Galloway Hydros Visitor Centre, Galloway
A visit to the Galloway Hydros Visitor Centre is a joy in 3 parts. Firstly, the beautiful art deco power station is a wonder to behold, all creamy and geometric against the Galloway countryside. Inside the displays are simple but effective. One room is full of papers, plans and photos showing the early days of the power plant – its construction in the 1930s is as remarkable at the fact that it's still going today, pretty much unchanged. There is an instructive video, not all that interesting to be honest, and for the younger members of any party who may not find hydro-electricity all that enthralling there is a room with safety-based computer games and Lego.
Hang around for the tour which takes you behind the locked doors of the control room and the turbine hall. The control room is full of huge machines that look like they might be props from some 1950s sci-fi movie. You know the type – lots of dials and switches and lights blinking on and off. One dial is labelled “Slow/Fast” which doesn’t seem very scientific. Still, it's unfair to poke fun at these wonderful contraptions. When this was set up it was years ahead of its time – the first power station to be operated by remote control through a telephonic system. Next stop the turbine hall – a beautiful high-windowed room with three large turbines in a fetching shade of industrial green. Only one was whirring away when we were there but it was still deafening.
With you on your journey is an informative guide (a lovely old man in our case) who explains how hydro-electric power works, and how the Galloway Hydros (6 in all) came together. In the 1920s the network was the ambitious brainchild of two local chaps, Major Wellwood Maxwell and Captain Scott Elliot. It took the advent of the National Grid in 1926 to make the project (involving sophisticated civil engineering and a good deal of mess) economically viable. It's certainly impressive, and well-considered - the same water passes through all 5 power stations, coming out as clean as when it went in, and a bonus of hydro-electricity is that it's easy to start and stop making it useful for sudden surges in demand. Electricity generated here often contributes to the nation's post-Corrie cuppa.
After a good look round the power station it’s time to head for delight number 2: A walk over Tongland dam. The curved wall straddles the reservoir on one side and the river churning away below on the other. Not recommended if you don't like heights. Once you pass through the gatehouse (note the huge gate that looks like a giant mangle), cross the dam for a closer look at treat 3, the fish ladder. A man made construction of 29 stepped pools gives salmon and sea trout a helping hand when they make their way upstream from the river to the reservoir hundreds of feet above. It all looks a bit unlikely, but as the guide points out, salmon are pretty amazing creatures. They like to struggle through fast-flowing water and swim thousands of miles to spawn. Some come all the way from Greenland and the Faroe Islands. It take about 6 hours for the fish to jump through the pools, including 4 "resting" pools to get their strength back. There is a system of underwater cameras that count them all, for fisheries research. The autumn is a good time to go when the surrounding countryside is looking good and an already fascinating place is enlivened by the sight of a salmon leaping into the air.
Update: Since writing this article visiting arrangements are now by appointment only. See the Scottish Power website for details.
Galloway Hydros Visitor Centre photos
More of Anne's Galloway Hydros Visitor Centre photos
How to get there
Galloway Hydros Visitor Centre is situated at Tongland Power Station on the A711 2 miles north of Kirkcudbright. Google map.