Magical, wild, beautiful Glen Etive - a national treasure
Posted on 24th February, 2019
Glen Etive is one of Scotland's most magical glens - in the opinion of many, it could be its finest. It sits within the Ben Nevis and Glen Coe National Scenic Area, the Glen Etive and Glen Fyne Special Protection Area and within Wild Land Area 9 Loch Etive Mountains. Glen Etive is visble from Glen Coe, as in the image above (you can also see part of the River Etive in the distance) from Stob Dubh, and its wildness and wonderful setting are all part of the truly magical experience of the area. In other words, the wild land nature of Glen Etive has an important impact on the views and experience from many of the peaks in the Ben Nevis and Glen Coe National Scenic Area. This is an area of national importance, an area of outstanding natural beauty. Glen Etive could be Scotland's most accessible wild land experience, and it is immensely popular. John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist, explorer, writer, and an advocate for preserving wild land, wrote “Handle a book as a bee does a flower, extract its sweetness but do not damage it.” We would be wise to follow his advice, and preserve areas of outstanding natural beauty such as Glen Etive. Like a flower, it could be easily damaged.
I am in favour of renewable energy where it is appropriately located. In the context of impact on our landscapes, every appropriate MW is important. Building multiple small scale hydro schemes is not comparable to the use of LEDs or electric cars - these can be adopted en masse into existing infrastructure without building tracks and dams and blasting rock in areas of outstanding natural beauty. In the case of Glen Etive, several of the schemes may be appropriate, but not those on designated wild land such as the Allt Mheuran.
The South end of Glen Etive in particular is a place that sits in the hearts of many. A key part of this is the immediate sense of wild land once you step off the small road that winds down the glen. This image from the little bridge near Coileitir is of the River Etive, looking towards the hills of Glen Coe (Stob Dubh). It only takes about 5 minutes to get to this spot, and it already feels wild. Walking along the River Etive to the Allt Mheuran, and along the banks of the Allt Mheuran, gives you a wonderful sense of connection with nature. In early Summer, when the flowers are out, this unspoiled riverside walk is beyond description - the combination of wildness, the smells, the flowers, the wildlife (ok, the midges are perhaps a distraction!), the River Etive, and the Allt Mheuran stream. It is part of an unspoiled gateway to the mountains that lie beyond. Those who have been there know what I am writing about. Nan Shepherd, in The Living Mountain, refers to the "essence of the free, wild spirit of the mountain". This 'essence' exists from just beyond Coiletir. However, as part of a planned hydro scheme, there are plans to build a road along this riverside walk, and leave it there (the access track higher up is proposed to be removed, although building this and laying the pipeline will involve blasting/cutting through the beautiful rock formations and therefore permanently destroying aspects of the landscape).
A short walk up the lower slopes of Ben Starav gives lovely views back up Glen Etive, and you can see the Allt Mheuran below, which feeds into the River Etive. One of the reasons why this part of Glen Etive is so special is the immediate sense of wild land that is striking for a glen that is in reality easily accessible. This sense of wildness would be ruined should any roads be built - if plans for a hydro scheme are approved, there will be a permanent road visible along the River Etive to a new powerhouse (as noted above, the access track higher up is proposed to be removed).
The above image is of the spectacular Allt Mheuran. The geology here is fascinating, and this particular section shows a 'natural waterslide' that has been carved out of the rock by the action of the water. Again, the sense of wild land is palpable, yet this is only a 25 minute walk from the bottom of the glen. Is there a more accessible true wild land in the country? The rock just beyond the stream would need to be blasted to lay a pipeline, and a dam would be built just upstream from this remarkable spot.
The image above is also of the Allt Mheuran - notice that this more recent image contains two piles of massive boulders (some are the size of small cars). The slopes above the Allt Mheuran are weathered and exposed, and these natural rockfalls smash down after prolonged wet conditions. A hydro scheme is proposed for this section of river, but as far as I am aware, no consideration has been given to the impact of these dam-busting boulders - to remove boulders such as this, which could almost certainly damage/block the intake, would require permanent heavy machinery access.
The image above (made on a view camera using Fuji Pro 160S negative film) is another of the Allt Mheuran, showing the lovely micro rock details in the foreground and the sense of remote landscape looking towards the River Etive. Nan Shepherd also writes "I knew when I had looked for a long time that I had hardly begun to see" - this sums up the experience of this area. The more you immerse yourself in all its beauty, and experience all the little unblemished details, the more you understand its truly special nature.
From the same spot, simply turn around and look up the Allt Mheuran and the walker/viewer is presented with more absolutely wonderful rock formations, and the view to the munro Glas Bheinn Mhor is stunning beyond description. The foreground rock formations and undisturbed nature of the landscape are a critical part of its wild character. This is one of the most beautiful locations in all of Scotland, but there are plans to build a hydro dam just above here, and a pipeline will need to be blasted through this rock-formation paradise all the way down the Allt Mheuran. Blasting rock, and leaving new infrastructure here (an intake dam) will very obviously ruin this magic part of wild landscape. It would never be the same. This image is also on Fuji Pro 160S negative film.
The image above is from the lower slopes of Ben Starav, looking towards the Allt Mheurain and Glas Bheinn Mhor. This is just above where the planned intake is, but it shows how wild this landscape is. Walkers going up or down the Allt Mheuran would never again experience a truly wild lanscape.
Above is another image of the Allt Mheurain and Glas Bheinn Mhor - a stunning part of the world. This is also above the planned intake.
The above image is looking towards Glen Etive with the Allt nam Mearleach (which flows into the Allt Mheuran) in the foreground. Again, this is above the planned intake, but it shows the beauty and wildness of the landscape.
The feeling of wild land continues on the ascent of Ben Starav. The image above is from the summit of Ben Starav, and shows the importance of Glen Etive in the context of the surrounding area, including the hills of Glen Coe in the distance.
Above is an image of glen Etive and (in the far distance) the hills of Glen Coe, from the summit of Ben Starav at dawn in mid Summer.
Descending from Ben Starav, and walking along the Allt Mheuran, walkers experience a sense of wild land almost until the road is reached. The Allt Mheuran itself presents so many beautiful spots to enjoy a picnic, or observe the geology - this is one of many interesting rock features carved out by the water. All these 'micro details' are an important part of the integrity of the landscape.