Every six months this blog takes a distinctly Scottish turn. That’s because every April and October, and sometimes inbetween, I spend a week working in Scotland. Computer support in the towns and cities by day, expeditions into the countryside by night (well, twilight). The whole experience has inspired me to start up a whole new blog, with not a wind turbine in sight… It will be a photo website dedicated to the UK’s greatest driving roads and I can’t wait to get started!
A couple of potentially controversial points in that last sentence, which I’ll address immediately. First up, how can someone who claims to be protecting the hills from eco-destruction go on to promote driving petrochemical machines on tarmac roads right through the heart of them? I’ve pondered this one long and hard: clearly there are an awful lot of environmental problems with petrol engines, and the sooner we can replace loud, dirty, petrol-based cars with cleaner alternative fuels, the better.
However there is ONE environmental advantage to the humble motorcar, and that is this: it helps us connect with, understand and appreciate nature. Especially if we live in cities. The car is our means of teleporting into the most remote locations imaginable; it’s up to us as individuals how we choose to behave when we get there. As they say, “guns don’t kill, people do”, so we could say the same with bad or antisocial drivers.
Slow and considerate driving, in as small and economical a car as possible, minimises its impact on the environment whilst affording us the ecologically beneficial ability to get to the mountains and learn a thing or two about the nature of reality, stuff that we’d never in a million years learn were we confined to the cities and suburbs. Is that one of the purposes of Agenda 21, one wonders? After all, in the words of Ewan MacColl: “If the bourgeoisie had had any sense at all they would never have allowed the working class into that kind of countryside. Because it bred a spirit of revolt.”
The second controversial statement in that seemingly innocuous website idea, the UK’s greatest driving roads, is the inclusion of Scotland (let alone Northern Ireland, if I get that far). Maybe if Scottish Independence finally goes ahead, I’d have to remove almost all the greatest driving roads from the website!
So apparently Scotland voted to remain in the EU, yet when it comes to remaining in the UK there’s a sizeable amount of the electorate, including the SNP, who want to leave the union. Confusing and complicated stuff! I bring it up because in these Brexit times I think it’s nice to empathise with someone else and see things from the opposite point of view. How do we (English folk) feel about Scotland breaking away from us? I’ve said it before – I’d be very, very sad. HOWEVER: if that’s what they want, and feel is best for them, and vote for democratically, then good luck to them! I’ll still come and visit, even if I have to pass a Customs Checkpoint on Carter Bar…
Imagine threatening Scottish people with Armageddon should they walk away from England. Imagine describing those in favour of Scottish independence as “little Scotlanders”. Try this for a thought exercise: find your nearest Brexit debate (shouldn’t take you more than about three seconds to locate one), and every time you come across the term “Leavers”, substitute it for “Scottish Nationalists”. If the statement still holds true, then it’s probably logically sound; if it sounds ridiculous then that invalidates the original point.
I’d also like to clarify a couple of points I made in my last entry. Firstly, saying that politicians have lost the moral authority and the public doesn’t believe them is NOT the same as saying they are factually wrong; it’s saying the public no longer ASSUMES them to be correct, by default. We are surprised if they are. We no longer go to them for information. A lot of people on the left call the Daily Mail the Daily Fail (or even the Daily Heil), believing it to be the work of Satan. Even Wikipedia, apparently, doesn’t recognise the Daily Mail as a credible source of news. Does that mean that every article it publishes is false? Of course not, but all in all, on balance, a lot of people have no trust for the Mail’s judgement and therefore will be sceptical by default.
This is the point about the Referendum result: it gave us mathematical proof that more voters disbelieve the claims of politicians than believe them; not that the politicians are factually wrong, but that as a source of information they now “officially” lack authority and credibility in the eyes of the public.
It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Saying you don’t trust people’s judgement is NOT the same as saying they are flat-out incorrect, just that you’re not convinced you’ve seen enough of their inner workings to take their opinion as gospel without the need for further confirmation. This is another reason I err on the side of “too much information”; so that my mental journeys are logged fully, to retrace my steps and to show why I’ve come to the conclusions I have. Where possible, third-party evidence is provided to give credibility where I might personally have none (case in point: LSE’s report “Gone With The Wind”).
I’d also like to clarify what I said about politicians not having the right to an opinion. OK, such a statement is as reductive and bone-headed as one of Theresa May’s PMQs answers! My bad. Let’s change the word “opinion” to “agenda”… everyone has an opinion about all manner of topics, it’s ludicrous to enact a “no opinions” policy, otherwise people wouldn’t even be allowed to decide how many sugars to have in their tea! The point I wanted to make, and I’m sure you get the gist, was that in an official capacity we are only expected to pass personal judgement on very specific matters that relate to our particular job.
