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Thursday, 2 October 2014

Planning a wind farm-free TGO Challenge 2015

This year I have an automatic place on the TGO Challenge as it will be my 20th official TGO Challenge. “Twenty years?”  I hear you splutter! “Hasn’t he got anything better to do with his summer holidays?” 

Lord Elpus, who will be on his 12th Challenge, has very kindly agreed to walk with me. It will be our eighth crossing together. Phil’s first crossing was with me and his wife Tini, way back in 1999. As you can see, the TGO Challenge has been a major part of my life. I have made life-long friends through this fabulous walk and there is the joy of making new friends each and every year.

And here we all are back in 1999, (the picture was taken by Jack Griffiths, who was a 90 year old Challenger at the time) looking considerably more sprightly than we do these days:

ME, PHIL & TINI, TGOC 1999

[ME, PHIL & TINI, TGO CHALLENGE 1999]

However, independently of each other, Phil and I have both decided that 2015 will be our last TGO Challenge. You can read Phil’s reasons for his decision by clicking HERE It is an excellent read, and one I agree with one hundred percent.

I am setting out my reasons for not wanting to do the TGO Challenge after 2015 below:

***

I must have bored readers of this blog senseless, banging on, for over four years now, about wind farms. You need just to click on “Wind Power Stations” in my LABELS list to the right of this blog entry to see that I have written 74 posts on wind farms. I organised a protest walk, the Wake for the Wild, in May 2011 when we carried a coffin to the spot where the topmost wind turbine was to be sited on the Dunmaglass Estate in the Glorious Monadh Liath. That protest made it to the pages of The Times, and German & French television. It was entitled a ‘Wake’ for the Wild as we all realised that Scotland’s wild places had been passed a death sentence by the Scottish Government.

I make no apology for re-publishing in full the excellent speech made by Janet Donnelly at the location of the highest Dunmaglass turbine:

 

“We have come here today because we are the lucky ones. We are lucky because we are the last generation who remember and who have had a chance to be inspired by the Scottish landscape and everything it represents.

Take a moment now to look around you – really take in what you can see because this may be the last time that you will be able to experience that extraordinary feeling that comes when we feel ourselves dwarfed by the magnificence and splendour of the unspoilt wild land around us.

As more and more swathes of the Scottish wilderness are pillaged in the name of sustainability, we mourn their loss as if they were dearly loved friends who taught us valuable lessons in life like the fact that there is more to life than 9 to 5, the daily grind and keeping up with the Jones’s. Up here we permit ourselves to escape just for a little while and allow the splendid isolation to lift our spirits as the realisation dawns that we are indeed just a tiny speck on this incredible planet.

This land is in our hands, in trust for our children and our children’s children and if the politicians and the fat cats have their way, they will look back on our stewardship of the land and hang their heads in shame.

The politicians would have us believe that there is no other way and nobody denies that something must be done to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power but we contend that the destruction of the Scottish landscape for ever is not the answer.

The technology is flawed, the sums don’t add up and the claims of large scale onshore wind power station supporters just don’t stand up to scrutiny. Add to that the news that we – the taxpayer have paid nearly a million pounds to the turbine owners to switch them off at times of peak output and we have the makings of a first class farce.

It isn’t funny though – nobody is laughing - unless you count those on their way to the bank. Let’s call a halt to the desecration of our wild landscape and the knee jerk reaction that says ‘do something – anything and we’ll think about the consequences later.

John Muir said: “Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean”

I invite you all to look around you now and try to work out where you will go to wash your spirit clean when all of this is gone.

Could you all please raise your glasses – hip flasks – mess tins, whatever you’ve brought with you?

A toast:

To the wilderness – may it continue to inspire us, arouse passion in us and provide sustenance for our souls. May those who seek to destroy it hear the voices of those for whom it is an integral part of life and may it long be regarded as an asset rather than a resource.

The Wilderness.”

***

I want to make it crystal clear that the extent of the damage being done by wind farms in the Scottish Highlands is ENTIRELY down to the Scottish Government. Yes, Tony Blair signed the UK up to draconian CO2 reduction targets in the small hours of the morning somewhere in a bunker in Europe. He did not realise that he was signing up to a reduction in the TOTAL CO2 emissions for the UK; He thought he was signing up to the emissions caused by generating electricity. That was a pretty major blunder that is still biting the UK firmly on its bottom and will continue to do so for some years to come.

