Electric Men

A hydro-electric scheme in Glen Affric had been proposed in both 1929 and 1940 and rejected, partly because of the environmental damage the scheme might cause.

Affric’s forest may have been degraded, but it was still famous as one of Scotland’s most beautiful places. One MP spoke emotively about the "sinister changes in the landscape, featuring huge white dams" a hydro scheme might bring.

Essential electricity

But by 1943 the need for electricity across the Highlands was seen as essential for the region to take part in the modern world. Tom Johnston, Secretary of State for Scotland, championed schemes that would bring electricity to isolated crofts and provide power for export to southern Scotland. The scheme drawn up for Affric was cleverly designed to protect the precious glen.

A large white dam was built, but in Glen Cannich, to the north. Water was then taken through a tunnel dug underneath the mountains to Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhain, providing enough pressure to drive turbines in a power station at Fasnakyle without needing to flood Glen Affric.

If you look carefully from the viewpoint above Dog Falls you can catch a glimpse of Affric’s modest dam, almost hidden among the trees.

An influx of workers

The hydro scheme may have left the glen’s landscape almost untouched, but it brought big changes to Cannich village. Hundreds of workers came to live in a large temporary camp, attracted by pay that could be 20 times what they could earn back home.

They had to work hard for it, often in dangerous conditions, with long hours that might include a ‘doubler’ – working all day and all night – or a ‘ghoster’ – a doubler and then twelve hours more.

Back at camp they paid 30 shillings a week (the equivalent of £40 today) for accommodation and meals. There was entertainment too: music hall acts came from Glasgow to perform in a large hut. The workers and their camp have gone, but the hut’s still there: it’s the Cannich village hall.