I love Scotland’s wild backcountry landscape. During my 13 years on TGO Magazine I spent many weekends and weeks (yes, and midweeks) backpacking and hillwalking around the country.
Since moving back to Yorkshire I’ve realised just how much I miss those wide, wide open spaces. Yes, Yorkshire is the most beautiful county on Earth but while it has rolling moors, iconic hills and moors that sometimes seem to spread to the horizon, it doesn’t have that unbound feel that Scotland has.
If you follow this occasional blog you’ll know that I’m a regular on the TGO Challenge having done ten, for better or worse I’m classed as a leg-end.
More than anything else, it’s through those TGO Challenge coast-to-coast backpacks that I’ve come to discover my favourite parts of that country. One of those favourite places is the Monadhliath Mountains and it ranks among my favourite places in the world.
When I first crossed their wilder stretches during my second, 1997 crossing, I saw them as a Peak District on acid: a similar expanse of wild peaty uplands, only vastly larger in scale, with mountains, deep valleys, wild rivers. The richness and abundance of wildlife there was on a scale I’d not experienced in the British Isles before: harrier, eagle, mountain hare, red deer, lizard, adder…
I’ve passed through the Monadhliath on all my Challenge crossings since then. Perhaps because of its relative lack of 3000ft mountains, the Monadhliath attracts far fewer visitors that the neighbouring Cairngorms. As a result, it offers a much greater sense of wilderness, remoteness, solitude. A tent pitched in the Monadhliath is unlikely to attract company and the experience is all the richer because of that (unless you’re then on a certain week in May, of course, when one or two folk might pop over to share a hip flask – yours! in which case it’s a rich experience of a different nature).
For years I’ve promised myself a solo trip there during which I’ll walk only a few hundred yards each day, just following one of those lazy burns that slice tunnels through the peat, camping by still, dark pools and watching the wildlife go by.
Looks like it’s going to have to be this summer.
The Scottish government/parliament/parish council call it whatever you deem appropriate has seen fit to allow a (okay, another) large chunk of this beautiful landscape to be turned into a power station.
Permission has been granted for a 33-turbine wind power station to be built on the Dunmaglass estate.
These turbines will blanket the moors between the hills of Carn Odhar and Carn Ghriogair, and the slopes above the burns Allt nan Adag and the Allt an Doire Leathain running northwest from that line. By coincidence that just happens to be one of the most popular routes used by TGO Challengers accessing the Monadhliath on their two-week coast to coast routes. There’s been a solitary turbine in that area for several years but no-one seems to have taken any notice of what an ugly, out-of-place eyesore it is. To be frank, if it’s been genuinely providing power for the Dunmaglass Lodge and estate it’s perhaps an acceptable eyesore. The new bigger scheme, however, has no place in a wild environment.
I feel as though I’ve had my head in the sand recently as the approval of this terrible proposal has kind of passed me by. It’s thanks to my chum and fellow TGO Challenger Alan Sloman that I’m suddenly far more aware of what’s planned for this beautiful place.
Alan’s blogged in detail about it over on his site alansloman.blogspot.com and I hope you’ll take the time to read more about this travesty. And I hope you’ll add your support to the wonderful protest he’s planning A Wake For Wilderness which will hopefully take place during May, more than likely at a time when the TGO Challenge’s 300 participants will be passing through the Monadhliath. And they should do so if they can, as it looks like there’ll be less merit in passing through that wild landscape in the future.
The burns here are magical
If you want to read the summary of the environmental impact assessment about the scheme, visit the relevant page at http://www.dunmaglasswindfarm.co.uk/the-project/environmental-impacts.aspx. Check out the artist’s impression style images, which give the impression that the turbines will be, in the main, out of sight and out of mind, so long as you stick to the roads, lads, and stay off the moors.
Sadly, however, the Dunmaglass scheme isn’t the only blot on the Monadhliath landscape. Alan reports that another proposal is waiting in the wings, for an even more prominent site overlooking the Spey valley.
This cock-eyed plan would site 35 turbines high on the gathering grounds of the wild river Dulnain.
And permission has already been granted, a year ago, for the 20-turbine Corriegarth Wind Farm, above Loch Mhor, just a few kilometres west of the Dunmaglass development.
You get the impression that the politicians regard the Monadhliath as a sacrificial range, one that few people know about and one that can therefore be written off in the name of redundant power generation, profit, or whatever are the motives behind those who plan such things.
In 1994, when I joined TGO, I’d been heavily involved in a draining two-year battle against plans for a 20-something turbine wind power station planned for the moors between Hebden Bridge and Haworth. I can’t stand the thought of reciting again all the reasons why these wind power station proposals shouldn’t even be being considered. If you read this kind of blog, you already know them (or have your own take on the subject), especially the trauma that hacking away at our remaining wild places induces. We won that battle back then but every time I return to the South Pennines it sees that another hillside has been sacrificed to a big fat wind power station.
Wide open spaces bleak, some call ’em don’t appeal to everyone, but I love the vastness, the opportunity to lose yourself while finding one’s self
If you get chance, research just how many conventional dirty coal and gas fired power stations have closed since the trend for land-based wind power stations kicked in. I’m afraid the answer is “none”. Wind generate power can’t be stored in batteries and used on those occasions when the wind doesn’t blow, so the conventional stations have to be retained for such times. And those stations can’t be turned on at the flick of a switch to compensate instantly for the lack of wind generated power. They have to be kept going at some great capacity; in other words, twice the amount of energy needed has to be generated continuously.
But these wind power stations must surely bring benefits, seeing as how the governments are allowing them to be built all over the place? Well, aye, of course. Power suppliers are obliged to buy power generated by alternative means such as wind generation at an inflated from power generators such as RES (Renewable Energy Systems, behind the Dunmaglass scheme). Our energy bills are top-loaded to cater for that not sure how much these days, it used to be ten per cent but I have a feeling the current government’s about to up that this spring; they obviously think energy doesn’t cost enough yet – and that renewable pot also funds other renewables such as wave and nuclear power.
Scotland’s wild land is under severe assault from developers left right and centre. The sand dunes at Menie have been sacrificed to billionaire Donald Trump’s golf course. Giant power lines are to be built down the length of the country. The country’s political guardians see more benefit and greater value in heavy industry, profiteering power generation, the degradation of their landscape.
One lame thought occurs. If this continues, those 300 TGO Challengers, who spend the best part of a fortnight on foot, chewing little electricity as they go, won’t seem the point in crossing the industrial landscape that the Highlands are in danger of becoming. Instead, they’ll stay at home, with the heating and the lights on, and reminisce by watching repeats of Tom Weir’s Scotland or Wilderness Walks. And we’ll ned yet another sodding wind farm to provide the juice.