If you’ve had a look at my off-beat Scotland Bucket List for 2017, you know the magnificent Kelpies are a real hidden gem! Ticking them off the list became a lot easier this spring, when Rabbie’s launched its half-day Kelpies tour from Glasgow. Of course I had to try it!
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The Kelpies are a bizarre, yet must-visit landmark in Scotland: two 30m-high horse-head sculptures near the town of Falkirk, only half an hour drive from Glasgow. Before you read on, check out my video of the trip:
Rabbie’s Kelpies tour
The half-day tour with Rabbie’s starts at a reasonable time and leaves Glasgow city centre at 9 am. The time actually spent on the road is minimal though, as the Kelpies are only 30 minutes away from Glasgow. Compared to something like a tour to Loch Ness or Oban that means, less time in the car, more time to explore!
Other than Scotland’s usual natural wonders, the Kelpies are made by humans – the perfect combination of art and engineering. They weigh around 300 tonnes each and were constructed from June to October 2013. Designed by Scottish figurative sculptor Andy Scott, the Kelpies are inspired by the heavy Clydesdale horses which powered much of Scotland’s industry and economy, pulling wagons and ploughs but also barges and coal ships.
Their name however derives from mythical creatures of old Celtic tales. Kelpies, you must know, are shape-shifting creatures, often appearing as horses who live in the lochs and rivers of Scotland, luring innocent souls into their realm – they are said to have the strength and endurance of more than ten horses. How could one resist?
During the Kelpies tour we had about 1.5 hours to walk around those magnificent creatures, take photos from all angles and learn more about their construction in the Kelpies visitor centre. There is a coffee stand outside the centre, but also wee cafe by the boats behind the Kelpies.
Second stop: Falkirk Wheel
It would be a shame to visit Falkirk and not stop at the Falkirk Wheel – so the Kelpies tour makes a second stop at yet another outstanding example of Scottish engineering.
Now, I’m not necessarily an engineering nerd, but even I was completely under the ban of the Falkirk Wheel once it started turning. The wheel is a rotating boat lift that connects the First & Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. The two canals are separated by 35m in elevation and the lift covers 24 of those – the rest has to be climbed (or lowered) by a series of 7 air locks.
The Falkirk Wheel is the only rotating boat list of its kind in the world and was constructed between 1999 and 2002. Even though the industry that relied on unobstructed sea-to-sea traffic was long gone, but the canal link was to be maintained and improved to mark the beginning of the new millennium.
When you visit the Falkirk Wheel as part of the Kelpies tour you might have the chance to get aboard a boat that goes up and down the lift. However, that depends on availability of tickets, as these are not included in the tour. By the time we had arrived, the next boat was already full and I only got to witness the rotation from land.
To be honest though, I think you get a much better view of the action from land anyways. I enjoyed having around an hour to walk around the wheel and up along the aqueduct meeting the wheel’s top.
Why go with Rabbie’s?
This was my fourth experience with Rabbie’s so far, and like always, it’s been a pleasure to come along. Our driver-guide Gordon was a bit nervous upon spotting me and my camera – he had been working for Rabbie’s for a while, but this was one of his first times on the Kelpies tour. If he wouldn’t have said it though, I would never have noticed, because he delivered a perfectly thought-out tour to our group.
What I like about Rabbie’s tours is that each driver-guide brings their own personality to the tour. Being a former UofG-student himself, Gordon told us quite a bit about the city on our way out. A highlight was definitely that he was born close to Skye and a native Gaelic speaker. He gave us a proper introduction to the language (didn’t understand a word) and played some Gaelic music to pass the time on the motorway.
Have a look around my other Rabbie’s tour reviews for more info on their sustainability programme and other tour options!
Why start in Glasgow?
One of the things I like most about the Kelpies tour is of course, that it starts in Glasgow. That should really be incentive enough to base yourself in Glasgow to explore more of the Scottish natural and human-made landmarks!
I might be biased, but if you ask me Glasgow makes for a much better home base or starting point for your adventures around Scotland than Edinburgh for several reasons.
- Money talks. There are less tourists in Glasgow, which in turn means that hotel prices are much less competitive. This makes Glasgow a lot cheaper than Edinburgh, particularly during the summer (and even more so during Edinburgh’s festival month of August).
- Don’t waste any time. Glasgow is at the doorsteps of the Highlands. If the likes of Glencoe, Loch Ness or Skye are on your itinerary, it helps to start in Glasgow as it saves you about an hour travel time on the road already!
- The best of Scottish welcomes. Glaswegians have the reputation to be the friendliest Scots of the country – whether you understand them or not, you’ll love them, I promise!
- So much to do! This one comes with a warning sign – there is so much to do and see in and around Glasgow, you might not want to leave!
Related read: 50 Travel Tips for Glasgow
The tour returns to Glasgow around 1 pm and could therefore easily be combined with Rabbie’s other half-day tour from Glasgow, visiting Glengoyne distillery OR simply with an afternoon & evening spend exploring Glasgow as I suggested in the video!
Related Read: Visiting Glengoyne Distillery
The Kelpies tour from Glasgow is a great way to see a different side of Scotland, and explore beyond the natural beauty of the Highlands or the urban hubs of Edinburgh or Glasgow. I might have ticked off an item from my Scotland bucket list – but I already know, that I’ll be back at the Kelpies one day!
Have I triggered your interest in a Kelpies tour?
Why not pin this post to your Scotland board:
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.