Hydro Power: The Affric-Beauly Scheme

The North of Scotland Hydro–Electric Board (NOSHEB) was established by the Hydro–Electric Development (Scotland) Act of 1943. The Secretary of State for Scotland (and later Chairman of NOSHEB), Tom Johnson, had been an ardent campaigner for the cause of hydro-electric power. NOSHEB’s remit was to undertake all future hydro-electric development, namely the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity, in the Highlands & Islands.

The Board was responsible for some 21,780 square miles – about 70% of the total area of Scotland. The first hydro-electric stations were operational by late 1948, though many remote areas of the highlands and several of the islands were to remain without electric power for a number of years. Although the Highlands had the largest percentage of the waterpower resource of the UK and consequently would generate a considerable level of electric power, the isolation of communities coupled with the geography and the geology of the area proved to be tough obstacles in achieving NOSHEB’s aims.

The eastern slopes of the western Highlands are drained by the main tributaries of the River Beauly immediately to the south of Strathconon. As early as 1918 this area was identified as one of the nine great sources of water power running to waste in the Highlands, but it was not until 1947 that a plan to develop these resources was approved.

Prior to the establishment of the Hydro, plans by the Grampian Electric Company to produce electricity in this area were rejected by Parliament in 1929 and 1941. These schemes proposed to raise Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhain to the same level as Loch Affric thus creating a single body of water and submerging many of the scenic features of Glen Affric. Fortunately this outcome was deemed unacceptable.

The revised project saw a relatively small dam constructed at the outflow of Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhain, moderately raising the level of the loch by just 23 feet. Lost storage here and in Loch Affric was replaced by the building of a mass gravity type dam at the outlet of Loch Mullardoch in Glen Cannich.

Perhaps surprisingly the Mullardoch-Fasnakyle-Affric project drew little opposition in terms of objections.  However the second part of the scheme, Strathfarrar & Kilmorack, did meet with stiff opposition from landowners and was only completed in 1963 more than 10 years after the first phase.

In the northern part of the scheme – Strathfarrar and Kilmorack – the main dam is at Loch Monar, an unusual double curvature concrete arch dam which is one of the few examples of this type in Britain.  A 9 kilometre tunnel carries water to Deanie Power Station located underground near the western end of Loch Beannacharan. Loch Beannacharan was increased in size when the Beannacharan Dam was built across the River Farrar a short distance below the natural outlet of the loch.

Below the Falls of Farrar is Culligran Power Station, which is underground and receives water from Loch Beannacharan, by tunnel.  Below Culligran the Rivers Farrar and Glass join to form the River Beauly. The Cannich and the Affric are the main tributaries of the Glass and much of its water has already been used to generate hydro electricity further upstream in the power stations at Mullardoch and Fasnakyle.

Downstream on the River Beauly there are two gorges, at Aigas and Kilmorack, each containing a dam into which a power station has been built.

The waters of the Affric/Beauly scheme are recognised as important for salmon and compensation water is released down all the main salmon rivers, the flow of which is kept above agreed levels. Borland fish lifts have been installed at Kilmorack, Aigas and Beannacharan.

With the coming of the hydro scheme life in Strathglass, and in particularly Cannich, was changed forever. Previously the village only had a scattering of small dwellings. Suddenly in the late 1940s the population increased greatly. Permanent housing was also required for the people who would maintain the scheme long after the construction workers had gone. Just as the power station at Fasnakyle was faced with sandstone sourced from near Burghead in Moray, new houses were constructed in the village of similar materials. Aptly, MacColl Road was named after the Chief Executive and Vice Chairman of NOSHEB from 1943 to 1951, Sir Edward MacColl, whose contribution to the success of the hydro-electric schemes throughout the country was immense.

SHA would like to acknowledge the sources from which our website material is drawn (see below) including the Hydro photographic archive.

Further Reading

The Hydro – Peter L Payne (Aberdeen Uni Press, 1988)

The Hydro Boys – Emma Wood (Luath Press, 2002)

Tunnel Tigers – Patrick Campbell (Luath Press, 2000)

The Dam Builders – James Miller (Birlinn, 2000)