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A new canal section forming the eastern gateway to Scotland’s historic Forth & Clyde Canal was given a royal seal of approval today (Wednesday 5th July) as it was officially named in honour of Her Majesty The Queen.

The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh boarded the Seagull Trust barge ‘The Wooden Spoon Seagull’ and led a small flotilla along Scotland’s newest canal section, built as part of the £43m Helix project which features the internationally-acclaimed, 30-metre-high Kelpies sculptures, before unveiling a plaque officially naming the new section the Queen Elizabeth II Canal. The unveiling was accompanied by a breathtaking aerobatic display from the Global Stars stunt flying team.

The Helix, driven by a partnership of Falkirk Council, Scottish Canals and the Central Scotland Green Network Trust, and supported with £25m in National Lottery funding from the Big Lottery Fund along with £480,000 of funding through Sustrans Scotland’s Community Links programme, has transformed 350 hectares of underused land between Falkirk and Grangemouth into a vibrant parkland, visitor attraction and marine hub with the canal and The Kelpies at its heart. The site is now managed by Falkirk Community Trust on behalf of the partners.

The Queen Elizabeth II Canal forms the eastern gateway to the Forth & Clyde Canal, which carves across Scotland from Bowling in the west to Grangemouth and the River Carron in the east. One of the most complex sections of waterway ever constructed in Scotland, the Queen Elizabeth II Canal passes underneath two major trunk roads and across utility pipelines, demanding innovative engineering solutions from a UK-wide team of experts.

Communities Secretary Angela Constance said: “I’m delighted to attend the official naming of this new stretch of canal by Her Majesty The Queen.

“The Queen Elizabeth II Canal has transformed access for mariners from Northern Europe and created a world-class marine hub in and out of Scotland. I’d like to congratulate all the organisations involved in developing this innovative and new section of canal, the Helix Park and the Kelpies, which have helped boost the local economy and tourism in the area.”

The Helix project and the canal at its heart have transformed the maritime experience of sailors arriving from across Northern Europe and beyond and created a world-class marine hub into and out of Scotland. The one-kilometre canal returns the Forth & Clyde back to its birthplace in Grangemouth some 250 years after it was built. The QEII Canal is the final piece of the Millennium Link – an £83.5 million project that restored the nation’s inland waterways to a navigable state for the first time in more than 50 years and saw the construction of the iconic Falkirk Wheel.

Andrew Thin, Chairman of Scottish Canals, said: “We are honoured that Her Majesty The Queen was able to join us to celebrate the naming of the Queen Elizabeth II Canal in her honour. The Helix was alive with activity, from the water to the banks and beyond, and it really showed how the local community has taken the incredible Kelpies and the canal over which they stand into their hearts.

“More than 15 years ago, Her Majesty joined us to celebrate the reopening of Scotland’s canals as part of the Millennium Link. Today was a fitting way to mark the completion of that project and the ongoing renaissance of our nation’s incredible waterways.

“The Kelpies and the Queen Elizabeth II Canal are helping put Falkirk and Grangemouth on tourists' 'to-see' lists the world over and serve as a towering tribute to the industrial past of the area and a symbol of its bright future. We’d like to offer a huge thank you to everyone who has visited the new canal by boot, boat or bike since its completion and look forward to welcoming even more visitors in the years to come.”  

Since The Helix was opened in April 2014, more than 2.5 million visitors from all over the world have stood in the shadow of The Kelpies, taken to its 27km of paths by boot or bike – which form a key part of the National Cycle Network – or watched boats travelling along the new canal. The project has brought renewed vibrancy to the area and boosted the local economy by an estimated £1.5m per year.

Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, Leader of Falkirk Council, said: “Today’s canal naming sets the seal on another significant tourism asset for our area. The Kelpies and Helix Park have become one of Scotland’s must-see tourist destinations, attracting millions of visitors, boosting the local economy and creating jobs, and the new canal section complements them perfectly. We are proud to have such an internationally recognised landmark on our doorstep and of the part the Council has played in the transformation of the area.”

Clad in almost 1000 shimmering steel panels, standing the same height as six and a half double decker buses, and weighing more than 600 tonnes, The Kelpies are a monumental addition to the Falkirk and Grangemouth skyline that are estimated to be seen by more than 50 million people per year from the canal, the M9 motorway, and The Helix itself.

John Lauder, National Director for Sustrans Scotland said: “Sustrans Scotland are delighted to have supported development of the towpaths by the Queen Elizabeth II canal. This is part of an ongoing partnership with Scottish Canals that has made Scotland’s canals a vital part of the National Cycle Network in Scotland

“The paths around the Helix form a key part of Route 754 of the National Cycle Network and have been developed with £480,000 of funding through Sustrans Scotland’s Community Links programme, which is supported by Transport Scotland.

“We look forward to continued working with Scottish Canals in the near future.”

Inspiration for The Kelpies came from the heavy horses which pulled boats and cargo along the towpaths of the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals in their heyday. The transport arteries of the Industrial Revolution, the canals and the horses that walked them played a huge role in the development of the area. The sculptures’ name was derived from the mythical Celtic water horses which could transform their shape and which were reputed to have the strength of 10 horses and the endurance of many more.

Originally envisioned as a moving boat lift, during the early design process the notion of The Kelpies changed to monumental sculptures symbolising the industrial past of both the canal and the communities that line its banks. Glasgow-based artist Andy Scott – Scotland’s best-known equine sculptor – transformed The Kelpies from idea to reality, imagining a colossal gateway towering either side of the canal to welcome weary sailors and visitors to the nation’s hospitable shores.