Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Wind farms and the Galloway Levellers

Letter published in  Galloway news 6 October 2011.

Between 1973 and 1976 I used to take the ‘backroad’ bus from Castle Douglas to Kirkcudbright Academy via Gelston. It was a fascinating journey through an ever changing countryside thick with history. The road itself was built around 1800, replacing a tangle of medieval tracks which meandered from farm to farm. The old tracks would have been familiar to John Martin.

Born a cottar’s son in 1710, in May 1724, John Martin joined the Galloway Levellers. He lived at Lochdougan and walked to Bombie Hill to level a dyke. He was caught and fined for possessing a flintlock gun. John Martin died in 1801. In his long life, John witnessed the transformation of the landscape by the enclosures he fought against. Yet as his gravestone shows, John adapted to the new technology of the mechanical age by becoming a clock maker in Kirkcudbright.

Back then though, I was more interested in the future than the past. I had just discovered something called ‘radical technology’ which imagined an eco-friendly future powered by solar panels, windmills and methane digesters. This vision of the future was a response to recent events, when a sudden rise in oil-prices and a miners’ strike led to power cuts and a three-day week in the winter of 1973/4. To save energy, window displays in shops were switched off at night. I remember how dark and gloomy that made King Street in Castle Douglas.

The energy crisis passed and my copy of the Radical Technology Handbook has been gathering dust since 1976, the pages yellow with age. Then last week a glossy flyer for the Barcloy Hill Wind Farm dropped through my letter box., so I dug it out again. The proposed wind farm is just off the Gelston to Kirkcudbright road.

As the history of John Martin shows, the new wind farm will be part of a countryside in which change has been contested in the past. Yet, as his history also shows, such changes create new opportunities and new possibilities. The Galloway Levellers fiercely resisted the enclosure of the countryside, but within John Martin’s lifetime the new dykes and hedges had become an essential part of the ‘improved’ farm landscape.

In time the wind farms being built now will become as much a part of our countryside as the enclosed fields which were so strongly opposed in 1724. Likewise their economic and environmental benefits will gradually become more apparent. So that in the future, it will be as difficult to imagine a countryside without them as it is to imagine the countryside as it was 300 years ago.

Alistair Livingston


Post a Comment

<< Home