The Road North

Alistair Peebles, 2011

Artist Amy Todman joined Alistair and I for the next trip – north this time, to see if we can find Griffin windfarm, somewhere up Glen Cochill, along the road from Amulree to Aberfeldy.

Amy’s has diverted her studies into an in-depth survey of Seventeenth century conceptions of landscape. Our collaboration will intersect around maps, chorography and conspectus; the scumble of rocks, the gathering of notes, memorial records of the landscape, whether in words, drawings or cartography.

On the ground we may well come back to that sense of vertical landmarks – real and imagined – as the intersections of time and space, line and net, around which we gather ourselves.

for amy (after Bollnow's Human Space)

the horizon
is before us

we are always
at its centre

Sma’ Glen

word-mntn (BEN CHONZIE)
poem, Alec Finlay; photograph Alistair Peebles, 2011

I thought we should pause and gather ourselves somewhere before Griffin, and chose a stop off in the Sma’ Glen, that brief quotation of Highland topography parachuted into lowland surroundings.

Such wild northerly landscapes lay bare the artifacts of belonging. Here we could compare eras of settlement, colonisation and modes of dwelling shaped by these conflicting forces.

The Roman camp at Fendoch, which, to the amusement of our Orcadian companion, had settled on the Hill of Stromness. This was one of a string of occupying forts sunk into Caledon as part of the campaign of AD85, and, it is thought, destroyed by the same Legions a summer further on.

Alistair Peebles, 2011

An installation of Virgillian energy-towers, in the form of wooden beehives set for heather honey on a wee plateau below Gualani na Faing, formed by the remains of General Wade’s road.

each hive
bears a rock

to contain
its sweetness

Alec Finlay, 2011

The erratic of Clach Ossian, which Wade’s road-gang moved to keep their road bending straight.

Alistair Peebles, 2011

The barely discernible line of a dyke over the alders, running perpendicular uphill and fades into the buttress of Dun Mor, dividing what from what.

Alec Finlay, 2011 

The sheep-fanks by the beeches of Newton, at the mouth of Glen Almond.

Alec Finlay, 2011

The Towers of Griffin

Alistair Peebles, 2011

Aside from the existing sitka plantation, everything about Griffin is new – wide road for heavy plant vehicles, signage, big car park and corrugated green shed, blue portaloo.

This vast SSE installation which will total 68 turbines is clustered around Chreag Mor.

Based in Perth, SSE itself has its origins in the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, nationalized in 1948 under the leadership of Tom Johnston, and privatised in the 1980s as ScottishHydro-Electric.

During construction work at Griffin SSE closed the right of way through the glen. Considering the success of Whitelee, Griffin seems ideally placed for a more inclusive and enlightened access policy; or, in terms of our skying vision, a more progressive approach, where renewable energy goes hand in hand with the renewal of our experience of the landscape.

Seeing the ranks of sitka is a reminder that economic innovations may – can, must – be accompanied by an extension in land access. The towers encourage a revisiting of the tangled issues around the ownership of wild tracts of land, suggesting the potential to reengage with the hobby of walking and furthering the philosophy of viewing.

That is another reason I refer to the superstructure of the windmill as a 'tower': reminder of power and outlook.

Alistair Peebles, 2011

some towers
tip blades

over the

some resent

for piercing
the horizon

some see
a problem

on the horizon
some see

a solution
in the offing

And why not?

If 68 towers can be erected: why not a 69th: a viewing platform, for this moor-top carries a vista toward Farragon Hill and Schiehallion.

If there is to be a necessary intervention in the ecology of the moor to install the towers: could this be accompanied by a harvesting of the sitka and planting of a woodland of native species

Plant a single native tree by each tower.

If there must be construction roads: why not a network of old and new paths leading between the towers.

And name each tower for the hill it aligns with.

If the towers are painted: why can the now familiar greys and be exchanged for moorland marquetry:

heather purple
bracken orange
harebell blue
gorse yellow
crimson rowan

If the towers bear designation letters or manufactures given names: why not paint poems and texts on the blades.

Compose a ‘woodland’ of poem-objects.

Paint the names of winds on each tower.


Alistair Peebles, 2011

I hear them in the Dewy Glen

To gain a vantage point we viewed the Griffin towers from the slope opposite, from what the map says is the traces of the old Wade road along the lower slopes of Meall Dearg – now no more than a vague grassy track.

sound drifts
in an out

of earshot
the sound
of the wind 
overlapped by
passing cars   
carrying over
the moor
carried on
the wind         

It’s true, living underneath that metallic swoosh would be eerie, though folk adjust to all kinds of non-natural and natural noise. I’ve camped beside a much louder white noise waterfall. 


I tied a poem to the rushes; the few words translating Louis Zukofsky’s “A”-16.

Alistair Peebles, 2011

The white space of LZ’s page becomes the reach across the moor to the horizon, through grey air, to the flower-towers and their sharp blades.




