For walkers tackling the Great Glen Way, the final stretch between Drumnadrochit and Inverness takes in glorious views of rolling hills, glimpses of Loch Ness, forest trails and farmland.
But while the area around Glen Convinth offers visitors a calm escape, few might realise that it has been at the heart of a fierce wrangle that has spanned seven years and pitched locals against the might of one of Europe’s largest windfarm operators.
Now, finally, the countdown appears to be underway to a decision that could bring to a conclusion the battle over the future of a picturesque slice of the Great Glen Way.
Locals are hoping the Scottish Government will reject a plan by French renewable energy giant Borelax to build 11 large turbines at Druim Ba – seven years after a similar scheme was blocked following community uproar.
For objectors to the Druim Ba Wind Farm proposals, recent events have been tinged with an air of déjà vu. Seven years ago they took up arms against a proposal by Druim Ba Sustainable Energy (DBSE) to erect 23 wind turbines standing 490ft tall on Blairmore Estate near Kiltarlity, a small village around 12 miles south west of Inverness.
The bid to position what would have been the tallest wind turbines in Scotland within striking distance of Loch Ness sparked a ferocious campaign. In April 2011 campaigners flew a red blimp over the property nearest the planned location, just off the A833 Kiltarlity-Drumnadrochit road, in a bid to show how tall the structures would be.
Applicants DBSE were at the time part of French conglomerate Louis Dreyfus’s European Forest Resources Group. The three small community councils in the area found themselves up against an organisation with a 150-year history, that covered six geographical regions and with 21,000 employees.
Undaunted, however, they pledged to fight on, scoring a victory when Highland Council rejected the wind farm proposal after receiving 330 objections.
A subsequent public inquiry heard claims that the development would create up to 55 jobs and provide £7.7m of community benefits while generating 69 megawatts of electricity and power for 38,000 homes.
Nevertheless, the appeal was rejected and the plans dismissed.
Locals gathered near the site to toast their victory with champagne as news emerged that their three year fight was over.
However, their fizz would soon go flat. Within two years a new application for the area was on the table, this time for a smaller ten turbine scheme with maximum blade tip height of 126m and capacity of 30mw.
Despite being a truncated version of the original plans, locals again took up arms amid fears for its impact on local homes in the area, its intrusion on views offered to walkers using the Great Glen Way and its dominance over an area of forest bought by the community two decades earlier and used by, among others, groups of children with special learning needs as a calm and therapeutic retreat.
Lucinda Spicer, secretary of Kiltarlity Community Council, said: “We expected a decision three or four months later but didn’t get one.”
“But we surely can’t have any more delays. I feel for local residents who can’t sell their houses while this is going on.
“Our objection is the same as Highland Council’s: it’s unsuitable for the landscape, it’s too close to some houses and it’s widely visible.”
She added: “If you stand at the top of the vantage point at Abriachan Forest Trust you can see the ‘ring of steel’ where all the wind farms in the area have been built. The landscape can’t accommodate it.
“People come here to look at mountains. They don’t want to look at industrial structures.”
According to Boralex, the new proposal could power the equivalent of 18,000 homes, and provide “extensive opportunities for local businesses such as the construction sector, hotel and catering providers, fencing contractors, joiners, plant owners, hauliers and forestry contractors.”
In return, DBSE plans to pay £5000 per MW of installed capacity into a community fund, which equates to up to £150,000 per annum and up to £3.75m over the 25 years operational life of the wind farm.
Both sides are now waiting to find out who will take the honours in round two of the battle for Druim Ba. A decision is expected within weeks – albeit several months late.
Boralex, meanwhile, is unwilling to discuss the wind farm proposal before a decision is confirmed. Spokeswoman Julie Lajoye said: “The planning appeal for the proposed Druim Ba wind farm is currently with the Scottish Government appointed Reporter for determination, following a public inquiry in May 2017. It would not be appropriate for us to comment on the details of the case at this time.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said that an update on the decision would be made shortly.
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