Her Royal Highness Princess Anne gave The Kelpies their crowning glory today (July 8th) as she officially opened the world’s largest pair of equine sculptures and the new canal extension over which they stand guard.

Amidst a crowd of hundreds, HRH the Princess Royal led a colourful flotilla of around 40 yachts, puffers, and barges along the Forth & Clyde Canal to the sculptures before meeting some of the groups and individuals involved in the project. Artist Andy Scott, who designed The Kelpies, was also on hand to introduce the Clydesdale horses that served as his life models for the sculptures, before the Princess Royal unveiled a plaque commemorating the project.

The colossal Kelpies, which tower over a new section of the historic Forth & Clyde Canal, are the centrepieces of the £43m Helix project. The scheme, driven by a partnership of Falkirk Council and Scottish Canals and supported by an award of £25m from the Big Lottery Fund, 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. More than one million visitors from all over the world have stood in the shadow of the sculptures since their unveiling in April 2014, bringing renewed vibrancy and income to the area and boosting the local economy by an estimated £1.5m per year.

Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities said: “I am delighted to be part of today’s event to mark the official opening of The Kelpies and the new Forth & Clyde Canal extension.

“This ambitious project, thanks in part to a contribution of over £9 million from Scottish Canals and the Scottish Government, is an excellent example of partnership working.

“Culture can be an important catalyst for economic development and a powerful force for regeneration. As well as attracting more tourists and further inward investment, The Helix and The Kelpies will support and shape the local area, fostering and reinforcing peoples’ sense of identity and community cohesion for many years to come.”

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.

Andrew Thin, Chairman of Scottish Canals, said: “We are honoured that Her Royal Highness Princess Anne was able to join us to celebrate the official opening of The Kelpies and the new Forth & Clyde Canal extension. 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.

“Today was a fitting culmination of almost a decade of hard work that saw the partners and local community come together to transform an ambitious idea into soaring, steel-clad reality. The Kelpies and the new 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.

"But, while these magnificent monuments to horse-powered heritage have captured the imaginations of people all over the planet, they belong to the people of Falkirk, Grangemouth and Scotland itself. We’d like to offer a huge thank you to everyone who has visited The Kelpies and the new canal by boot, boat or bike since their completion and look forward to welcoming even more visitors in the years to come.”   

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.

Councillor Adrian Mahoney, Falkirk Council’s spokesperson for Culture, Leisure and Tourism, said: “The Kelpies have been great additions to the local area and have helped the wider Helix Park project become a must-see destination for people visiting Scotland. I’m delighted that Princess Anne took time out of her busy Royal schedule to officially open the sculptures and to hear about the wider work being to create The Helix.

 “The Princess has a long and happy association with the Council area. She became a visitor to Strathcarron Hospice, a short drive from The Helix site, in the 1980s and was awarded the Freedom of District in 1991. Since then she’s made many successful visits to the area. It therefore seems fitting that she has officially opened The Kelpies and the canal extension and has been able to meet many of the people involved in this transformational project. I hope she enjoyed her visit today and comes back to see us again very soon.”

The new canal which passes between The Kelpies is one of the most complex sections of waterway ever built in Scotland. Passing beneath the M9 motorway and the A905 trunk road, the new section and sea lock dramatically improve access to the Forth & Clyde Canal’s eastern gateway.

The one-kilometre extension returns the Forth & Clyde back to its birthplace in Grangemouth some 250 years after it was built, and is the final piece in the Millennium Link project that restored the nation’s inland waterways back to a navigable state for the first time in more than 50 years and saw the construction of the iconic Falkirk Wheel.

Big Lottery Fund Scotland Chair, Maureen McGinn, said: “Our £25 million investment in The Helix shows how Lottery money helps realise bold visions - in this case, transforming a derelict area of land into a thriving visitor attraction.

“From the magnificent Kelpies to a major new canal extension, this Living Landmarks project is a fantastic asset not just for the communities of Falkirk and Grangemouth but also for visitors from all over the UK and beyond. It has created many jobs as well as large numbers of volunteering opportunities and I’m delighted that the Big Lottery Fund has been able to play a significant part in making this happen.”

As well as The Kelpies and the canal, The Helix offers a myriad of attractions including a wetland boardwalk, a lagoon, a splash play area, The Horsebox and Plaza cafes, and 27km of flat, traffic-free paths. A new visitor centre, celebrating The Helix, The Kelpies, and the canal over which they stand guard, is also set to open in late 2015. The building will offer a restaurant, retail area, audio visual experience, and visitor information conveniently under one roof.

Enthusiastic staff from Falkirk Community Trust, which manages The Helix and a raft of local community volunteers, organise a range of events and activities throughout the site, with everything from Nordic Walking to open water swimming, running and cycling events, and even beekeeping taking place year-round.

The area is also a valuable educational resource attracting school pupils and college and university students, with its unique biodiversity offering learning and teaching opportunities for all ages and stages, as well as less-formal nature walks and discovery events.