However, Blair’s mistake pales into insignificance when compared to what the Scottish Government then did. Rather than settle for a 20% reduction in emissions by 2020, Alex Salmond bludgeoned the Scottish Government into first going for a target of 50% equivalent electrical energy generation supplied by wind farms, but then he increased it to 100%, by the same date. This was a MASSIVE target increase, and one that is very likely to be achieved.

Why did he do this?

The answer’s plain and simple: For the money.

Salmond was hell-bent on an independent Scotland and he knew that oil revenues were not going to last forever; He needed an income to supplement the dwindling North Sea oil and gas revenues when Scotland became independent. Onshore wind attracts a subsidy of roughly the market price of electricity and these subsidies are paid for by the consumer. The money for the wind farms’ construction is put up by the developers and so magically, this gave Salmond a future income stream, that was to be subsidised entirely by the consumer (ie the English) with no investment at all by the Scottish Government. What wasn’t there to be gleeful about? It was money for rope. That’s why he increased Scotland’s wind energy targets so massively.

That’s why wind farms are already decimating the Scottish Highlands. Money. Lots of it. And there are many, many more wind farms to come.

Already, views in Scotland are blighted by wind farms. The next picture is the Map of the Zone of Theoretical Visibility (ZTV) of just the existing wind farms in Scotland. If you are standing in any of the blue areas, you will, theoretically, be able to see wind turbines. There may of course be buildings in the way of your view. You’ll also note the great big red splodge in the centre of the Highlands. That’s the ZTV of the proposed Talladh-a-Bheithe wind farm, that I wrote about recently.

ZTV MAP OF EXISTING TURBINES

[ZONE OF THEORETICAL VISIBILITY MAP OF EXISTING TURBINES]

That’s a pretty scary map, and if you look at the title of this post – “Planning a wind farm-free TGO Challenge 2015” – you’ll see that Phil & I have our work cut out.

In fact, it is impossible.

This means a compromise. We have to plan a route where we are likely to see the least number of wind turbines as possible. For that we need to look at another map. Below you’ll find the Highland Council’s map, accurate at 23rd June 2014, of the wind farm activity in the Highland region.

You can click on this map to enlarge it so that it’s possible to see the details of each wind farm where turbine hub heights are over 50m high – which means the turbine will be a minimum height of about 85m. That’s about 280 feet tall in real money and there are probably just as many turbines again that are smaller than this 85m. To put things in perspective, most turbines currently in planning for the Highlands are between 125 and 152m high ~ they are huge. 152m is 500 feet high.

Highland Windfarm Activity June 2014

[HIGHLAND COUNCIL MAP OF WIND FARM ACTIVITY @ JUNE 2014 – CLICK TO ENLARGE]

For the Challenge, I want us to concentrate on just the area appropriate to the Challenge Boundaries. I’ve cobbled together the next map to make it easier to see the predicament when faced with planning a walk from the west coast to the east coast. It clips off the bottom of the Challenge area, as the Highland Council map doesn’t extend that far south. However, you can rest easy, knowing that from Oban and southwards to Ardrishaig ~ the most southerly start point ~ there are a plethora of whirling turbines to be enjoyed, with many more in the planning system.

Highland Council Windfarm Map June 2014

[HIGHLAND COUNCIL WIND FARM MAP ~ CHALLENGE AREA ~ JUNE 2014: CLICK TO ENLARGE]

I really would appreciate it if you did now click on the above map. It will open in a new window for you.

You will notice a line of wind farms lining the front edge of the Monadhliath Mountains, parallel to the Great Glen, from Invergarry in the south (the proposed Culachy wind farm) all the way up to the Rothes/Kellas House wind farm in the North East. That’s a distance of almost 100km ~ some 60 miles of virtually unbroken sight of wind farms. Walking from the glorious west coast of Scotland, you are faced by an escarpment of whirling wind turbines, set atop the hills. Worse than this, they thrust westwards, reaching towards the glorious Rough Bounds of Knoydart and the fabulous hills of Torridon, with Fairburn, the appalling Allt Carach (that will destroy the remote Affric hills), Beinn Mhor, Guisachan, Corriemoney, Bhlaraidh, Moriston, Millenniums 1,2,3 & South, and Beinneun (not yet built) and its extension already applied for.

Of course, the icing on the cake; The greedy Dutch owners of the Talladh-a-Bheithe estate want to destroy fabulous wild land smack in the centre of the Highlands, that is previously untouched by wind farms.

2015 will be the last possible year to thread a way through the wind farms in the central / northern section of the TGO Challenge. After that, it’s Game Over.

