One of Falkirk’s top tourist attractions has been awarded VisitScotland’s highest accolade for a third year running.
The Helix, home to the world-famous Kelpies, won the national tourist body’s five-star rating in recognition of its high-quality facilities and also for exceeding visitor expectations.
Other five-star rated attractions in the district are Callendar House and Xtreme Karting in Larbert.
Helix tour guide Elaine Reid shared what it’s like to be part of such a high-achieving, award-winning team.
“It’s genuinely wonderful as there’s such a positive ethos here,” she said.
“We are all equals and always muck in when an extra pair of hands are needed to help each other and that goes for all staff – car park attendants, gardeners, park cleaners, cafe staff and also the management team who we are all on first name terms with.
“I think what sets the Helix apart from other tourist attractions is that it is so unique in what it offers.
“We get visitors every day from all corners of the world. Even on bad weather days we’re busy. During the recent torrential rain for example we still had people wanting to go on tours – they just pulled their hoods up and got on with it as they were so excited to be here and learn about the Kelpies.
“We get all nationalities, people from China, Australia, America and all over Europe. This week I had a family from Tasmania and they were so excited to be in Scotland and visit one of the country’s top attractions.”
Visitors can choose between two types of tours – a 15-minute Kelpie Experience tour and a more extensive 30-minute tour which delves into the history behind the stunning equine sculptures and the mythology behind their title.
Elaine said: “The longer tour also gives a bit of history about the town of Falkirk and a bit of background about Andy Scott, the artist who created them.
“People from all walks of life are interested in learning all about the Kelpies as they are not only a beautiful work of art but an amazing feat of engineering too.”
Elaine said the tours allow for a maximum of 40 visitors but there is room inside for up to 80 people.
“We also do educational tours which are 45 minutes long from nursery through to secondary schools which are more interactive than the other tours,” she added.
The 100-feet high steel structures are called Duke and Baron, after two Clydesdale horses that artist Andy Scott chose as his life models to base the sculptures on.
It is only Duke (the one with his head down) however which is used for tours because Baron does not have a proper wooden floor and has been designed and constructed in such a way that it doesn’t provide as good a visitor experience.
Elaine, who was a former depute head teacher at Bo’ness Public School for 14 years, said she chooses to work at the Kelpies because she “genuinely loves them”.
“After I stopped working as a depute head I didn’t want to fully retire so I started working here as I live nearby and haven’t looked back since. All the staff get positive feedback every day from visitors which is so rewarding.”
The Helix’s dedicated team are keen to further build on their five star success and Elaine has personally contributed to this by using her experience in education to develop a Teachers Information Pack with links to the school curriculum which can be found on the park’s website.
She said: “This is something I was very excited and proud to be part of.”
Helix team leader Ben Mardall praised Elaine and her fellow staff members for making the Helix “such a warm and welcoming place to visit”.
He added: “The Helix Destination training, which we developed in-house from the VisitScotland Exceeding Customer Expectation initiative, alongside our staff’s continued focus on improving visitors’ experience, has enabled us to deliver high standards while still growing tourist numbers and levels of community participation.”
Falkirk Community Trust’s chief executive Maureen Campbell also congratulated the Helix team on their “fantastic achievement”.
She added: “The Helix project has welcomed over four million visitors since opening and is a truly spectacular example of what can be achieved through collaboration.”
Neil Christison, VisitScotland regional director, said: It is wonderful to see the Helix, Home of the Kelpies, retain their five-star Quality Assurance rating from VisitScotland. Falkirk’s tourism offering is going from strength to strength with three five-star attractions and many other high quality experiences in the area.
“Maintaining this kind of standard is essential to keep visitors returning again and again.
“The Kelpies is a key attraction to the town and we know how dedicated the staff are to improving the visitor experience so this award is a testament to that.
“We need to continue creating world class experiences, events and attractions to keep up with ever-changing visitor demands. Tourism is more than a holiday experience – it is the heartbeat of the Scottish economy and touches every community, generating income, jobs and social change.”
Falkirk Council’s spokesperson for Culture, Leisure and Tourism Robert Spears said: “This important VisitScotland rating perfectly reflects the high quality and all round visitor experience available at the Helix and Kelpies.
“Keeping this award fully underscores the Falkirk area as one of the top visitor destinations in Scotland.”