Friday, April 19, 2013

Cabuie Lodge (Loch Fannich)

I've always been fascinated by the changes to the landscape brought about by the North of Scotland Hydro Electricity Board's schemes in the 1940s and 50s.

The most obvious impacts were the dams and flooding of glens to create reservoirs; the power stations and the pylons. But of equal, if not more, interest to me are the more minor things like the rivers, roads and even railways that were diverted to make way for the rising waters. And the houses which were demolished, from shepherds' cottages to shooting lodges.

Picture reproduced by kind permission of Helen Murchison of Achintraid
Such was the fate of Cabuie Lodge, pictured above, which was demolished in about 1950 when the loch it stood at the head of, Loch Fannich in Wester Ross, was converted into a hydro-electric reservoir.

Despite the conversion, the site of the lodge and its associated estate buildings appear to have remained "high and dry" with piles of rubble representing their remains being still clearly visible on aerial photography:-

Below is Cabuie Lodge the OS 6 inch map of 1902:-

OS 6 inch Ross & Cromarty Sheet LX, Publication date: 1905; Date revised: 1902
It's interesting to compare with the earlier, 1875 6 inch map below which shows that the lodge hasn't been built yet - right enough, it does look to be of a late Victorian style of architecture:-

Ross-shire & Cromartyshire (Mainland), Sheet LX Survey date: 1875; Publication date: 1881
The chances are, therefore, if it was built around 1890 as the maps suggest, that Cabuie Lodge has now been gone for longer than it existed.

I was disappointed the Geograph website didn't have an up close ground level photo of the remains of Cabuie but it does have a good picture of the site at the head of the loch from up on the hillside to the south:-

Photo credit Andrew Spenceley
And a splendid picture of an old cast iron way marker to the lodge near the south shore of the loch - I've never seen one of these before:-

Picture credit John Allan
Meanwhile, half way along the north shore on a different estate, Fannich Lodge was high enough above the shoreline to survive the loch's "hydro-fication":-

Picture credit jwvdh

Ross & Cromarty Sheet LXXIII, Publication date: 1905; Date revised: 1902
Now, until recently, I have to confess to astonishing ignorance about hydro-electric reservoirs. I'd always assumed they just generated electricity from the pressure of water at the foot of the dam, thus:-

Laggan Dam - picture credit John Stewart
But if that were so, then why is there never a power station next to the dam? Hydro power stations are usually a few miles away from the reservoirs which supply them. And to judge from the Google Earth imagery, it looks as if the water level in Loch Fannich seldom, if ever reaches the dam so how does it ever generate electricity?:-

Fannich Dam - picture credit Hugh Venables
In fact, hydro-electric generation is not about how much water you can pile up behind a dam but rather a function of the vertical drop between the water and the turbine - the bigger the drop, the more the power. Thus, the ideal arrangement is for the power station (containing the turbine) to be in a neighbouring but lower glen and with the water being led to it through a tunnel like so:-

Apologies for that somewhat artless graphic but I hope it illustrates why the power station which generates electricity from the water in Loch Fannich is the one at Grudie Bridge, 3 miles (5 km) away, on the A832 between Garve and Achnasheen in neighbouring Strath Bran, some 500 feet (160 metres) below the level of Loch Fannich. The loch and the power station are connected by a tunnel for most of the distance and surface pipes down the side of the hill for the final 500 yards.

The RCAHMS entry for Grudie Power Station includes scans of the original 1940s architect drawings showing the thoughtful touches that went into these buildings including the Pictish bear motif above a window:-

But as well as the drop, it's still useful to have a large reservoir of water to make the descent and keep the turbine turning. That's what dams are really about - quantity rather than quality, as it were, in hydro-electric terms. In fact Loch Fannich is unusual in that its water level seldom reaches the dam (and hence why Cabuie Lodge perhaps didn't need to be demolished and its footprint remains visible.) But Fannich exemplifies another thing I hadn't properly realised about Scottish hydro reservoirs which is that they didn't just rely on the natural water catchment area of dammed lochs. In many cases, the Hydro Board artificially enlarged these by diverting the flow of rivers from adjacent catchments to help keep the reservoirs topped up.

Thus, in the case of Loch Fannich, it's natural catchment area is shown outlined in red on the map below. But the areas outlined in orange have been added by trapping streams which would otherwise have flowed off east and west and leading them through pipes (blue lines) back into Loch Fannich.

Below is a picture of the pipe which carries the water flowing off the west-most off the two orange areas east back to Loch Fannich instead of west to Loch Maree where it would naturally flow to:-

Picture credit John Allan
And next is a picture of one of the abstraction points where water from the east-most orange area (which would naturally have flowed down the River Grudie to the Conon) is trapped and sent back west through a pipe into Loch Fannich (visible in the background on the right).

Picture credit Hugh Venables
I'm sorry if this post digressed somewhat from a drowned shooting lodge into hydro-electrics, but I've driven past the Grudie Bridge Power Station more times than I care to remember without ever realising all the interesting stuff going on out of sight in the next glen.

I leave you with a fabulous picture looking west up Loch Fannich from Moray Mountaineering Club's website. Fannich Lodge is clearly visible on the opposite shore of the loch and the site of Cabuie Lodge is at the far top right end of the loch.


  1. Very interesting. I was searching for info about Cabuie shepherds cottage which, I believe, was submerged in the water of the dam.The previous occupants (two brothers and a sister) emmigrated to New Zealand, built a farm near Christchurch, and named it Cabuie. My cousin's daughter and her husband now live on that farm

  2. Hi Neil, think you will find a book called "Power from the Glens", interesting and informative on Hydro developments in Scotland in the 20th century. Sorry I cant remember the author.
    Regards, Muileachmor.

  3. I have been to the ruins of Cabuie Lodge a number of times and always thought it sad that it was demolished when it seems so high above the loch shore! Indeed the water level in the loch in summer often sits well below the natural shoreline - the opposite, of course, may well be true in the winter. We have a small hydro- electric scheme here in Northern Ireland so i have an interest there too and really enjoyed reading through your text.

  4. I reached the site of Cabuie lodge via the western shoreline last weekend hoping, perhaps, to spend a night in one of the outbuildings marked on my map. Disappointing to find only a pile rubble marking the scene of a needless demolition..Luckily I'd carried a tent and found a sheltered spot close by the nearby stand of pine trees. ..Didn't see a soul in 2 days!
    C.V. Clark

    1. I hope you took a photo to upload to Geograph!