Water, water, everywhere!

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MSc Environmental Sustainability student Kat takes us along on her field trip for her Sustainable Water Management module.

As part of my Sustainable Water Resources Management module, we took a trip to Pitlochry to visit the Pitlochry hydropower plant, and a short walk through the Falls of Bruar on the way home.

Pitlochry is about a two-hour drive north from Edinburgh. When we arrived in Pitlochry it was lunch time, so we got an hour to look around the town and have some lunch. Maybe not the healthiest option, but a few of us went to a very cute coffee shop for scones and visited an old-school sweet shop for some nostalgia (and sweets).

Sweet shop

Pitlochry hydropower dam

We then made our way to the visitor centre of the hydropower station where there were some very cool interactive displays. One involved connecting power stations to houses in a certain order so that power would reach every house, and my classmates had loads of fun racing the gear-operated salmon up the model fish ladder. It’s well worth a visit, and definitely a good place for a selfie!

Our selfie
My classmates and I
Visitor centre
Enjoying the information in the visitor centre

The dam took 4 years to build and has been in operation since 1950. It has two large turbines that are on the majority of the time (as water is always being released through the dam wall, even in small amounts). The dam powers about 150,000 homes in the area, and all the electricity is transmitted through wires underground, so that there are no “ugly” wires littering the beautiful valley.

The water turbine
Pitlochry dam
Pitlochry dam

The most interesting thing about the Pitlochry dam, however, is the fish ladder! This was a £2 million investment, but was well worth it to make sure salmon can still get up river to breed. It’s also created somewhat of a tourist attraction, and people come from all over to see the fish going up the ladder. It takes the salmon about 15 hours to go from the bottom of the dam wall, up the 35 pools to the top of the dam. They’ve also designed special resting pools for the salmon to take a break on their way. However, the fish must go up the ladder in one go and if it starts to get dark while they’re half way through they’ll go back down to the bottom and try again the next day.

Can you spot the ladder within the dam?

Falls of Bruar

We stopped here to take a walk along the river through the forest on our way back. The Falls of Bruar are one of the last habitats of the red squirrel in the UK, as it’s the last area where their food source is found. Unfortunately we didn’t see any, but none of us were really expecting the timid squirrels to come out and face almost 20 loud students.

The forest was absolutely stunning, very relaxing and such a nice excursion into nature. I definitely want to go back to the area and explore a bit more, especially because Blair Castle is just down the road and (crazy fact!) I grew up living next door to the Duke of Atholl. Yes, the Duke of Atholl is South African.

in the forest
In my happy place in the forest

The prettiest part of the forest was definitely this ancient Roman bridge, built from the rocks close to the river and using only engineering principles, clever geometry and skilful building to hold it up. Our lecturer made a joke afterwards that we were too trusting of the bridge, and he (as a typical civil engineer) was more hesitant than we were to walk across and take pictures.

Waterfalls on the walk to the bridge
Trusting in the bridge structure

Best field trip yet

The trip to Pitlochry was definitely an experience I was lucky to have, and most people agree that it was the best of the field trips we have been on! It’s great to be able to learn principles in class and then go and see them out in the real world.

Kat is from South Africa and is studying MSc Environmental Sustainability at Edinburgh Napier University.