Active Outdoors
Published: 22/02/2015 00:01 - Updated: 16/02/2015 12:17

An ill wind's blowing . . .

Written byPeter Evans, My View

The path beside the Garbh Allt, with the high moorland of Beinn Mhealaich in the distance.
The path beside the Garbh Allt, with the high moorland of Beinn Mhealaich in the distance.

Munro and Corbett baggers will give it a miss. Even those collecting the Grahams will pass it by. My main reason for climbing Beinn Mhealaich, west of Helmsdale, was that it’s under threat from industrial development.

A local farming partnership has joined forces with Aberdeenshire developer Muirden Energy to build 18 giant turbines on Beinn Mhealaich and neighbouring tops Creag Riasgain and Culgower Hill.

Previous plans in the mid-1990s for three separate wind schemes in the area were rejected following an outcry and a public inquiry.

The usual community bribes are being offered with this latest application, but that hasn’t stopped B&B owner Catriona Whitfield and Brora Golf Club condemning the plans.

They realise how damaging this development could be to local businesses and tourism, destroying vistas for miles around.

My ascent of Beinn Mhealaich took in views of the prominent Caithness summits of Morven and Scaraben, so the turbines would be clearly visible from them.

 

Morven from the return to Helmsdale.
Morven from the return to Helmsdale.

 

And they’d be right in the face of walkers on the more frequently ascended and attractive Loth Hills, west of Glen Loth, already affected by the ugly Gordonbush wind farm.

Let me nail my colours to the mast, though I’m sure you’ve guessed. I detest wind farms. I’ve studied much of the evidence, and I believe they’re one of the biggest cons ever perpetrated on the public in the name of “green” energy by both the Scottish and Westminster governments.

They’re grossly inefficient, massively subsidised and their CO2 savings are minuscule in global terms, so their contribution to reducing climate change is illusory.

And last year wind firms were paid more than £53 million to switch off their turbines because the energy was not needed or would have overloaded the grid.

It’s not surprising that outdoors folk in particular are sceptical about the Scottish Government’s pledge to protect wild land after energy minister Fergus Ewing approved the 67-turbine Stronelairg wind farm above Loch Ness.

The results of a legal challenge by the John Muir Trust, being heard at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, should be known soon.

And the outdoors fraternity waits with bated breath for a decision on the Allt Duine wind farm – 31 turbines that would foul yet another area of the Monadhliath between Kingussie and Aviemore, just 400 metres from the Cairngorms National Park boundary.

I’m totally bemused by the fact that people can get so hot under the collar about fracking, yet they’re perfectly happy to see great swathes of countryside covered in turbines.

It’s amazing how effective attaching a “green” label to something can be.

The community of Helmsdale had barely woken up when I started my walk, crossing the railway on the bridge that carries the A9, then up a short flight of steps to the minor road that heads south-west towards Portgower.

After a kilometre or so a footpath sign for Portgower points down a farm track. The track crosses a burn via a little bridge and I walked on to where another Portgower sign points left. A path passes through a gate and past a ruined cottage to drop down to the Garbh Allt.

I stayed right of the burn and headed for the summit of Beinn Mhealaich, 5km away.

The going was never easy on this heather moorland and cloud deprived me of a view from the top.

But there was plenty to see on the way down as I aimed for tracks to the east that would take me back to Helmsdale.

I’m glad I visited Beinn Mhealaich before the turbines arrive, if they’re approved. Caithness and Sutherland have more than their fair share of these monstrosities already.

If you want the real evidence why applications for wind farms keep pouring in, witness a recent tweet from a company called Aegis Power.

It’s based at Canary Wharf in London and it was encouraging people to invest in wind, promising great returns.

That’s what’s at the root of these developments, not any warm, fluffy feeling about saving the planet.

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