Image courtesy: B J Mullan
Driving on the ever bubbling M8 highway- before the vibrancy of Glasgow lures you in- you can slip on to the M77. The fall in traffic is your first queue to start winding down and take a break from sedentary lifestyle. Following the signs that divert to narrow country roads, passing the little village of Eaglesham you arrive at a quieter road with hardly any traffic (other than occasional cyclists)…Keep moving along that road and you are almost there. Away from built environment, amidst the rolling hills and lush green moors, white specks that emerge and disappear gradually grow to become grand structures, turning as if in harmony, churning out clean and green electricity. Welcome to Whitelee, the biggest onshore wind farm in Europe.
My first visit to Whitelee was in 2011 and I was taken aback by the sublime experience. Since then, every year I have taken my students there, for their field-trip. The enormity of the wind farm is reflected in their awe struck expressions at arrival. It covers a huge area, about 55 km square to be precise. Once there, you can park your car next to the visitors center (which itself is a marvel of sustainable design). From the visitor’s center, a short stroll on the pathway leads you to a field gate. As you open the field gate to enter the farm, the adventurous child inside you feels an excitement akin to entering Jurassic park (Off course I meant virtually).
Looking at the turbines, judging their speed and direction, you start appreciating the power of the ever present yet invisible, wind. Your first bond with nature is made. The first thing I tend to do is assemble my students at the base of the first turbine (which is short walk from the gate) and deliver a little talk on the 100 m tall structure behind me. Their idea of how noisy the turbines are, is immediately quashed when they hear me perfectly well, without me making an effort to speak up. Yes there is the occasional swish, but it hardly disrupts their hearing. Then on, I would leave them to wander and would embark on a wisdom walk myself with over a 100 km of walkways to choose. Several burns and streams add to the scenery but topping all that is the water reservoir of Loch Goin. Just looking at the turbines from the backdrop of that glistening little lake is absolutely awe-inspiring. Such a seamless blending of modern green technology with nature, it makes me wonder how much and how beautifully we can achieve, if we have the will. Not a puff of CO2 and almost 300,000 houses powered up.
Unfortunately there are some who would not see the wind farm the way I do. They find it no more than an eyesore that desecrates scenery. Their love for unspoiled landscape is understandable. We tend to romance untouched nature and equate it with the path to tranquility. Similar is the urge in some to preserve history. Whitelee however doesn’t enter this controversy. It is away from national parks, it is also away from historic points of interest. And so it doesn’t burden your conscience. Instead it uplifting looking at clean energy in action rather than imaging gluttonous oil and coal consuming, smog producing beasts of power plants.
At the end of your walk, a nice cup of tea with a scone is what you need to soak it all in. With the turbines still in full view through the south facing glass wall, the cafe (at the visitor’s center) offers you shelter, comfort and a selection of hot and cold beverages. You can treat the geek inside you by stepping into the science shop (located right next to cafe). If that doesn’t quench it, there is a hall with loads of interactive gear for your tech taste buds to feast. At Whitelee both nature and nurture, work in tandem to uplift your spirits. Caretakers at the wind farm have done a tremendous job in persevering the local flora and fauna.
I have seen through my students, how a small trip to a wind farm can change perceptions, alter attitudes and get us more connected to nature. By time, slow yet a definite cultural shift will hopefully occur, leaving us with a better understanding of the world around us. I hope for a future when Scotland would be renowned not only for its idyllic beauty, serene landscapes but also for it scenic wind farms. For any green enthusiast around the world, Whitelee visit is a must . So next time when on your way to Glasgow, why not take a detour to a soulful experience.