STORIES BEHIND: The Kelpies and a Tribute to Working Animals

The Kelpies are unique sculptures erected in Helix Park Scotland, and this is their story.

So what are kelpies?

A kelpie is a mythical creature in Scottish folklore. Kelpies are aquatic shape-shifting creatures found in lochs, waterways and streams.  These are malevolent creatures that trick and drag people, especially children, into the water, and drown them.

They are mostly described as horses, and sometimes as women. Well, there is an obvious sexism here, describing evil creatures as women apparently.

It is quite likely that the very existence of the legend of Lochness Monster is actually rooted in this folklore of water spirits.

But why to erect these sculptures?

Is it to re-tell the legend of kelpie? Is it to pass this legend to younger generations?

Well, actually, although the name of the installation was clearly inspired by the water horse legend and it was built as a horse-head by the water, the aim of the artist was different than these.

The sculptor who designed the Kelpies, Andy Scott, explains that it is more about “the social history of horses” (check the video below).  Perhaps this angle is even more interesting than a mythical creature per se. What would he mean by the social history of horses?

Horse-power was an important aspect of industrialisation of the country. The canals were like the highways of the times of the industrial revolution. These were the most advanced and convenient way of transportation of the time and horses played a huge part in this. Horses were used to draw narrowboats, also called canal barges, along the canals. Horse-drawn canal boats were used up until their replacement with the boats with steam engines. So, actually, the transportation of the goods via canals was realised by using horses.

A horse-drawn boat around 1900 (Image Credit:

In fact, the Kelpies aimed to commemorate the horse-powered heritage of Scotland, and Andy defines this as “an interesting celebration of the legacy of the horses” in this country.

Of course, this significant public art installation also becomes a tourist attraction, and even special tours from Glasgow are operated for visiting the Helix park where the sculptures are located.

So, now you know, from the mythical water horses to working horses of industrial times, the Kelpies mark these majestic animals’ legacy, and tell their stories to future generations.

(Image Credits: Trixta Photography)