to make it a first class experience on every level.


    • Yes, I forgot to mention that the sign-posting was awful too! Or that toilet facilities were extremely limited. Trip Advisor has many similar comments, so I should think they’ll have got the message – I hope they do something about it.


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