The Hydro Story

Hydro Camp at CannichThe 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 the Boards aims.

Constructional Scheme No. 7, The Mullardoch – Fasnakyle - Affric Project utilises water collected from a catchment area of 124 square miles around Glen Affric & Glen Cannich. 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’ Mheadhoin 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.

Temporary Generating Station at CannichThe project therefore saw a relatively small dam constructed at the outflow of Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin, 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. This is a much grander construction measuring some 2385ft in length and 160ft tall at its highest point. In the construction 286,000 cubic yards of concrete were used to retain a mass of 7.5 million cubic yards of water. The water level of Loch Mullardoch was thus raised by 113 feet. The two Lochs are interconnected by a tunnel just over 3.5 miles long driven through the mountainside having a fall of around three feet over its entire length. This difference in level allows an underground generating station at the Mullardoch end of the tunnel to further increase output (2.4MW).

From Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin another tunnel system comprising a long low pressure section linked by a high pressure shaft to a high pressure tunnel. This last section having a gradient of 1 in 50, leads to the power station at Fasnakyle. A short distance from its end the high pressure tunnel splits into three smaller tunnels that initially fed three vertical Francis turbo-alternators, each capable of producing 23MW of power. In 2006 work on a fourth (underground) generator was completed during a major extension to the station.

Mullardoch-Benevean Tunnel under constructionThe tunnelling work was completed under extrememly difficult and dangerous conditions by a hardy breed of men of many nationalities dubbed "Tunnel Tigers." Numerous British and European records for removing rock were broken by the Tigers. Wages for those employed on the Hydro schemes were high for the time and hardly surprising the tunnellers were among the top earners.

At the height of the construction around 2000 people were employed on the scheme. Besides a large number of Highlanders, Lowland Scots and men from all corners of the UK were joined by Irish, Poles, Czechs, Canadians and even German ex-prisoners of war - particularly when tunnelling skills were in short supply. The workers were housed in two camps, the main centre at Cannich and another at Cozac, situated between the Mullardoch Dam and the present Mullardoch House. Accommodation was provided in Nissen huts, one can still be seen near the campsite in Cannich.

The camp at Cannich resembled a typical war-time military camp. This was a big change to the small settlement that had existed here for generations. Besides living quarters, there was an admin building, large workshop, canteen, sick bay, general store and post office. A temporary generating station was established to provide power to the camp and immediate locality during construction work. The diesel powered generators were housed in a large shed still in existence today opposite the woods at Marydale. The village hall in Cannich was originally built as the canteen and cinema for the Hydro workers.

Mullardoch Dam under constructionWith 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. Permanant 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 locally sourced stone, new houses were constructed in the village of similar materials. Aptly, MacColl Road was named after the Chief Executive and Vice Cairman of NOSHEB from 1943 to 1951, Sir Edward MacColl, whose contribution to the success of the hydro-electric schemes throughout the country was immense.

Later schemes saw the building of more dams in Glen Strathfarrar and on the lower reaches of the River Beauly. We hope to expand this section of the website to include details of all the schemes in Strathglass. View the Affric/Beauly Schematic in large format, image courtesy of Scottish & Southern Energy Limited.