Reivers author ‘would have fought to save Hermitage’

HERMITAGE CASTLE , NEAR NEWCASTLETON , SCOTTISH BORDERS.'     PHOTO PHIL WILKINSON / TSPL
HERMITAGE CASTLE , NEAR NEWCASTLETON , SCOTTISH BORDERS.' PHOTO PHIL WILKINSON / TSPL
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STEEL Bonnets author George Macdonald Fraser would have been appalled at plans to erect giant wind turbines on land close to Hermitage Castle in Liddesdale, according to his fellow writer, the nationally-known broadcaster Eric Robson.

The men worked together on a number of programmes and Mr Robson told TheSouthern he too was shocked that anyone could be given permission to place turbines so close to such an iconic Scottish landmark.

Last week we reported mounting opposition to proposals by Northampton-based renewable energy firm Infinis for 20 turbines – each 125m high – on farm land close to the 400-year-old castle.

A scoping report has been submitted to Scottish Borders Council (SBC), which has given approval to the company for the erection of a wind-measuring mast on the site of the proposed development, which, if approved, would be known as Windy Edge Wind Farm.

Hermitage Castle was described by the late Mr Macdonald Fraser in his famous book on the reivers, The Steel Bonnets, as “the guardhouse of the bloodiest valley in Britain”.

It is one of the oldest surviving castles in Scotland and sits in an iconic landscape synonymous with the Borders for many people around the world.

Although only in the early stages, the wind farm project has already sparked fierce local opposition. A Hermitage Action Group was formed in July to fight the scheme and Borders historian, author and weaponry expert, Brian Moffatt, who used to live close to the castle, has lent his support to the protest campaign.

They have now been joined by Mr Robson. Best known as the chairman of Gardeners’ Question Time on BBC Radio Four, Mr Robson is no stranger to the Borders.

Born in Newcastleton, he has been a broadcaster and journalist for more than 35 years, presenting, producing and directing programmes for BBC television and radio, ITV and Channel 4.

He is chairman of Cumbria Tourism and the Wainwright Society, a non-executive director of Hadrian’s Wall Heritage and a deputy lieutenant for Cumbria.

He is angry that Liddesdale has still never received any official designation as being an area of landscale value from local authorities. “It’s a very special location,” Mr Robson said. “Somehow Liddesdale did not get a special landscape designation. More than 10,000 people around the world can trace some family link back to Liddesdale which they see as their cultural heartland.”

He added: “So how did we come to let a bunch of land use consultants decide which of our places were culturally significant?

“They ticked some boxes and produced some coloured graphs and decided Liddesdale did not qualify as having special significance. OK, so it’s not as picturesque an areas as St Mary’s Loch.

“Liddesdale is a brutal landscape, but it speaks to people from across the centuries and it beggars belief that it did not justify a designation of special cultural significance.”

Mr Robson, who says he has always considered Newcastleton his home base, has made a number of programmes about the area, including the reivers, with the late Mr Macdonald Fraser.

“I think George would have been equally appalled. He didn’t suffer fools gladly but now we seem to have gone along gladly with this bunch of fools.

“This battle could be the first of many and if we lose it, it could herald a rash of wind farms across this remarkable landscape.”

Responding to the scoping report, Historic Scotland told SBC last month it considered the proposed wind farm development – the nearest turbine would be just 2.3km from the castle – would have a significant impact on the medieval building’s setting. The agency also said that Hermitage was of “national importance as one of the great medieval fortresses of Scotland”.

According to Matt Chapman, from Selkirk-based Smithy House Associates, which is acting as consultants for Infinis, the project is still at a very early stage having only recently received the scoping response and with an initial site and feasibility investigation under way.

Among the Border reiving families which have long called Liddesdale home are the Elliots and the Armstrongs. The chief of Clan Elliot, Margaret Elliot of Redheugh, felt unable to comment as she is a member of Newcastleton Community Council which she says has not been formally consulted yet on this issue.

However, on its website, the Clan Armstrong Trust is urging members and supporters to help the Hermitage Action Group in any way they can.

One of its best-known members is BBC newsreader Fiona Armstrong who told us: “Yes, I know of this story and having filmed at Hermitage many times I would not like to see a wind farm there.

“With the Clan Armstrong Trust, I set up the Reiver Trail five years ago and that takes in Hermitage. Many people use the trail, especially from abroad when they come to trace their borderland roots, and I fear a wind farm will not add to the magic of the area.

“I am not against wind farms per se – although I do have some doubts about their efficiency – but they have to be situated in the right place.”