Monday, 13 June 2011

There's Power in Nature

The West of Scotland has seen one of the wettest Mays on record, with over double the average rainfall, and June looks to be heading the same way. Not a good omen for hiking and camping in Argyll with children but we persevered. To a point.

Our first ambition was to climb the second lowest Munros, Ben Vane, which at 915m just makes it onto the list of Scotland's 3000 ft mountains.  We started out from the National Park's Visitor Centre at Inveruglas and hiked up access track leading to the hydro electric dam at Loch Sloy before starting up the mountain itself.  After a total of two hours walking in persistently heavy rain, with little prospect of improvement or of a view at the top we had enough of nature and turned back.

While the outcome for the day was disappointing, it did show why this is such a good place for a hydro-electric scheme.  It is no surprise that over a third of Scotland's renewable electricity comes from hydro schemes, some dating back to the early 1900s, with the most recent large scale power station, Glen Doe, coming into (and back out of) service in 2009.

The Sloy scheme was constructed in the 1950s to act as a top up electricity supply for Glasgow: hydro electric power stations can come on-line very quickly to react to peaks in demand. The newsreel footage below shows the construction and opening of the scheme (click on the images to view the footage on the British Pathe website) .



There is a possibility that the Sloy scheme could be reconfigured as a pumped storage scheme: a study by Strathclyde University looked at the feasibility (in broad terms) of making use of the existing infrastructure to provide storage for excess electricity generated by wind farms, to smooth out the peaks and troughs of supply and demand.  The greatest technical challenge would be to reconfigure the generating system in the power station at Inveruglas to act as a pumping system when required.

Following the long walk back down the road from the dam, we drove over to the Forestry Commission's Ardgarten campsite and pitched tent in the rain.  Fortunately the weather improved and we were rewarded with some sunshine morning, only for a couple of minutes at a time but enough for breakfast on the beach.

View from the breakfast beach. Arrochar in the distance.
And to explore our surroundings.

Looking down Loch Long towards the Firth of Clyde.

The Cobbler, or Ben Arthur, behind the campsite.

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