When an opinion becomes an agenda that directly goes against the interests of the employer, that’s when one really has to do some soul-searching about whether it’s tenable to carry on working for them. A few politicians seem to have semi-realised this: hello, TIGgers! They at least resigned, because their own agendas had diverged so much from that of their respective parties, though of course they’ve not gone the whole hog and stood for public re-election just yet.
So clearly our politicians are allowed opinions, but there is a due process for expressing them and getting them acted upon: manifesto pledges that require endorsement by the electorate. What politicians are not allowed to do is to follow an agenda that runs contrary to the stated aims of the manifesto pledges on which they were elected. If they wish to change direction from that which was endorsed by the electorate, the new direction should clearly similarly require democratic validation.
With regard to the impacts (or otherwise) of “No Deal”, I repeat what I said last time. I’m all for a deal being done, I want a deal to be done. Shit as it is, I’d be happy with the deal prepared by Theresa May and the EU to get the ball rolling, because things can always change in the future. The only circumstance in which I’d consider “No Deal” to be viable is in a straight choice between “No Deal” and “No Brexit”.
I feel it was a real oversight in terms of the creation of the Referendum not to have made the post-Brexit changes more explicit. I asked this last time: has anyone ever tried leaving the EU before? The exit process (offboarding, we call it in IT) needs smoketesting in order to see what happens, to deal with any unintended consequences and to ensure that future referenda improve their format, so as not to leave room for any further ambiguities.
Maybe as an IT professional I’m more tolerant about the “mess” we find ourselves in than many others. I spend my professional life surrounded by broken computers. You would be shocked to see the state of some hugely important server rooms – God only knows what the network cabinets look like in the House of Commons! Yet, most of the time they work. When they do need repairs, sometimes sorting out all the cables leaves the cabinets looking even worse temporarily, which is why we often do these jobs in the evenings or at weekends. So problem resolution can be a messy business, I get that entirely.
That’s not to say there is no problem, far from it, there is a huge democratic deficit. But my job is solving problems, so wherever there’s an issue, I know for a fact there’s a solution, or a range of them. As long as we stay solutions-focused, we’ll get there in the end.
Right, I think that’s me done on Brexit for now. I just wanted to refer to it in context with Scottish Independence, and say it’s a good mental exercise to look at the issue from the opposite perspective – how does it feel that someone wants to leave us (well, not all Scots, clearly, not even a majority… but enough!)?
Now, I’ve got this far and I’ve not even got angry about wind turbines yet. Am I mellowing in my old age? Have I been got to by a wind developer? You came this far expecting to see me have a meltdown, right? Sorry, I hope I’ve not disappointed you! For the remainder of this entry, I’m going to take you on a guided tour of where I’ve been this week, and let’s see, together, where wind blight interrupted my good mood and triggered an amygdala hijack!
Day 1: up the A1 past Newcastle, then along the A696/A68 to Carter Bar, the stunning hilltop border and site of the Raid of the Redeswire in 1575 (one of the last skirmishes between England and Scotland). Almost immediately a left-fork and the cross-country route to Hawick, via Bonchester Bridge, imminent site of the notorious Pines Burn Wind Farm. Don’t worry Duncan, if you’re reading, I didn’t stop. Anyway, the new, mellow me no longer threatens to “destroy” wind scammers or “burn your wind farm down to the ground” (allegedly)… I trust Nature to know best! So nothing but peace and goodwill from me nowadays 🙂
A short hop up the A7 to Selkirk, then west to gorgeous Peebles, one of my favourite towns in Southern Scotland. Apparently there is a wind farm to the north at Bowbeat Hill, but it’s not visible from the Tweed valley. Photos from the internet make it look absolutely appalling from on high, however.
The A72 crosses the main east-west watershed at a relatively low gap between higher hills, just north of Biggar, and almost immediately the gravitational pull of Glasgow slowly exerts itself, with isolated villages gradually starting to get closer together, and, guess what, lots and lots of single wind turbines starting to line the road sides.
Day 2: After a busy day working in Glasgow, and with a hotel booked in East Kilbride to the south, there were a couple of superlatives I wanted to explore: Scotland’s hardest village, and Scotland’s highest village! Obviously Whitelee Wind Farm dominates the landscape immediately south of East Kilbride, but as mentioned a year ago now (wow, time flies!), it’s actually relatively well shielded by a ridge that obscures views from the north.
