Neart nan Gleann

Sloy dam

When I stand below one of the many dams built in Scotland I stand in awe. Not just at the size of it, but also in the process that constructed it, the amount of people, from many countries, required for the construction, the organisation, the hidden infrastructure you don’t see, tunnels kilometres long, power stations built in hollowed out mountains. And finally that all this was repeated across some of the remotest areas of Scotland in some of the harshest conditions.

In Scotland, during the period from 1945 to 1975, there was a concentrated hydroelectricity building program run by the now defunct North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. In this time they built fifty major dams and power stations. This program wasn’t intended to just generate electricity though. It was also meant to be a social program to encourage investment and generate jobs for the population of the Highlands and to stop the continued depopulation of the area. The program was very successful in generating electricity. Hydroelectricity now produces about 12% of Scotland’s power. Before it started only 5% of crofts in Scotland had electricity by the end almost all had access to it. The program didn’t do so well in stemming the flow of people leaving the Highlands though. People still continued to leave to find better prospects elsewhere.

The many dams built in this period are the most visually impressive element of the program. You cannot hide them due to their size and the size of the lochs they hold back. They are usually hidden away in hard to access areas of the Scottish Highlands but once you are within their environs you cannot avoid them. The large masses of concrete strung across the glens struggle to blend in with their surroundings but their presence, even majesty, means they add to the landscape instead of being a detriment to it.

The working title for the project is “Neart nan Gleann”. It was the motto of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board and is Gaelic for “Power from the Glens”. This is a long term project which I expect to last a number of years. During this time I intend to visit the majority of the schemes built during the post war period. I have made tentative steps to start the project and have visited a few schemes already. You can see the results from this above.