Mostly, this is random stories from my various trips as I collect them, but I've a wee backlog to get through too and those will pop up occasionally.

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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Like the windmills of your mind

A wee errand involving a drive through to South Glasgow saw me with a couple of hours to kill so I thought I'd head up to Eaglesham Moor for a closer look at the Whitelea Windfarm. I'd been thinking about this since sometime earlier this year when I saw that they were advertising 70km of trails suitable for mountain biking and walking. Even from the leaflet I could see that they were only really referring to the access roads used for all the windmills but I still thought it was worth checking out. 

Initial impressions were favourable. They've a lovely wee visitors centre with the usual array of coffee and snacks plus a wee shop. Showers and a bike lockup space were an unexpected bonus. They also have a hands-on "experience" area to show how the technology all works. I can see how the PR folk would love all this and there was a few school trips through while I fuelled up. It did take me back to a very similar experience I had when I was younger and we all trooped round the Dounreay Nuclear Power Station visitor centre. This time, I thought I'd avoid this bit and make my own mind "up close and personal" with the windfarm itself.

There is quite a bit of expansion work going on to the windfarm so I was told that some of the tracks (including the main spine road) were currently closed. This would severely limit how much of the windfarm I could actually get around but since I had limited time it wouldn't be an issue. The map I was given showed all the tracks and the numbers of all the towers. This meant that getting lost was next to impossible, which was handy as some of the tracks looped over the moors. 

Individually, I find the windmills quite elegant. On a mildly breezy day, their slow rotation has a somewhat soporific effect and I find it quite calming. Up close, indeed right underneath the blades, the noise was less than I'd expected. This comment was also made by some walkers I met at a viewpoint. From here, looking over the moor, I didn't find the windfarm at all jarring. If anything, I thought the array rather added to/complemented the ruggedness of the moors. From the same viewpoint, I could also see the Greater Glasgow conurbation, with the central belt sliding across towards Grangemouth and the windfarm at Climpy. 

In this setting then, it all made sense. Power-hungry customers, windy bleak moor, short transmission distance. Without going into all the finer details of the economics, if land-based windfarms are ever going to make sense, then this, surely, has to be one of the best examples. The fact that the owners are also going out of their way to promote public access can only be applauded and it's certainly worth a walk - or cycle - around for the great views out to Galloway, Arran, Argyll and the Highlands. On a clear, crisp winters day this would be a fine place to lose yourself for a few hours. 

So - if windfarms make sense here, where are they questionable? Well, I think there are still some places where they truly clash with the landscape. The occasional white tower on lower slopes of mountains can be overlooked by the tourists who flock to Scotland. Extensive farms intruding upon iconic views risk alienating these tourists and therefore the livelihood of many Scots. My current bugbears are; the Monadliath - visible from the Cairngorm National Park, Ben Wyvis - the view descending down the A9 towards Kessock is one which deserves to protected and the Loch Luichart extension - this will completely ruin the view west from the Black Isle into this rugged mountain landscape. Thankfully, people are waking up to the dangers of un-fettered expansion of land-based windfarms. Here's hoping it's not too late and we can yet maintain the correct balance.