Oct 172011

Let me start by stating, “I like wind farms”. This is just as well because we have one of the largest being constructed just offshore and you can’t get in or out of the area I live without passing numerous hillsides littered with wind generators. Nevertheless, I like them. I think they look good, tumbling over the landscape like cart-wheeling giants. Renewable energy is a goal well worth striving for and I accept we aren’t going to get there quickly or get it right first time. There will be lessons to be learnt on the way.

I’ve heard the so-called “facts” that building wind farms generates more greenhouse emissions than can ever be recouped by renewable energy. It will be the most expensive energy we’ve ever generated and the country will be littered with new pylons connecting them all to the national grid. Whether all this is true or not, I don’t know. Time will tell I suppose, but I’m certainly not anti-wind farm.

But…. (you could tell there was going to be a ‘but’ couldn’t you.)

I don’t understand why we seem to have put so much investment into wind power. We have no control over the wind, it blows when it wants to. We need to generate energy to meet demand. What’s the point of generating when the wind blows if we don’t need it and what happens when we all put the kettle on and the wind isn’t blowing.  Wind Power, Solar Power, Wave Power, all share the same problem, they only perform intermittently and unpredictably.

We live on an island surrounded by sea. Twice a day, every day, the tide comes in and then goes out again. It’s predictable. You can even buy a little book of tables which tell you when the next tide is due and how high it’s going to be. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t prevent it happening and it goes without saying that a tide is a powerful force. Why then, aren’t we investing in tidal power as our primary source of renewable energy?

With the money being spent on our giant wind farm off Walney we could have constructed a barrage across Morecambe Bay which would not only generate energy from every incoming and outgoing tide, it would do amazing things for the local economy by improving transport links and also save the huge amounts of energy currently expended in getting goods and people in and out of the Furness peninsula every day.

Conservationists say it would destroy important natural habitats. Why? The tide will still come and go, albeit in a more controlled manner. The habitat would not disappear, it may change, and it may even change to become an even more important habitat. I appreciate the need to protect the environment, it’s all part of the renewable energy argument too. To not do something for the same reason as wanting to do it, means we end up doing nothing at all. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

I’m sure there are many other areas of our coastline that could benefit economically from being straightened out a bit and in the meantime contribute to our energy needs.  I think this is where we should be concentrating our investment, even if I do like wind farms.

May 032011

Back in harness today. It doesn’t take long for the daily routine to reclaim your soul and file away the events of the holiday in the memories file, but before I close the file drawer I’ll share some of my thoughts and observations on my week in Northumbria.

When we describe something we generally do so by comparing it to something else we already know well. So where The Lake District is very green, hilly and sparsely populated and the locals speak with a funny accent (mainly Polish). Northumbria is very green, hilly and sparsely populated and the locals speak with a funny accent (mainly Polish). The differences are that Northumbrian roads are straighter. Northumbria has more castles and fewer lakes. The Lake District fills up with tourists, Northumbria doesn’t.

On the roads, it’s very easy to tell the locals from the tourists. The tourists are the one’s belting along the straight country roads at sixty miles an hour. The locals are the ones overtaking them. Northumbria has a spectacular array of wildlife and you get to see most of it in more detail than you would like, splattered in the middle of the road.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

The number of Castles left in Northumbria is impressive. Whilst many are ruins, some are still maintained and lived in today. Having spent a week in an area with so many of them, I’ve been able to discern that a castle has a sound that resonates across the landscape. It goes something like “cha-ching!” If you have a love of the medieval and deep pockets then Northumbria’s the place to visit. Special mention must go to Bamburgh Castle which is fascinating while not being overpriced thanks to having avoided the clutches of the National Trust or English Heritage.

It’s fair to say that on the whole Northumbria is predominantly unspoilt countryside, ideal for walking and other out-doorsie type pursuits. This also means a lack of big tourist attractions, so those that exist become swamped when the sun shines. Two most noticeable places where this phenomenon is seen are Holy Island (Lindisfarne) which is famous for its Priory and its Castle (cha-ching!) and the Farne Islands, famous for its wildlife, especially Puffins and Seals.

Holy Island Causeway

Holy Island Causeway

Holy Island is accessed by a causeway which can be crossed inside a seven hour window when the tide is out. Wherever you go in Northumbria there are dire warnings of the dangers of crossing outside the published times and huts on stilts are provided as refuges for anyone foolish enough to try. When you arrive at the large tourist car-park on the outskirts of the village you are met by the shuttle bus which, for a small fee, will drop you at various sites providing opportunities for you to further exercise your wallet. Having driven across the causeway I can’t help thinking that it would take relatively little effort to raise the road a little and remove the obstacle to transport. However doing so would make Lindisfarne just another Northumbrian village with a castle and spoil a very efficient tourist cash machine.


Farne Island Puffins

Seahouses consists of a small harbour surrounded by Car Parks, Pubs, Gift shops and Fish and Chip restaurants which are in turn surrounded by Caravan sites. This is the gateway to the Farne Islands where a steady flow of tourists park their cars. Buy a ticket for a small boat to take them on a trip around the islands. On their return they will buy some seaside tat with a Puffin or a Seal on it and have a chippie tea before heading home. The order this happens may vary according the sailing times but otherwise it’s pretty much a production line. That said, having “done” the Farne Islands the wildlife and landscape is spectacular regardless of the process by which you get there and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Northumbria is nice, very nice. If more people were to go to Northumbria, the Lake District would be even better… please do go and see for yourself.