Today for inspiration I opened Nick Wiliams’ excellent Southern Uplands guide with the intention of walking where it opened (so long as it looked interesting and wasn’t too far away, obviously). So step up Heatherstane Law. However, don’t try to find this on an Ordnance Survey map because there it is called Hudderstone. Clearly when the OS surveyor asked a local for the name of yonder hill their accent was a little on the strong side and the literal transcription made it into the database. Whatever name you use, it was a nice day out, and a good example of how quickly a guide-book can go out-of-date.
While slurping the morning brew reading Nick’s guide I came across the dreaded phrase “climb…over steep heathery slopes”. Whoa there, Nick! I don’t do steep. But a check of the map showed that if we did it in the opposite direction the contour lines would be in our favour. A plan. So we parked as recommended at the car park next to Lamington cemetery and headed up the delightful lane towards Bleakfield. That name should have sent up warning flares because the next part, over Bent Rig was indeed bleak. However, it was home to lots of birds and the air was filled with calls of Curlew, Lapwing, Skylark and Meadow Pipit which eased the tedium. This hill was a bit squelchy but that was all about to change as we reached Ewe Hill because Windy Miller has set up shop.
In the seven years since Nick’s book was published, this part of the world has now become wind-farm central, home to the Clyde Wind Farm occupying many of the hills here. The part covering my walk up to Duncangill Head is under construction and so we have a few kilometres of excellent new road 1 to fix our views on wind-farms – and this is our considered response 2:
I love wild places where I can gaze on unblemished Nature in peace-and-quiet. I also like the lights to come on when I flick the switch. Compromise required. Now we could designate somewhere that is already blighted (say, Midlothian 3) and stuff it to the gunnels with all the power generation facilities needed to keep Scotland going, and so keep the rest of the country pristine. Much as I’d like to flatten Bonnyrigg to house ten power stations, this is unlikely to meet with national approval. No, we need to share the load (in all senses).
I know from the “all eggs in one basket” school of engineering that we need a mix of energy sources for the following reasons:
- Even in Scotland wind turbines can stop spinning. See this report for the John Muir Trust for an analysis.
- I don’t want to wait for the next tide to boil my kettle.
- Our gas is increasingly coming from places where they don’t have a translation for “political stability”.
- Didn’t we sign up for a limit on our carbon emissions?
Despite continually hearing how Scotland has this enormous resource in renewable energy we’ve done very little to exploit it 4. It’s the usual problem of electing invertebrates to public office. There is also the tiny problem of money: this stuff doesn’t come cheap. The electricity line connecting the windy north of Scotland with the power-hungry Central Belt is extremely controversial because the pylons would spoil the countryside. And they do. But who would pay for the underground link? I don’t see the opponents reaching for their cheque-books or coming up with practical alternatives.
I also object to the NIMBY attitude of opponents to renewable developments. Of course these should be subject to rigorous planning controls with input from objective parties, e.g. SWT, SNH, RSPB, me, etc. I don’t include the local community in that group. The argument of it affecting your house price isn’t worthy of a hearing 5. If you don’t want a wind farm in your area please submit detailed, costed proposals of where you expect to get your power from (subject to the same planning controls).
The key is planning control. Clearly putting a wind farm along the Pentland Hills, or in a National Park, or Arthur's Seat, or Goat Fell, or the Cuillens would be an outrage and I’d be first at the barricades with the burning torches. But that is why we have planning controls: these developments need to go where the impact is minimal. For example, I recently received a letter asking me to support an objection to a new wind-farm in Glen Afton. Now, I know and love this glen. And it is already surrounded by wind turbines that in my opinion do not affect the quality of the place. But this person was objecting to a new development on hills about 5km away because it would impact their idea of developing leisure tourism. Their (ungrammatical) plea not to spoil this beautiful area just made me angry. Firstly because it isn’t beautiful (apart from the glen): the hills are boring, there is blanket forestry, and open-cast coal mining blights the area 6. Secondly, the thought of the hoped-for thousands of leisure tourists in this peaceful glen is more abhorrent than a bunch of out-of-view wind turbines. This is precisely the area where we should be encouraging the development of wind farms.
Yes all these wind-farms are a blot on the landscape, but where is pristine? Everywhere you look there is artificial landscape: the blanket forestry in D&G, towns, farms, TV antennae, roads, broadband cables heading up the remotest glen, even heather moorland. Is a wind farm any more artificial? Of course we need to avoid rampant development but a bit of perspective is needed.
So to conclude this ramble, in my never-humble opinion, wind farms are a necessary evil. They must be subject to rigorous planning controls and any plans for development in sensitive areas must be resisted 7. But they will be an essential part of the energy mix. And the access roads are great, even if they can be seen from space.
After we leave Windy Miller’s play-pen we are back on rough hill. We wander over to Windgate Bank 8 for lunch with a view over to Tinto Hill. The views today were virtually identical to those from our walk around Culter Fell a month ago so I won’t duplicate them. Suitably refreshed we headed for Heatherstane Law, the main hill of the day and a Donald to boot. The gap between the two hills is knee-crushingly steep, but thankfully short and we are soon at the rather boring summit but with nice views. From here we drop down towards Cowgill Reservoirs and a pleasant walk along Nip's Road – a lovely grassy path beside Cowgill Loch – back to the lane to Lamington.
The wind-farm construction certainly spoils this walk, but it did give us a chance to examine a turbine before it was erected, and they are impressive pieces of German equipment.
- South Ayrshire should take note: it was infinitely better than the bone-shaking, wheel-smashing “roads” such as the one through Kirkmichael – I’ve lost fillings going through that village! ↩
- OK, it’s a rambling rant, but what were you expecting, Jacob Bronowski? ↩
- Where I grew up: so please send in comments explaining my error and I’ll happily reply with my thoughts on the dump that the Esk valley has become. ↩
- Despite visionaries like Professor Salter at the University of Edinburgh doing work on wave generators in the late 70s. And having the coolest demo of freak waves! ↩
- And I live within 10 miles of the biggest on-shore wind-farm in Europe and within the fallout zone of a nuclear power station and don’t indulge in NIMBY. ↩
- But think about the jobs! ↩
- And a huge chunk of the Southern Uplands isn’t sensitive. ↩
- A clue why the wind-farm is here? ↩
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