Wheelie great fun in Falkirk: Lovely hotels, the Kelpies and giving a rhino a mud bath will have you in a spin

The Falkirk wheel at sunset (Andrew Milligan / PA)
The Falkirk wheel at sunset (Andrew Milligan / PA)

A LONG, black tongue snakes its way around the branch we hold and, with a tug strong enough to lift us off our feet, strips it of its leaves.

We stare up into the big, brown, heavily-lashed eyes of a towering giraffe who is clearly greedy for more.

Feeding time at Blair Drummond Safari Park – just a short drive from Falkirk and Grange Manor, our holiday hotel – is the highlight of our stay.

We’ve been up close and personal with a lemur family, their tiny fingers gripping ours as we step into their Lemur Land enclosure to feed them vegetables. And on the safari drive we are in awe as the park’s very own Lion King passes so close we can see the quiver of his muscles.

Blair Drummond Safari Park

There are more than 350 animals at the park, which embraces conservation and education. It is home to Scotland’s only giraffe population and is part of a breeding programme for Southern white rhinos.

The animal experiences offered to visitors here include feeding meerkats and even giving a rhino a mud bath.

There’s so much to do at the park, such as the sea lion show, boat rides to Chimp Island, the astraglide, a petting farm, and an amusement park that we vow we’ll be back for more.

And it’s no hassle as 19th Century Grange Manor is great base from which to explore central Scotland with Stirling, Glasgow and Edinburgh all within easy striking distance.

Our expansive executive room brims with period charm but boasts modern day comforts including a large, sumptuous bed and a cavernous en suite bathroom with huge walk-in shower, and a generously-sized bath.

Fluffy white bath robes and slippers complete the indulgence.

Dinner in the stylish Cook’s Bar is an equally relaxed affair.

Our favourite dish is Scotch lamb and chickpea tagine in a light curry sauce with jewelled rice – off the scale delicious.

The Grange Manor team pulls out all the stops to make our stay memorable – right down to organising a visit to the Helix Park and a tour of the Kelpies.

The world’s biggest horse head sculptures are on its doorstep and can be reached on foot in 10 minutes.

The almost 100ft (90m) statues, designed by Scots sculptor Andy Scott, stand before a fabulous new extension to the Forth & Clyde Canal, near the River Carron.

And they draw tourists from around the world to The Helix, a new parkland project with great play areas built to link 16 communities in the Falkirk Council area.

(PA Archive)
(PA Archive)

No visit to this region is complete without checking out the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s only rotating boat lift.

It opened in 2002 as part the Milliennium Link project and connects the Forth & Clyde Canal with the Union Canal.

The wheel rotates 180 degrees in less than five minutes and can carry loads as heavy as 100 elephants, and yet it only uses the energy equivalent of boiling eight kettles.

It draws thousands of visitors who, like us, are eager to board one of two visitor boats to be lifted more than 100 feet (35m) to the aqueduct above.

For those without a head for heights, there are plenty of other attractions on site, from Segway safaris and bike hire, to waterwalkerz and canoeing, as well as children’s play and water parks, cafes and ice cream parlours.

And there are canal paths to explore and wonderful walks along the ancient remains of the Antonine Wall.

Built by Emperor Antoninus Pius in the years following AD 140, it once formed the frontier of the Roman Empire and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We can’t fault Falkirk – from African forays and time travelling to an empire lost, to mind blowing engineering, walking on water, and idyllic escapes to leafy waterfront locations – it has a whole raft of great attractions.

The only challenge we have is finding time to explore them all.


Grange Manor offers dinner, bed and breakfast from £89per room, Oct- Mar. Call 01324 474836 or see visitgrangemanor.co.uk

Blair Drummond Safari Park blairdrummond.com

Family tickets for the Falkirk Wheel start at £37 scottishcanals.co.uk

A Kelpie Tour costs £7.50 (Children free) thehelix.co.uk