What makes any horizon seem hostile and barren, or a fond place for dwelling? Certainly, weather plays it’s part, especially in Scotland, but there are other inequalities which we have either to endure or find the means to put right.

Technology is our recurring crisis, prompting a response of shock, hurt or threat. New technology brings inequalities: ushers in a new era of production, visible in dominating vertical forms – pylon, grain silo, mobile phone mast, wind-tower.

Singly and en masse, wind-towers are the contemporary object that epitomizes this crisis and, potentially, it is in terms of these towers that we must find a resolution to these inequalities. We must integrate the paradoxical and opposed responses:

Hostility: that a monumental metallic structure should impose on a wild landscape.

Resentment: that the natural resources of land and wind are in private ownership, subservient to profit.

Fondness: for an object that turns with a slow motion, reminder of childhood toys.

Reassurance: that such developments represent a commitment to reduce the effects of climate change.

Yes, we are complex individuals living within confused cultures: how can we overcome the paradox of these inequalities?

inequality of scale

rolled steel tower
wooden beehive
delicate harebell

inequality of vision

closed path
close-ranked spruce
mountain vista

inequality of possession

landed estate
vested interest
moorland commons

inequality of economy

grouse moor
forestry plantation

inequality of history

Diodorus Siculus
MacPherson’s Ossian
Burt’s Wade

Alistair Peebles, 2011

How can we transcend the seemingly inescapable physical inequality between the towers size and their moorland setting, where the highest vertical is a spruce stretching just above their base? How can we balance innovative technology, economy and ecology, inscribing a harmonious vision of the skyline of Griffin?

We begin by looking outwards, in the widest circle, both from and toward the horizon on which the towers of Griffin stand. Typically, such landscaping as is applied to these new sites is largely an adjunct to economics; a means to grasp the maximum prevailing wind. At best, in this constrained context, landscape design is faced with the impossible task of concealing objects that are larger than any other structure for miles around.

The creative resolution of such a problem begins where one admits that none of us perceive the world with their eyes alone. To begin with, invite people in: walking among the turbines will, inevitably, gradually familiarize them with the technology and allow those who wish a growing rapprochement.

Foreground the reality of the technology: once the towers weren’t here and soon enough they will be gone. What comes after? The forest growing around the bases of the towers, doesn't it have a similar time span? This is shared work, reflecting upon what the presence of the blades over Griffin's ling moor and, equally, anticipating what their absence will mean. The site has to be imagined in terms of form, scale, vision, ownership, economy, ecology and history. It is only a beginning.

The balancing of these inequalities can only take place through a readjustment that is creative and integrative. There is no single visual conceit of landscape design that can render the inequality of scale void, but, where an access road is required, so new pathways can also be opened; where a tower can be built then a home could also someday stand; and where there is a resource that a privatised economic enterprise can extract profit from, so there could be value shared in common.

                                  T                   L
                       M O T I O N – O R I S O N
                                  M                 N
                                  E                   E

Engineers & Gardeners 

Griffin is built in proximity to the remains of Roman and English imperium. The landscape is rung around with the echoes of Ossianic hero-cult. Wade’s engineers shifted this massive erratic boulder, said to mark Ossian’s grave.  Avenues to reflect upon. Is this still the margins of an empire? Shying away from the heroic ‘Ossianic’ aspect of technology, how can we ameliorate infrastructure within the wilderness?

The road, an early infrastructure, imposed a series of ordnance-straight lines upon the landscape which, despite their imperial precision, have become natural over time. We gladly accept the exchange of soldiers boots for the vibram-soles of the hiker. So, when will the John Muir Trust become a producer of energy and SSE present themselves as a nature park?

I freely admit, Ossian’s poetry holds little interest for me, but the stone at Clach Ossian is a wonderful conflation of geology, myth and the influence of technology on environment. In the context of their eras, the erratic boulder and the road represent an immensity of will and effort, equivalent to the wind revolution. 

When the stone was moved by the trooper-engineers a procession of Gaels congregated upon the site and reclaimed the exposed bones. They reburied 'Ossian' – where is a subject of debate, Glen Almond being preferred in some sources, although Murdo Macdonald wrote to me recently explaining his theory that the re-interment took place 'at a second cairn near the prehistoric cairn, on the west ridge of Sma' Glen, which aligns with the largest stone in the stone circle at Fowlis Wester.' .

As for natural scale, north-east of here there lies the king's seat of Dunsinane, the mythic wood-in-motion of Birnam, the wind-towers of Drumderg, and the remains of the wild garden that the scientist-poet Geoffrey Dutton created on a hillside almost identical to Griffin. Soon our team will make a field-trip there and discuss the relation between the wild garden and its surroundings in more detail.

Proposal for the Wind-Towers of Griffin

Alec Finlay, 2011; photograph by Alistair Peebles, 2011


The Road North: Sma' Glen

Alistair Peebles:   Brae projects    |    blog

Photograph of the Roman camp at Fendoch:

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