Clachnaben (the hill of the lopsided nipple) has been a favourite Christmas holiday walk for me although I didn’t get there this year because of the horrendous wet weather in December and January. My outdoor activities this winter have also been curtailed by family illness but a good weather forecast combined with good news from the hospital this week meant that I could get out for a day, rather than the shorter walks that have all that’s been possible.
Until yesterday, I’d never been to Glen Dye although I’ve looked over it lots of times from Clachnaben and Mount Battock. But I was alerted to proposals for a wind farm development there by Alan Sloman – a redoubtable campaigner against wind farms in rural Scotland (search his blog for ‘wind farm’). So, I thought that I should go there to have a look at it before any developments. I planned a circular route – up Clachnaben, west to the Hill of Edendocher, south to Charr bothy in Glen Dye then back to the car park near the Bridge of Dye.
I started out on a fine windless morning and took the track to Clachnaben from the car park. The January floods have clearly caused quite a lot of erosion and, higher up, the track was a ribbon of ice although there was very little lying snow below 600m. From the top, the views were extensive in every direction – I had it to myself.
It’s an easy walk west from Clachnaben and I reckoned on getting to Charr bothy for lunch. Although there was very little snow on the tops, there were extensive drifts on the track that descends in Glen Dye, which looked great and made ‘interesting’ walking. The estate was burning heather – a practice that is supposed to encourage the growth of heather shoots on which grouse feed. Thus, raising more birds for twats in tweeds to shoot later in the year. A report from Leeds University demonstrated that heather burning is really quite bad for the environment and, in my view, it’s time it was banned.
The planned wind farm is very close to Charr bothy – imagine, in the pictures here, 150m towers all over the landscape. The bothy itself is very well-kept although it must be a cold place in winter as there’s no stove. The weather had clearly not seen the forecast which promised wall-to-wall sunshine all day and the morning’s blue skies gave way to cloud with only an occasional blink of sun. After coffee and sandwiches, I headed back down Glen Dye to the car, taking in the views up and down the glen.
Glen Dye is not a ‘natural landscape’. It is managed for grouse shooting and there are various bulldozed access tracks into the hills. It’s not an area of outstanding natural beauty like Glencoe, Lochnagar or Torrridon. It is a typical Mounth landscape – heather moors and rounded hills. There are already wind farm developments close by. So – does it matter if the new wind farm is built? I think it does.
The Scottish Government has set out ‘designated scenic area’ where wind farm development is very unlikely to be approved. Their view of landscape, however, seems to be that this is something to be looked at from a car during an annual holiday or weekend break – not something that should be part of our everyday life. With the notable exception of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, most of these areas are remote from centres of population and are mountain areas. Realistically, access to these areas, especially in winter, requires special skills and equipment, which excludes a large chunk of the population.
Evidence suggests that being self-powered (walking or biking) in the country improves both our physical and mental health. We certainly need to tackle the health problems of a large proportion of the Scottish population and government should be doing every possible to encourage participation in outdoor activities. That’s why places like Glen Dye are important. It’s easily accessible from Aberdeen and not much further from Dundee. The bulldozed tracks which outdoor folks like me)dislike, make this landscape less intimidating to ordinary folks so they can easily access the landscape, for most of the year, without special equipment. It’s a gentle introduction to hill areas and, for sure, some who venture there for the first time will be hooked and go on to bigger things.
Landscape should be for everyone – not viewed from behind a windscreen. Actively engaging with the landscape – feeling the wind and rain, spotting wildlife (I met a couple who were entranced by their first sighting of the common black grouse), relaxing after a long walk is an enriching experience. We need to preserve all sorts of landscape – not just the outstanding bits – and ensure and encourage access to it. I’d far rather subsidise landowners to improve public access than to subsidise inefficient and ugly industrial structures that irrevocably destroy the sense of remoteness in the wilder areas of Scotland.