10.5.9 Power

The legacy of the power industry is visible throughout the Highlands. Water power has been used for centuries to power a variety of machinery. A number of landowners were early experimenters in the late 19th century with hydro power for electricity (for example at Strathpeffer (MHG55845) and Fairburn in Easter Ross (Case Study Orrin Falls Hydro Scheme), and St Benedict Abbey, Fort Augustus on the Great Glen (Close-Brooks 1995, 59). However, the scale of the 20th century hydro developments is in another league. Whole straths were flooded to create holding lochs, river systems were redirected, burns tapped to feed the process and countless tunnels bored in an industry which employed thousands of construction workers at its peak (Miller 2002; Wood 2004; Historic Scotland nd). Most are still functioning, and present a major monument type for the future in the Highlands.

Hydro power scheme near Fort William. ©Susan Kruse

The wind power industry is increasingly visible as well. Like hydro, small scale wind power turbines are known in some areas of the Highlands, especially those atypical areas with few burns. Some appear on farms (eg Mill-o-Hill, Nairnshire (MHG23784) where it pumped water), but there are also examples of some used for industrial purposes, such as the windmill at the iron mine at Achvarasdal, Reay, Caithness (MHG51713) and Castlehill flagstone works (MHG13636; MHG698). Since many windfarms and individual turbines are generally more recent developments, they have in fact contributed to archaeological knowledge as most have required investigation before construction. The infrastructure network, particularly roads also have had an impact. Few remains are likely to survive testifying to this industry in the future.

Large fabrication yards supplying the oil industry were also built in the later 20th century in several Highland locations including Nigg, Easter Ross (MHG31300), Ardersier, Inverness-shire (MHG45951) and Kishorn (MHG51795). The Ardersier yard is a good example of how even a large industrial site can disappear almost entirely after closure.

Ardersier fabrication yard, view from SE at main entrance, showing Pipe Mill buildings, 2006. ©HES

The nuclear site of Dounreay in Caithness, however, will have a more enduring presence. The buildings may disappear during decommissioning, but the landscape, including its prehistoric remains, will be off limits for many centuries to come. The impact of Dounreay in the local areas has been explored in a PhD (University of the Highlands and Islands) by Linda Ross (Ross 2019).

Aerial view of the nuclear power station at Dounreay. ©HES


Case Study: Orrin Falls Hydro Scheme

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