A trip to Falkirk had become something of a given each time I visited my Glasgow photographer friend, all so as to try and catch their showpiece boat lift as I imagined it – lit up and hovering over the town like some kind of spaceship coming in to land.
The vision went beyond my imagination – I’d seen many pictures online in a veritable palette of different colours, so surely it was a simple case of arriving at dusk and setting up the shot? No. This story wasn’t even close to being that straightforward.
My first visit was way back in the annals of time – or last summer, at any rate. It’s been such a drawn-out process it perhaps just feels like longer. The wheel wasn’t lit, prompting us to question whether it was broken, or whether there was something else we needed to do. Either way it was with some disappointment that we left without the shots we wanted.
When I visited again at Easter I met a couple of other photographers and we passed the time with speculation about the thing. It was a bank holiday weekend – surely it would be lit at such a key time, we felt. But darkness soon enveloped the structure and left three disappointed people wandering aimlessly back towards what passes for civilisation around these parts. A bit of Googling uncovered many others asking the same question about the lights, one post even attracting a reply from an employee of the wheel acting in their official capacity advising that it is normally lit for two hours around dusk… but no joy.
The third attempt arrived in June and began with a rush of excitement: We were there early and it was nowhere near dark, but the lights were on! Rushing around we found a good place to set up and wait, pondering its precise collision of modernist and industrial stylings. According to the Scottish Canals website it takes its inspiration from a Celtic spear, the propeller of a Clydebank ship, the ribcage of a whale and the spine of a fish.
No? Me neither…
Dusk was approaching and we readied ourselves – but in a cruel twist to this increasingly ridiculous saga, the lights went out before it was even fully dark. Words can’t even describe that moment. Well clean ones can’t at any rate – the lights may have been absent but the air was certainly blue from the language flying about.
By this time my patience had worn pretty thin with the ridiculous setup. What kind of tourist attraction was this that taunts people with the suggestion of a lightshow then pulls the plug before dark? When the fourth attempt presented itself it was more out of dogged determination to nail it and put it to bed than with the expectation of a successful outcome. Since I was in Glasgow for the Red Road blow down it seemed like a good opportunity to try again, if only for a meal out in the hostelry that was by now so well frequented we were on the verge of becoming locals. Arriving at dusk it didn’t look promising, to the point that we wandered down to the marina and exasperatedly asked a security guard how it worked. We needed to write in and ask for it to be switched on, he advised – before heading in to find somebody to actually flick the switch. They were on!With more than a hint of the surreal about the place, adrenaline kicked in and we rushed up top to get a few shots before the colour in the sky was lost. This was the last frame I took.
Apparently 5.5 million people have visited the Falkirk wheel since Her Majesty presided over its opening ceremony in 2002… there are no statistics readily available for the proportion of them that actually left satisfied.
I’d say it’s been a labour of love but it’s been so much more than that. It’s been a labour of abject hatred for a frustrating place whose earth I will likely never disturb with the legs of my tripod again.
Still. Not a bad shot for all that…