A monument of the Scottish working horse
Public open-air art displays are always fascinating. The lack of structural confinements allow for dimensions otherwise unheard of. The artwork itself, exposed to the elements, interacts with its surroundings in multiple sensory ways. Visit at dusk and have a different experience than when you see it in the warm glow of the morning sun.
Appreciate snow flakes resting on the surface, rain drops slowly dripping to the ground like multi-faceted pearls. The reflection of a ray of sunshine that adds some extra shine to it.
There are many great open-air artworks around the world, with new additions entering the stage every other day. Most of them are free, and usually they are placed strategically, so that a visit can mean more than just looking at an oversized piece of art. Usually visiting an open-air art exhibition is a wholesome experience that can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Our Scottish road trip a couple of weeks ago led us past one of these amazing public artworks that are so supersize you need to visit it in person to full understand its impact. The Kelpies near Falkirk are located halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, making it a great day trip destination for the weekend from both of these big Scottish cities.
The whole outdoor space is called The Helix, a big outdoor space on the outskirts of Falkirk that is popular with walkers, joggers, and kayakers. There is also a big adventure playground that the kids will love, and boating activities suitable for everyone big and small. All of this would make The Helix just the usual outdoor activity fare, but the recent addition of the Kelpies adds a certain sophisticated flavour to the attraction that will appeal not just to the locals but indeed to visitors from around the world.
The Kelpies really are something else. Two giant horse heads made of metal, some 30 metres high, rising high into the air in an impressive display of power, determination, strength. Visitors standing under the giant flared nostrils are dwarfed by comparison. A walk around the heads is a humbling experience altogether.
The Kelpies are a homage to the Scottish working horse. The name itself is a reference to Scottish folklore – kelpies being shape-shifting water spirits that are said to have the endurance of ten horses. Although they can take many shapes, the most common depiction is that of a horse.
You can talk and reflect a lot about the reasons why the City of Falkirk decided to build this enormous project in the shape or horse heads. Of course there is the mythological aspect of the image, but there is also the general long-standing relationship between horses and humans, and between working horses and local canal workers in particular. Look around you and you will notice that the Kelpies are surrounded by a network of canals and locks.
Today these canals are used by the public for recreational purposes, but not so long ago they meant a livelihood for many local families.
There are a few reasons why you should visit the Kelpies. First of all, it is one of the most exciting attractions in the area. Driving past on the M9 you cannot help but notice their presence. It is worthwhile to just take a break here and walk around and immerse yourself in the humbling experience of getting so close to these gigantic structures.
There’s the engineering aspect as well. It took eight years from the first sketches by artist Andy Scott to the final touches just a couple of months ago. The result is outstanding, impressive, humbling. Plan ahead and book a tour and get inside the structure to see what was needed to ensure that the structure would hold together.
Appreciate the beauty of the horse heads, their life-like appearance, the movement of the heads frozen in time. You can almost feel their quickened pulse under the skin, see the rolling of the eyes, hear the neigh that escapes their mouths.
As a photographer the Kelpies are a generous subject. Every angle is worthwhile a consideration, every detail begs further inspection. The enormous size of the piece invites you to take many rounds around the heads, up close and from a distance, and there will always be something more to find.
Families will want to combine a visit to the Kelpies with a stop at the adventure playground, or maybe combine the experience with a kayak tour or a ball game in the park. There are many ways to experience the Helix, and with every season the Kelpies will bring their own shine to it.