Kelpies, two giant horse heads in Scotland

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Driving west on the M9 from Edinburgh, they suddenly loom out of nowhere: the Kelpies. Two huge sculptures in the shape of horses’ heads. When I first saw them I was immediately fascinated by these works of art. Because I am a horse lover but also because they are just incredibly coolly made. I did not know about the existence of the Kelpies and suddenly there they were along the side of the highway, lit up in various colors. No way to miss them. Also on my second Scottish trip, I visit the Kelpies and delve into the story behind these two giant behemoths.

Scottish myths and legends

In Scotland, they love legends, myths and sagas. For hundreds of years they have been passed on, passed from generation to generation. Stories about elves, haunted castles, monsters in lakes and strange water creatures. Of course, we all know Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. Indisputably linked to Scotland for us, but for the Scots, Nessie is just one of many mythical creatures. Nessie must share the water with mermaids, goddesses and water spirits such as kelpies.

Kelpies mythology

Kelpies are water spirits who live near water and swamps. The stories about kelpies vary quite a bit. In one story, the kelpie is a friendly horse that people get to ride. In another, the kelpie lures children to the water’s edge only to devour them. For centuries, these stories have been told to children to keep them away from the water. For parents a way to keep children from drowning, for children a way to avoid being eaten by a kelpie.

A kelpie can take different forms. For example, it may have the lower body of a horse and the upper body of a human, or the upper body of a horse and the lower body of a fish. On land, the kelpie tries to attract people. If you pet the horse, you’ll be on it for a ride in no time. But once on a kelpie you can’t get off. He will take you into the water and make you disappear forever. The kelpie can stretch his back as far as he wants. Five children, fifteen or forty, he takes them all into his water world. Just a thought, then, when you see a horse standing by the water during your walk through the Scottish Highlands :-)

The Kelpies, twee gigantische paardenhoofden in Schotland -

Ode to the horse and the myth

Back to the giant horse heads along the M9. They were created by Scottish sculptor Andy Scott and were given the name Kelpies. The horse breed Clydesdale was the “model” for the 30-meter-high sculptures, on which Andy worked for no less than 8.5 years. The choice of sculptures of horses was quickly made, as horses have played a major role in the industrial development of the area. Since the sculptures were given a site on the banks of the Forth & Clyde Canal, the link to a kelpie was quickly made and coming up with a name was not exactly a challenge.

World’s largest horse sculptures

The Kelpies are the largest horse sculptures in the world, weighing more than 300 tons each. Both heads consist of 464 steel plates, none of which is the same shape. Each head consists of 18,000 parts and the foundation is deeper than the sculptures are tall.

The Helix: Home Of The Kelpies

The Kelpies are in the Helix Park, a 350-acre recreational area. The park was created around 2003 to connect several communities. There are now 25 kilometers of bike trails in the park, making tourist attractions such as The Falkirk Wheel (a ship elevator), Callendar House and the Kelpies easy to visit by bike. Next to the Kelpies you will find a visitor center and elsewhere in Helix Park are an exhibition area, a wetland boardwalk, catering and an adventure park for children can be found.

Visit the Kelpies during the day or at night?

Especially at night, the Kelpies stand out. They are lit up in different colors, very cool. A visit at night is even more impressive than a daytime visit. However, if you want to see the sculptures inside, you will have to visit the Kelpies during the day, during opening hours of the visitor center. Every full hour there are tours that show you the inside of the Kelpies. When it is very busy, tours are provided every half hour. The visitor center is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and you do not have to pay an entrance fee to view the Kelpies (from the outside).

The Kelpies, twee gigantische paardenhoofden in Schotland -
The Kelpies in the evening, by Jazman | Shutterstock

Kelpies as part of your road trip through Scotland

Planning a trip through Scotland by rental car? Then don’t forget to stop at the Kelpies. If you’re still looking for a rental car, I can recommend Sunny Cars recommend. Sunny Cars uses an all-in formula, you are insured for everything by default. Even your excess is refunded in case of damage. No credit card? No problem either. At Sunny Cars it is also possible to rent a car without a credit card.

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