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The Helix and cycling the HArTT route

Written by Fiona

November 22 2022

I enjoyed a day of cycling the HArTT (Helix Around Town Tour) route of 26km (16 miles) in and around Falkirk in Central Scotland. At the heart of the HArTT is The Helix, a large green space between Falkirk and Grangemouth, and at the heart of The Helix are The Kelpies, the world’s largest equine sculptures.

How to cycle the HArTT

Make a plan: Before you set off to cycle this route it’s worth spending time on the planning. The full circuit is 26km and this requires a reasonable level of fitness.

The route is fairly flat and but there are some ups and downs and a high point of 105m.

Terrain and bike choice: The paths and mainly very rideable, with some tarmac, and plenty of easy-going paths but there are also some muddier and trickier single-track sections.

The best bike choice is for off-road, such as hybrid (with grippy tyres), gravel bike or hard-tail mountain bike (no need for full suspension).

You could also hire an e-bike from Forth Bike, which has a base at The Helix.

The route is shared with pedestrians.

Be people aware: Much of the cycle route is shared with pedestrians, so it’s important that you take care when near other people and give way to walkers and runners. You should dismount your bike where signs indicate.

Be prepared: Make sure you take essential bike mechanic items, including puncture repair kit, pump and relevant Allen keys. There is a small bike maintenance set up outside the visitor centre at The Helix and some local bicycle shops: Falkirk Bike Clinic and Halfords some 4km away; Forth Valley Cycle Works, 5.5km; and Greenrig Cycles, 7km.

It is also a good idea to take snacks and water with you., especially if you are cycling with kids.

Navigation: The route is signposted in places with a mix of wooden markers and metal signs but you can’t rely on the signposts to make the full circuit. There are quite a few places with confusing junctions or multiple trails. The best approach is to use a phone app such as Komoot, OS Maps or upload a GPX file to your chosen navigation platform.

This is the route I cycled:

  • Komoot
  • OS Maps
  • You can download a GPX for your own use if you have the paid for apps.

(Disclaimer: Please be aware that paths and signage can be subject to change and at times I found my own route based on what I saw ahead of me.)

Spend more time: The HArTT visits plenty of family friendly attractions during the circuit. You could easily spend a day at The Helix and it might be worth planning a two-day trip to Falkirk so you can fully explore The Helix and then ride the HArTT the next day (or vice versa).

Make sure you check opening days and times for various attractions.

Falkirk is brilliantly located for also visiting three of Scotland’s cities, Edinburgh, Stirling and Glasgow. In addition, accommodation is likely to cheaper in and around Falkirk compared to the cities.

The Kelpies at The Helix.

What I like about HArTT

There is a lot to see and do on the route. Allow a full day if you want to have time to visit the attractions.

Give yourself time before the bike ride, or leave time at the end, to explore The Helix. A guided tour of The Kelpies offers an insight into the creation of these stunning sculptures – plus you can go inside one of them.

Find out more about things to do at The Helix.

What to see on the HArTT

If you cycle anti-clockwise, these are some of the highlights to look out for:

River Carron and Wetland

I enjoyed the peace and quiet of the wetland area, which is home to an array of birds and aquatic wildlife. The low sun cast a beautiful light on the autumn and winter plants. I also spotted grey squirrels busy collecting food for the winter ahead.

Love & Kisses. Credit: Denise McGregor

Abbotshaugh Woods

Look out for a number of artworks, including The Human Sun Clock and Love & Kisses, which were created by Langlees and Bainsford residents and artist Jephson Robb as part of The Helix development.

Dawson Mural

You’ll cycle through a short underpass where a mural has been painted to brighten the metal work. It was created by a local youth group and graffiti artist Scott Gilbert. It’s a bit faded these days but still a fun distraction as you cycle through.

Forth & Clyde Canal

I cycled the route on a lovely calm day and the surface of the canal acted as a mirror for trees and plants along the banks of the waterway. There is a series of locks when you join the canal.

