I was alerted to a National Trust walk taking place locally,
that really appealed to my interest.
Roy, the local NT ranger and Gary, the National Hydro Development
Office for The Trust
were offering a guided walk around the National Trust's hydro
power systems within the upper Borrowdale valley.
An early start suited this beautiful sunny day, but hardship
of hardships, I had to make it up and over Honister Pass to
The severn of us met at the Seatoller car park
where Roy and Gary introduced themselves.
We would be visiting the Coombe Gill Hydro system
on the other side of the valley later, but as that power building
only accessible via private land,
we would first visited the Hause Gill (Seatoller)
generating scheme here in Seatoller to see what made up a typical
We started by heading up through the narrows
into Seatoller Village.
We cross the sturdy bridge over Hause Gill,
the water of which flows steeply down from the top of Honister
There was serious flooding in the village in
the 1960's (?) and the second span had to be re-built, hence
the different arch.
A small, innocuous building stands on the other
side of the river,
very similar in design to the Hartsop
building I saw earlier in the week.
Inside Gary explained the constituent parts
of the system and talked lots (but not all) about the technical
spec of the installation.
The blue water pipe that had been installed
connects to the weir just above the wooded section of the Honister
and feed water under high pressure into the
square turbine housing, which then turns the adjacent generator
to create the electricity.
[ The 'deep pit' was the covered-over exit of
the generation water on its short journey back to the river]
The system is automatic, only generating when
there is sufficient excess water in the river, so it needs no
It switches itself on and off, transmitting
power to the grid via the control boxes at the back of the room.
The generator is rated at 100 kilowatt per hour
. . . that's a potential for 2,400 Kw hours of power per day
if the rivers are flowing well !
That would make it capable of supplying roughly
all the houses and farms at the top end of the valley
provided they don't all put their 3Kw kettles
on at the same time.
[ Gary suggested that the average domestic property
uses just under 10 Kw hours of electricity per day, or 3000
Kwh per year)
Roy and Gary were also keen to show us the Coombe
Gill Scheme that was to be found in the valley below Bessyboot.
That's on the opposite side of the valley from
here, so we set off to walk across and discussed the landscape
along the way.
The Yurts on the Seatoller campsite have in
recent years, thankfully been re-constructed using brown fabric.
When they first appeared they were brilliant
white and stood out like sore thumbs !
The footpath across the valley passes through
the camping field and across the footbridge.
It took us past Thorneythwaite Farm.
There was initial controversy when the farm
was first purchased by The Trust as the buildings were bought
separately from the land.
The buildings are now home to a delightful couple
who offer respite care to families of children with serious
The rest of the land is rented out for farming
but is its now managed by The Trust with environmental priorities
to the fore.
A short distance along the Thorneythwaite Farm
road we noticed some extremely wide, 'sacrificial' stone walls.
These were built oversize, not only to contain
animals, but in order to use up the lose stones that littered
the adjacent fields.
The other, more famous examples are of course
those of Wasdale Valley above the Wasdale Head Inn.
Our route skirts past the well known Mountain
View Houses, well known that is if you know the valley !
Along the way, two of Roy's colleagues were
repairing the walls and fences
and a short conversation followed about enclosing
the land and the benefits that follow from it.
Other comments included how Roy always seemed
to get the easy jobs . . . though he strongly tried to deny
We're on the Coombe Beck track now,
starting the climb up the valley that leads
to Bessyboot and Glaramara summits.
Below us is the Coombe Gill power House, similar
inside to the Hause Gill plant we had just visited.
The National Trust has identified around 150
sites in the Lakes that could host these discrete hydro system
They've only built eleven of them so far as
one of the biggest problems is the lack of capacity in the National
Grid to carry the power away.
Keswick could be fed purely by hydro power from
Borrowdale but the power cables to get it there just aren't
big enough to cope.
[ It needs more investment from Government and
the Power Companies to be able to utilise the abundant hydro
power available in the Lakes.]
Maintaining fencing and enclosing key sites
allow native plants to re-grow and thrive,
as with this and the adjacent Borrowdale Crab
Once we reach the fell gate the scenery changes.
The track up and through this gate turned out
to be the route of the Coombe Gill pipeline.
Roy and Gary were keen to point out the fact
that the landscape contractors used by the Trust worked to such
that we had not realised where the pipeline
had been buried.
These were photos taken during construction,
here at this same gate and also higher up the
We walk on up the track of the pipe which was
hidden below an existing mountain path.
Even the larger rocks were moved away then and
replaced to maintain the natural appearance of the fellside.
Where the landscaping had to be done across
a steep slope, the Trust fenced in the fell
to ensure the vegetation could re-grow quickly
and so stabilise the slope.
Interestingly the vegetation inside the fence
is now significantly different from the sheep-grazed fell outside
Could this be what the fells would be like without
any sheep ?
Gary explained the level of detail they achieved
whilst excavating and replacing the soil and rocks.
In the damper areas the sieves or rushes and
even foxgloves have returned.
Where the soil is even more damp they found
re-growth of Cotton Grass.
Second hand tree protectors guard young saplings
planted in the area.
At the top end of the enclosure we find the
weir and water take off point.
The 'V' notch on the left ensures that the natural
river gets first shout for the water.
When the weir is full and the water overtops
the right hand side, it falls over and through the gauze cover
before flowing away down the pipe.
Today there's so little water the stream is
hardly running, even Dougal has to work hard to get wet !
The system is virtually maintenance free, apart
from keeping the 'V' notch clear of stones brought down by the
adjacent Rottenstone Gill.
Visit over, it was time to make our way back
down the track towards Seatoller . . . past the Crab Apple trees
again . . .
. . . and down past the place where the pipeline
branches off right towards the power house below.
One last diversion before we head back as our
conversations had moved on to include
flooding in the Borrowdale Valley and the thoughts
The Trust had for re-wilding the canalised section of the River
Derwent near Seathwaite.
They hoped the river could one day take a more
flood-friendly route across the valley over some of the Thorneythwaite
in order to capture the gravel, absorb the flood
surge and so prevent extreme flooding further down the valley.
Our route took us back past the Thorneythwaite Farm buildings,
back over the footbridge to the campsite and the car at Seatoller
- - - o o o - - -
Today we had gained a real understanding
as to the potential for hydro power
and also of the occasions where it would not currently
a practical option.
If investment in the National Grid were improved
water could once again be powering the valleys of
as it did during the early industrial revolution.
Water is heavier than wind . . .
just think how many unsightly wind turbines could
should just a few more of those 150 potential hydro
become a practical reality.
- - - o o o - - -