After skirting Kilmarnock I headed southeast on the A76. Not a wind turbine visible for miles and miles! Finally I arrived at the infamous village of New Cumnock, where most of the roadside buildings seemed to be boarded up, aside from an incongruously shiny new swimming pool. At least unemployed residents of this ex-coal mining community can perfect their breast stroke, as it were. Actually, New Cumnock was not that different in character to some of the more deprived estates in the West Riding – Mixenden in Calderdale sprang to mind as an obvious comparison. And just as Mixenden lies in the shadow of Ovenden Moor Wind Farm, so does New Cumnock lie in the shadow of Hare Hill Wind Farm, on top of the very first 600m peak I passed on this evening’s drive.
After New Cumnock, the hills started closing in on each side, the Carsphairn Hills to the south and the Lowther Hills to the north. I soon turned off the A76 and onto the narrow, winding B road that led up to Wannockhead, the highest village in Scotland, yet strangely nowhere near as high as a good few villages in the Peak District (Flash in Staffordshire is almost 100m higher!). I thought it was very, very revealing that at Wannockhead’s church was a prominent sign saying “No More Wind Turbines” (see photo at the top of this page). Is this the Voice of God?! For what it’s worth, this was literally the only “political” poster I saw during the entire week.
From the Lowthers I gradually descended to the M74, aka “Turbine Alley”. I shadowed the motorway on the adjacent old road. Almost continuously from here, by the source of the Clyde, to the outskirts of Glasgow were views of wind turbines. This is the true epicentre of Scotland’s wind energy belt.
Day 3: much less blight today, though not without some notable exceptions. Having finished work in Glasgow, I headed north and almost immediately started climbing the Campsie Fells. At the top, I noticed the Earlsburn Wind Farm, one I’ve talked about before, as it did have the support of a lot of the community. See, I do give credit where credit’s due, and I do respect democracy more than my own opinions! I’d just love to know, ten years after construction, how do the residents feel about the wind farm now?
From the Fintry Hills to Stirling, where I kept seeing the appalling Braes o’ Doune Wind Farm, another one I’ve covered before, along with the Daily Fail (they’re certainly not wrong here). From Stirling to the Ochils, another stunning range with two “hidden” wind farms at the top, invisible from the hillfoot towns beneath the steep slopes. It was only on the road to Gleneagles that I noticed the turbines of Burnfoot Hill/Rhodders Wind Farms. The glen itself is spectacular, as is the internationally famous golf resort at the bottom. What a shame to see these turbines here. Did they really need a wind farm in the Ochils?
North of Gleneagles and onwards to Crieff, then west on the A85 into the edge of the Highlands. Had I more time I would have continued onto Glen Ogle and even further into the mountains, however night was on its way and I wanted to enjoy one final twilight drive, the stunning yet sick-making Duke’s Pass, with its almost non-stop twists and turns!
Day 4: tonight was one of the most exhilarating drives I’ve ever done, but it took a while to get there! Having finished work in Glasgow, I had all evening to make my way to Edinburgh where I’d be staying in the very fancy Braid Hills Hotel. Me being me, just a short haul along the M8 was not enough to satisfy my appetite for the hills. And so I headed south, almost back to England! Almost, but not quite. The M74 is something to behold, if you can withstand the constant (and I do mean constant) presence of wind turbines for almost the entirety of its route. By Uddington, pretty much all human life has vanished, and the featureless, rolling moors stretch off into the distance. Well, I say featureless – other than miles and miles of pylons and literally hundreds of wind turbines. Throw in lashing rain and hail, and this must rank as one of the most inhospitable regions in the UK.
Beyond Abington the hail turned to snow, and I started feeling decidedly apprehensive about how I’d get back to Edinburgh without having to resort to a boring return trip on the motorway. Filled with trepidation, I turned off the M74 and passed through the “Dark Sky” town Moffatt, aka the Town that Time Forgot. There are two stunning passes north east of Moffatt, and I plumped for the A708 towards Selkirk, a long, long distance away with barely just a couple of hamlets along the route. Not the kind of road on which you’d want to get stuck in a snow drift. Mercifully, the Moffat Hills acted as a natural climactic barrier, meaning the stunning road remained snow-free. Eventually, after miles and miles of mountain scenery to easily rival the Lakes or Snowdonia, a bloody great lake (St Mary’s Loch) opened out to the east of the road.