This is a lovely stretch and very easy pedalling on smooth tarmac. Look out for a simple metal sculpture of three people, part of Sustrans Portrait Benches initiative.

A wooden post reveals these portray several local people, including Dr Harold Lyon (1921 to 1990), who established the Strathcarron Hospice; Robert Barr (1835 to 1904), who is the name behind the fizzy drink Irn-Bru; and Reginald Adams, who spent decades coaching Scottish swimming champions.

Rosebank Distillery: Whisky has been made on the site of Rosebank Distillery in Camelon since 1840, although it was shut for 25 years from 1993. Today, work goes on to revive the distillery, which is famed for producing whisky known as the King of the Lowlands.

View from the rear of the Union Canal side of the Falkirk Wheel.

The Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s only rotating boatlift and was built to replace a series of locks that linked the Forth & Clyde canal with the Union Canal. It is as tall as eight double decker buses stacked up and weighs 1200 tonnes.

You can take a trip on the Falkirk Wheel and learn about the amazing feat of engineering and also enjoy a neighbouring water play area with a splash zone, waterwalkerz, canoeing, plus bike hire and segway safaris.

Roughcastle Tunnel

The short tunnel was excavated when the Falkirk Wheel was built so as not to disturb the remains of the Roman Antonine Wall of 142AD under which it passes. There are colourful lights inside. Cyclists need to dismount.

One of the aqueducts.
Home of the Seagull Trust.

Union Canal

Cyclists enjoy two canals on the HArTT circuit. The Union Canal also offered many picturesque views as I rode the towpath. The canal is 32 miles long and travels over aqueducts – including Britain’s second longest – through tunnels and eventually to Edinburgh. HArTT riders leave the canal well before it reaches Scotland’s capital.

You’ll spot the home of Seagull Trust Cruises on the opposite bank of the canal. The trust is a charitable organisation run by unpaid volunteers, which provides free barge trips for people with special needs.

Train links: There are two railway stations in Falkirk, Falkirk High and Falkirk Grahamston, which offer good rail links to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling. See ScotRail.

Callendar House. Credit: Robert Murray

Callendar House and Park

The park and house offer more attractions to visit on the route. The large park with woodlands and gardens dates to the 12th century. A part of the Antonine Wall – a UNESCO World Heritage site – is also located within the grounds. Families can enjoy a children’s playpark, a Nature Play Trail and crazy golf.

Callendar House is a 14th century French chateau-styled house. It’s a four-star visitor attraction complete with working Georgian kitchen; a permanent display: The Story of Callendar House; an art gallery; plus Callendar House Tearoom.

How about stopping for afternoon tea?

Westquarter Glen

The gorge is home to a small waterfall, as well as a woodland of yew, sycamore, oak, holly and larch trees. There are opportunities to spot dippers, grey wagtails and kingfishers, although I only saw grey squirrels. In fact, the squirrels were plentiful and seemed to be very used to people passing by.

Note: There are lots of steps to negotiate, a wooden bridge with missing planks (Nov 2022) and muddy trails, so you might choose to walk down to the waterfall and then return to your bikes, or bypass the glen and travel by road towards the next attraction.

Falkirk Stadium

Falkirk Stadium is the home of Falkrik FC. There is also a cafe if you can’t wait until you reach The Helix just next door.

What’s not to like so much

While this is a good route for cyclists and for exploring some of the visitor attractions, it’s worth noting a few points:

Navigating is difficult in places due to lack of signage and some signposts that have twisted round. There are plans to upgrade signposting for Spring 2023.

There is more litter than I’d like to see in some locations.

A bridge over a small river in Westquarter is missing several planks. One gap requires quite a large stride. You can avoid this glen by following the roads nearby.

For more information about things to do in Falkirk see: Visit Falkirk.

  • I visited the HaRTT route and The Helix as part of a work project. The words and views are entirely my own.

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