Ask most people to name a place in Scotland that they’ve heard of and chances are they’ll come up with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. What Walter Scott set in motion all those years ago with his poem The Lady of the Lake continues today. And with good reason. A National Park since 2002, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is possibly one of the best-known areas of Scotland. Natural beauty, lochs and mountains, hills and glens – the Park has them all: and a-plenty.
When the Scottish Government launched its first Scenic Routes competition, there was a wealth of entries. Young architects from all over submitted pland for special installations, designed to enchance particular areas in the Park. The four winning entries were duly built and have become popular and much-loved sites for visitors.
‘Stargate Loch Lomond’ – Loch Lomond’s very own pyramid!
It’s not often you associate the Scottish countryside with pyramids, but Loch Lomond now has a splendid one! An Ceann Mòr, Gaelic for the Great Headland, is one of four installations that marked the inaugural Scottish Scenic Routes project. Funded by the Scottish Government, the four new landmarks were specifically designed to highlight features of much loved areas of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
The challenge to take a beautiful and much-loved spot and succeed in enhancing it has been at the heart of the Scenic Routes competitions, and it’s a challenge talented young architects have risen to with resounding success. The winning designs are all very different, but have one thing in common; they make you stop, think and see a familiar scene in a new way.
Our first stop was the striking pyramid, An Ceann Mòr, which sits high above the loch close to the Inveruglas Visitor Centre, with stunning views down towards Ben Lomond and over to the Arrochar Alps. But that’s not all you’ll see as you stand on this beautiful wooden structure. You’ll find your eyes drawn to another distinctive landmark, the Loch Sloy Hydro-Electric power station. How often do we drive past it without giving it a second thought? And yet its construction was part of one of the most progressive and far-reaching engineering projects in the world.
Completed in 1949 and officially ‘switched on’ in 1950, Loch Sloy produces hydro-electricity, and in a country of rivers, lochs and plentiful rain, that supply is likely to be inexhaustible! The history of its construction – which included the tragic loss of 21 lives – is a revelation. In fact, the massive scale of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Scheme was unprecedented, but succeeded in bringing ‘Power to the Glens’ in a way never before imaginable. By 1963 90% of the Highlands were attached to the grid, more than twice as many as when the scheme began just after the Second World War.
The Hydro Board was the led by the Scottish politician Tom Johnston and over three decades the ‘Hydro Boys’ and the ‘Tunnel Tigers’ created generation and distribution schemes that became renowned the world over. Their achievements are all the more remarkable given the harsh conditions and often unforgiving terrain they had to work in. However, this ‘Power from the Glens’ ultimately changed the face of rural Scotland and the benefits continue to this day.
Hopefully An Ceann Mòr will be long-lasting too. It was designed by three young architects Daniel Bar, Stephane Toussaint and Sean Edwards from BTE Architects in Glasgow. Eight metres high and with 31 steps, it is made from sustainable timber, wood which the young architects have chosen especially as it will gradually weather to a more muted silver-grey colour, blending in naturally to become part of the surrounding landscape.
Part of the landscape, but also a feature that makes us take more notice of that landscape than ever before. And that’s no bad thing at all!