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NICKY MARR: River will be more than just picturesque

By Nicky Marr

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Nicky Marr - coach/writer/broadcaster...Picture: Callum Mackay..
Nicky Marr - coach/writer/broadcaster...Picture: Callum Mackay..

Most of the world’s great cities straddle a river; London has the Thames and Glasgow the Clyde. Prague grew up either side of the Charles River, which it relied on for trade and transport, and Paris would be nothing without the Seine.

Inverness may be on a different scale, but it is no different – its twin assets of the River Ness and the Beauly/Moray Firth placed it as the capital of an ancient kingdom which stretched from Perth to Sutherland. Evidence of its importance exists in ancient stones and settlements; the Knocknagael Boar Stone, Clava Cairns and Craig Phadraig.

In the 1600s, our coastal location allowed Inverness, the Highlands and Moray Firth towns to trade with France and the Netherlands. The River Ness created a safe and natural harbour for a mighty shipbuilding industry, and the North Sea was easier to navigate than the mountainous terrain that the A9 now cuts through.

Ships still use the Moray Firth, of course, but what about the river? If it wasn’t for the Ness, we wouldn’t have the city. But does it still earn its keep?

Artist's impression of the River Ness Hydro project.
Artist's impression of the River Ness Hydro project.

I’m just back from a lunchtime walk around the wonderful Ness Islands and today’s sunshine made it something special. I sat at the very tip of the islands, right at that hypnotic point where the water has to decide which way it’s going to flow. For once, I got that beautiful wooden bench to myself.

The islands were busy with dog walkers, cyclists and kids poking sticks into the shallows. I saw my usual heron at one of the burns that feeds the river from underneath Island Bank Road. No otters or seals, but there was plenty of birdsong, plus the music of the water over the stones. I got back to my desk refreshed.

Answering my own question, the river will soon be earning its keep as more than just a bonny foreground for tourist photos of the castle. It’s finally being used to create clean energy, following the example of the impressive Highland hydro schemes of the 1950s.

A new Archimedes Screw hydro scheme at Whin Park will generate around 550,000kWh of energy per annum, supplying the leisure centre with around half of its electricity. A swanky visitor centre will explain how it all works.

And while the river’s bars and hotels quite rightly capitalise on its beauty, one hotelier, Jon Erasmus, is using it for more. Work has just started at the Glen Mhor on the banks of the Ness to use the natural heat from the river’s groundwater to heat the hotel.

Good news stories, both. But what of the most controversial news story connected with the river in recent months, new artwork the Gathering Place? It’s hard to get a sense yet of how it will look, and what impact it may have on the wildlife of the river.

In terms of beauty, will it add or detract? In terms of usefulness, will it attract visitors? Only time will tell.

Click here to read more from Nicky Marr.

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