Stirling Castle dominates magnificently the landscape over which it stands sentinel. It is visible for miles from all approaches, and has been even more prominent in recent years with its Great Hall, ochre-daubed following renovation, gleaming like a beacon.
Built atop its plug of volcanic rock and spectacular, sheer cliffs, it is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the land. It stands at the gateway to the Highlands and at the crossroads of Scottish history. Across the River Forth, on Abbey Craig, stands the National Wallace Monument, another magnet for visitors that casts its shadow over the fields where so much blood has been spilled. Just a mile or two south is Bannockburn, site of that oh-so-famous victory in 1314 by Robert the Bruce over the English.
So it is that Stirling is an essential destination for tourists or those interested in Scotland’s heritage. Within the walls of the castle, there are many attractions, including the hugely impressive museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the locally-based regiment whose brave men earned the soubriquet “the Thin Red Line” for their valour in facing the Russian charge at Balaklava in 1854.
Few tourists visit Stirling Castle without ascending to the precipitous ramparts with their walkways around the venerable fortification. Stand here when the weather is fair and the vista is nothing short of spectacular.
The Touch Hills rise gently to the south, beyond the city. Look to the east where the twisted bends of the Forth unravel slowly past the oil refinery at Grangemouth as the river heads down to Edinburgh and the sea. On clear days, the cantilevers and suspension towers of the famous bridges can be seen.
Forming a rugged natural barrier across the river are the Ochil Hills, beneath which are clustered the villages and towns of Clackmannanshire and the long, low buildings that form the area’s whisky bonds.
It is here that an important part of the nation’s textile industry had its heyday.
Gaze away into the west, past the Gargunnock and Campsie Hills and over the fertile farmland of the Carse of Stirling, to where Ben Lomond is evident, its peak often shrouded in cloud. Let your eyes traverse right and into the north to the distinctive bulk of Ben Ledi with its giant’s step beneath the summit. It rises above Callander, at the heart of the Trossachs. Come further right to craggy Ben Vorlich, the mountains on the fringe of the Highland line, and the Braes of Doune.
Almost beyond belief is both the beauty of this stunning, inspiring landscape and the fact that giant wind turbines now besmirch it. More and more of the appalling structures have sprouted on the hillsides of this most celebrated of panoramas in recent months. There will be 49 in all.
(It is beyond irony that a government website boasts that “in order to reduce the visual impact and reduce the ornithological impact . . . one turbine was deleted from the original proposed layout” [my italics] submitted by Airtricity Developments [Scotland] Ltd in 2002.)
Covering what was a pastoral area of some 400 hectares that was used as grazing land for sheep, this is an abomination, a sullying of natural beauty that never should have been allowed. So how did it happen? How can it be that there was no campaign against this vandalism as there has been in opposition to, for example, the Beauly to Denny pylons? How was it that this worst of all possible blots did not show on the radar?
Suggestions have been made that the turbines could be painted some dun colour in the hope they’d blend more into their background. But that’s not the point. They should not be there in the first place.
I will be accused, of course, of nimbyism (I reside in Stirling and seethe daily as I travel around the area). But this is not just my backyard; it’s the nation’s backyard. This scandalous development is the talk of the steamie, but it’s not just locals whose view has been blighted; countless thousands of visitors will be subjected to this outrage.
The point will be put, no doubt, that wind power holds answers in the burgeoning energy crisis. Perhaps. Yes, we need alternatives to fossil fuels; no-one disputes that. Yes, there is an argument which holds that wherever wind turbines are put, they will be unsightly. There are even those who celebrate the construction as adding some kind of spurious interest to the vista.
But there could not be a location in the land more inappropriate than the Braes of Doune. Those who proposed and approved it should be ashamed.
And so to the inevitable question: what can be done about this now?
Tragically, the answer is: probably nothing. It has ever been a pointless pursuit, after all, to tilt at windmills.
By Martin Laing
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