One short haul across the far east of the Tweedsmuir Hills brought me to the Tweed valley, which I crossed and almost immediately headed deep into the Moorfoot Hills. This was one of those roads that takes ages and ages to reach its peak and then almost immediately drops back down again, like a rollercoaster: you climb, climb and climb for what seems like eternity, then hit the crest and steeply drop down to the lowlands. One minute you’re on top of the world in an empty snow-covered wilderness, the next you’ve plunged back down to the more pastoral lowlands with the bright lights of Edinburgh twinkling in the distance. The only wind turbines I’d seen since Moffatt were at the last outpost of high ground, the trio of turbines at Carcant Wind Farm, complete with flickering red “Devil’s Eyes”. At least in the snow, the gleaming white paint of the turbines didn’t stand out too obtrusively.
A drive of two halves, then. The first was through a 40 mile wind factory, the second almost entirely turbine-free until the very last hill. Now I’ve seen more of Scotland, I can definitely see there have been some attempts to put most of the wind farms in zones. Once you know where the turbine-free zones are, you can at least get lost in pure wilderness. The trouble with the M74 corridor is that it’s the first impression of Scotland most people get, painting rather a grim picture of what the scenery is like (maybe that’s why the A7 is signposted as the Tourist Route To Edinburgh). However once off the motorway and deep within the Southern Uplands, mercifully most of the hills are still unspoilt.
Day 5: a relatively short and sweet drive tonight, but not without interest. Call me a masochist but I actively wanted to see the aforementioned Bowbeat Hill Wind Farm near Peebles, which I’d not seen from the south. I approached this time from the north, and despite vast panoramas of the snow-covered Moorfoot Hills, I couldn’t see a single turbine. Again, credit where credit’s due for shielding the turbines from the public, but I can imagine how horrifying it would be to ramble your way all the way to the top of the mountain, only to find industrial junk littering the place!
I then caught up with my old friend the A72 once again, and headed east on this relatively fast, sweeping road through beautiful hilly countryside. In fact the A72 is pretty much the only route across the Southern Uplands from north-west (Glasgow) to south-east (Jedburgh); due to the topography of the land, almost every other pass transverses the national watershed from the south-west (Dumfries) to the north-east (Edinburgh)..
By chance it was Steak Night at the fantastic Mill House in the centre of Galashiels, a perfect place for a pitstop. Twilight was on its way, so not much more scope for sightseeing at this point. I thought I’d just sneak a peek at the eastern Moorfoots, so I headed north on the much-touted “Tourist Route To Edinburgh” (the A7), and after a few miles onto the narrow B road across the high ridge linking the Moorfoots to the Lammermuirs.
My final sight of the week’s adventures, barely a few minutes before darkness fell, was literally dozens and dozens of wind turbines spreading across multiple adjacent hills. I would imagine the wind farm, which goes under the name Dun Law, must have spread at least five miles from southwest to northeast. This was the largest wind farm in Scotland before Whitelee took over the crown.
In my previous entry I talked of cerebral narcissism, and I then started to worry if this blog is a chronic case! After all, using big words to show off my intellect is all part of my weltanschaaung… But rest assured, dear reader, I’m racked with far too much self-doubt about my theories to be a true narcissist. And so I sat and stared at Dun Law, devoid of ego, devoid of anger or any kind of emotional baggage. I sat there and asked myself: “Is this REALLY as bad as I’ve been banging on about all this time?” It didn’t immediately affect me as badly as some, even if by about five miles of turbines by twilight, I was starting to get sick of the sight of them.
I only say this because once again I want to demonstrate critical thinking – not super sharp Einstein levels of extreme intellect, just a simple country boy showing his workings, the way his (Scottish, for what it’s worth) maths teacher always taught him. Thus it’s imperative that I’m 100% honest with you all and don’t have any kind of hidden agenda, Lord knows I’ve been accused of it on multiple forums! Dun Law didn’t trigger me to anger, so either I’m changing, or it’s a job well done, or I caught it under conditions in which its impact wasn’t apparent (for example, white turbines clearly blend into snowy hilltops much less inappropriately than lush green fields, or vast expanses of brown-grey moorlands.
It’s also interesting that I’d felt the same about Whitelee. Maybe wind farms really do have to be done on a HUGE scale to be appropriate. Maybe it really is the intrusion of smaller wind farms, or even single turbines, into inappropriate zones that triggers bad reactions.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say Dun Law was an improvement on the landscape, far from it, it immediately made me feel like my alpha state was coming to an end and the modern, urban pace of life was just around the corner. In a country with as much open space as Scotland, maybe this is less of an issue. When space is at a premium, however, we can’t afford many more Dun Laws without seriously impacting on our access to unspoilt upland landscapes of outstanding natural beauty and special scientific interest.
What a long post! Thanks Scotland for the inspiration xx.