The Kelpies – two gigantic steel statues at the side of the M9, in the heart of industrial Scotland.
It’s a place where giant pylons, chimneys belching white smoke and the flare from Grangemouth dominate the landscape.
Yet despite their location, the Kelpies are wild and untamed, a reminder of days of old, when stories of mythical creatures would be told by families who had moved from homes in glens, by lochs, on hillsides, in fishing villages, on farms and in market towns in search of work in Scotland’s industrial powerhouse between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
I was one of the lucky ones who witnessed the Kelpies being brought to life by a cascade of colour, flames and noise at their launch in April. Thousands of people turned up, far more than the organisers ever expected, and massive queues formed at the entrance to Falkirk’s Helix Park, home of The Kelpies.
As we slowly drew closer to the specially- constructed lock on the Forth and Clyde Canal where The Kelpies rise out of the ground, there were glimpses of the statues but most people turned away – waiting for the Big Reveal. And when I climbed up the canal banking for my first view of the giant horses rising out of the ground, with a virtual shake of their manes, The Kelpies – Scotland’s Kelpies – proved worth waiting for.
“I visualised the Kelpies as a monument to the horse and a paean to the lost industries of Falkirk.”
Sculptor Andy Scott explained that the 30-metre high sculptures celebrate the heavy horses that once pulled the barges along the waterway linking Edinburgh and Glasgow and also the horses which worked in the fields. “I have always been fascinated by horses,” said Andy, a graduate of Glasgow School of Art whose family hails from Falkirk. He also created the stunning Arria Statue at the side of the A80 and the Heavy Horse that looks across the M8 at Glasgow Business Park.
Andy used Clydesdales Duke and Baron as the life models for his sculptures but he was initially inspired by the legend of the supernatural shape-shifters who haunted Scotland’s rivers, burns and lochs, waiting to lure passing travellers to a watery grave. “The original concept of mythical water horses was a valid starting point but I deliberately styled the sculptures as heavy horses,” says Andy.
“The heavy horse was, at one time, the driving force in industry and I visualised the Kelpies as a monument to the horse and a paean to the lost industries of the Falkirk area,” he continued. “I also envisaged them as a symbol of modern Scotland – proud and majestic, of the people and the land.”
The facts and figures are breathtaking. Each head has 1200 tonnes of steel-enforced concrete foundations, 900 stainless steel scales and weighs 300 tonnes. They were built onsite in only 90 days! However, years of planning preceded this.
Andy’s first sketches of The Kelpies were made eight years ago on his then girlfriend’s kitchen table – she must have been impressed as she’s now his wife! The next stage was to make 1:10 scaled-down versions which were so impressive, the project was awarded £25 million from the Big Lottery Fund’s Living Landmarks funding, enabling the construction at Helix Park to go ahead.
“The Kelpies celebrate the myth and folklore that has encapsulated the imagination of visitors to Scotland for centuries,” said Mike Cantlay, Chairman of VisitScotland.
Yet these statues are about more than attracting tourists. The local people surrounding me at the launch were passionate about the landmark they had watched being created – as was The Kelpies’ creator.
“To see The Kelpies completed is both humbling and fantastic,” added Andy.
No-one can look at these mighty silver beasts without being reminded that Scotland is a land of mystery, myths and magic. As I drove home along the M9, The Kelpies appeared out of the darkness. No lights, no music, no flames – but somehow, even more magical.