Duke and Baron – Scotland’s Kelpies

A few years ago, a TV news item introduced me to Andy Scott, a Scottish sculptor working in metal who has created more than a dozen gorgeous works, most of which are installed in various outdoor locations in and around Falkirk, Scotland, near Glasgow. The focus of the news item was the unveiling of Scott’s latest work, two gigantic horse heads called The Kelpies, named for the aquatic horse-type creatues of Scottish myth.

The TV bit said a pair of small scale replicas or maquettes were touring the world and would be making a stop in New York. As it happened, I timed my visit to NYC on the day of the annual Tartan Day parade. Falkirk was marching, proudly carrying a banner depicting the Kelpies. I don’t always look for signs telling me where to travel next, but this seemed an obvious nudge to put Scotland on my list so I could track down the “real” Kelpies and, if I was really lucky, see some of Scott’s other works. These equines were slightly larger than life but one of them included a small metal stick figure standing at the base, craning his neck up at the kelpie, giving the viewer an idea of the massive scale of the full-size silvery steel beasts. Even these mini-horses were gorgeous and majestic and somehow magical. Horses have that effect on me. I could have stood there looking at them from all angles for hours had my schedule permitted. See my April 2014 post for more on these “little” guys.

I made plans to stay in Edinburgh for a few days then planned to rent a car and GPS so I could drive to Falkirk on my sculpture quest. There is an official Andy Scott Sculpture Trail in and around Falkirk; sculptures are on school grounds, inside traffic roundabouts and in other locations. I wasn’t sure how many I’d be able to find and, if found, get photos.

As it turned out, I cancelled the rental car, not because I had any qualms about driving on the other side of the road – I’ve done that several times quite comfortably – but because I decided I had not left myself enough time to crawl out of Edinburgh, get lost and found and locate the Kelpies and still make it to Edinburgh airport for my flight to Berlin. Instead, I traveled to Falkirk by train and found Dave, a local cabbie, at the station who could take me to the Kelpies and bring me to a few other local attractions along the way (separate post for these).

August can be cool in Scotland and there was chilly rain on and off. Luckily, the rain had gone by the time we arrived at Helix Park where the Kelpies reign. The park is very flat and covers something in excess of 800 acres, so you can see the Kelpies rising from the plain long before you’re actually standing alongside. Like the Empire State Building in NYC, however, the scale is hard to wrap your brain around until you get “up close and personal”.

canalside Kelpies, Helix Park

canalside Kelpies, Helix Park

This was only a few months after the initial unveiling in April 2014, so the Visitor Center consisted of a trailer with nothing inside except a single desk, a ticket seller and a sparse selection of literature. I chatted with the fellow who told me the town was completely unprepared for just how popular the Kelpies were becoming. They had produced postcards but couldn’t keep them in stock. He said this one attraction had awoken Falkirk to the fact that they now had a tourist industry on their hands.

Duke and Baron

Duke and Baron

Modeled on two Clydesdale draft horses named Duke and Baron, these massive metal equines carry the same names and stand 30 meters tall, each weighing some 300 metric tons. It’s difficult to project the scale of these critters until you stand next to them even with a photo like this one. Something about feeling the sheer mass of these incredible artworks.

Duke

Duke

 

Baron

Baron

I hustled out to the sculptures to catch the guided tour. Of course, it was possible to walk around the figures on my own, but the paid walk included the chance to go inside one of the heads to see how it was put together. Absolutely amazing!

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Unfortunately, I missed out seeing Andy Scott’s other sculptures but none are as gigantic as the Kelpies and there was almost no time before my train back to Edinburgh. I gave a Scott Trail brochure to the cabbie in case he wants to create a Scott tour to his taxi business, at least until someone sets up a coach tour. Falkirk has some claims to fame for locals but Duke and Baron have put this little-known town on the tourist map practically overnight. You must go!!

This entry was posted in All Suzanne's travel essays, All Suzanne's travels, European art, Scotland and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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