That is the reason I will not be back to Scotland for the TGO Challenge after 2015. Alec Salmond has single-handedly gone about and destroyed one of Scotland’s most precious assets – its wild land.

***

At the start of this piece I wrote “Hasn’t he got anything better to do with his summer holidays?” 

And the answer, post 2015, will be Yes.

With a heavy heart, I will be voting with my feet, and I’ll be exploring other parts of Europe ~ where countries value their scenery more than the greedy politicians do in Scotland. I am sure I am not alone in making this decision. Salmond has not only destroyed his wild land, he is also responsible for the inevitable slow death of his tourism industry.

Following the result of the Scottish independence referendum, Salmond has resigned as First Minister. The failed bid for independence means that the rabid rush for income from his wind farms will now be seen to have been a dreadful mistake. Alex Salmond will go down in history, not as the man who led a failed attempt at an independent Scotland (however noble a cause that might have been) but as the man who destroyed his country’s landscape.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A Wasdale slackpack: Part 3: Mountains

Everyone remembers their first visit to the Lake District, and especially so for Wasdale. The journey up the valley alongside Wastwater with Great Gable dominating, the screes, Yewbarrow and Scafell. The tiny road, threading its way between huge boulders polished to a shine thousands of years ago by giant glaciers. Shut your eyes and your skull cinema snaps into life and you relive the experience.

But it’s not just about the mountains; Its the weather ~ dark scudding clouds trapping you in the belly of the place, it’s about how man has domesticated the valley bottom, and it’s about the birds & insects that thrive hereabouts. And it is all set in the fabulous frame of incomparable mountain architecture.

Here are a few pictures of Wasdale’s architectural framework. You can click on them to make them bigger.

TOWARDS STY HEAD

TOWARDS STY HEAD

 

MOSEDALE

MOSEDALE

 

WASDALE HEAD & KIRK FELL

WASDALE HEAD & KIRK FELL

 

SHAPELY SCA FELL

SHAPELY SCA FELL

 

BOWDERDALE & NETHER BECK

BOWDERDALE & NETHER BECK

 

LINGMELL & GREAT GABLE

LINGMELL & GREAT GABLE

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A Wasdale slackpack: Part 2: Architecture

Mention Wasdale to a wrinkly hill walker and there’s a pause, and then a smile as warm memories come flooding back. What is it about this place that is so special?

It is a magical mixture of raw nature and the hand of man. There’s no denying the fabulous mountain architecture; Wasdale is dominated by massive rock hulks that tower above the lake and valley head. But complementing this colossal mountain landscape is the hand of man. Through the centuries farmers have woven an intricate web of dry stone walls and constructed low stone buildings in the lush valley bottom. This post deals with man’s architectural contribution.

Note: There may be a gratuitous picture of Trailstars, as they are an architectural tour de force, unlike any other shelter.

You can click on each of the pictures to view them at a larger size in a new window.

ST OLAF'S CHURCH, WASDALE

ST OLAF'S CHURCH, WASDALE

 

ST OLAF'S CHURCH, WASDALE

ST OLAF'S CHURCH, WASDALE

 

P1010409

 

BURNTHWAITE

BURNTHWAITE

 

RUINS ABOVE WASDALE HEAD

RUINS ABOVE WASDALE HEAD

 

MIDDLE ROW

MIDDLE ROW

 

TRAILSTARS ABOVE WASDALE

TRAILSTARS ABOVE WASDALE

 

MYSTERY STRUCTURE

MYSTERY STRUCTURE & OPTICAL ILLUSION

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A Wasdale slackpack: Part 1: Beasties

My friend Darren teaches and the TGO Challenge is in May. This means that he watches in pain as hundreds head off for two weeks backpacking in Scotland. We usually try to get away for a few nights in his summer holidays to ease the man’s agony. Over the years we’ve done chunks of the Ridgeway, the South Downs, the Peddars Way and the Black Mountain together.

I’m all heart.

This summer it was Wasdale for a slackpack ~ slack because of my hurty knee (yes, thank you for asking, it’s still hurting) and because we just didn’t fancy a strenuous list-ticky grunty time in the heat of summer.

DARREN

DARREN

There follows some pictures of the beasties we encountered over our time spent around Wasdale in the last few days. If you wish, you can click on each picture to make them larger.

P1010420

 

P1010424

 

P1010436

 

P1010448

 

P1010469

I’m pretty hopeless with naming our little feathery friends. Can anyone can tell me what the little chap is who’s sitting on the rusty fence outside the Wasdale Inn? And yes; we spent most of the first day in the pub.