Ted Murdoch

Ted Murdoch was an engineer on the hydro-schemes in Glenmoriston in the 50s. In 2003 he helped organize a reunion of some of those involved in the schemes and this is a summary of the speech he presented at that reunion. He has an invaluable store of hydro related information and photographs, many of which are on this website, and I'm very grateful to him for making it available to me.



It is now over 50 years since the Glenmoriston Hydro-electric works were started in a period of frenzied activity in Hydro-Electric development after decades of neglect and perverse opposition. To mark this event, a reunion of some of the surviving engineers took place in mid October 2003.

This brought back many personal memories of the 9 years I spent in Glenmoriston working on the construction of the works especially as there are currently proposals in the press for new schemes to harness some of the remaining untapped water in the Highlands to provide more environmentally friendly electricity!

It was a great engineering experience to have been involved in the earlier schemes which were carried out in the Highlands after the 1939/46 war. Many of these schemes had been the subject of preliminary investigations by prominent Engineers before the war. The history of the eventual development of the schemes promoted by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board (NOSHEB) has been well documented by various authors. I would recommend especially the official history "The Hydro" by Peter L Payne. This was commissioned by the Board in 1988. This book describes all of the schemes undertaken by the former Hydro Board and highlights in particular, the tremendous political contribution made by Tom Johnston and others in promoting these schemes in the face of much political opposition from land owners, the Coal industry, and Southern members of parliament!

One wonders how much the present generation are aware of the benefits to the Highlands brought about by the efforts of the engineers and the labour force employed on these schemes in the harsh environment at that time and without the modern technology now available?

This is a very inadequate account of some of the aspects and problems encountered in the construction of the Glenmoriston Hydro-Electric Scheme seen through the eyes of a one time young Consulting Civil Engineer relying on his suspect memory looking back all these years as a tribute to all who participated in the conception, design and construction of the Works.

1 Preliminary Investigation

Following the passing of the Hydro-Electric Development (Scotland) Act in 1943 Consulting Engineers were appointed for various regions in Scotland and site investigations began. Sir William Halcrow & Partners were allocated the Glen Affric, Glen Moriston, Glen Garry, The Beauly & Strathfarrar schemes (Sir William had previously designed the Lochaber Water Power Scheme in the early twenties ). How were these schemes developed? Let us consider the Glenmoriston Scheme.

After looking at Ordnance Survey maps, particular water catchment areas were walked over to carry out rough surveys of the terrain This was done using very basic and nowadays, old fashioned hand survey equipment - a prismatic compass for bearings, an aneroid barometer to measure heights and an Abney level to check slopes and contours. Preliminary calculations would be done using a slide rule, to assess the potential of the area under examination.

The next task would be to examine what rainfall and river flow records, if any, were available. These were initially very sparse but in the case of the Moriston, Captain MacLean (Director of River Flow Records) before the war, had carried out some river gauging on the Moriston and the Ness over several years (Gauge sites at Invermoriston and Ness Castle). Rainfall statistics were sparse but from the data available the long-term average rainfall was estimated. Flow/Duration curves for various types of catchment were drawn up. Based on these statistics a Utilisation curve for storage was drawn up and Load and Efficiency Factors were estimated . The size and type of turbine was thus determined-sounds very simple but without computers there were a lot of calculations required! After publication of the scheme and subsequent lengthy Public Inquiries etc the go ahead was eventually given to proceed!!

Survey teams were sent to prospective Dam, Power Station and Aqueduct sites (every available drop of water had to be utilised). Most graduate engineers had to join the survey party so that they soon became acclimatised to the harsh working conditions that lay ahead i.e. either in driving rain, snow or midgies using instruments which today would be antiques in comparison with the sophisticated computerised instruments now available!

Geological surveys were undertaken-boreholes were drilled to ascertain the type of rock likely to be encountered in the foundations of the dams, tunnels, and the Underground Power stations which incidentally were the first ones to be constructed by the Hydro Board- to avoid the impact that surface power stations would make on the environment and because they were estimated to be cheaper.

Detailed design work was carried out in Head Offices in conjunction with Electrical and Architect Consultants, and of course to satisfy Client requirements and the many objections which were raised to the proposed schemes! Particular attention had to be given to minimising the effect on the environment and any interference with the passage of salmon in rivers such as the Garry and Moriston. This required the incorporation of fish lifts and traps etc. Tender drawings and fully detailed Specifications and Conditions of Contract were prepared. Experienced Contractors were then invited to tender.

Eventually the contract was let and a Resident Engineer and site staff with Inspectors of works were duly appointed to check and supervise the work of the Contractor. (In Glenmoriston there was a site staff of 20 Engineers on the Upper Works and 10 on the Lower Works with 6 Inspectors on each site). In addition to site supervision, minor design work for Roads and Bridges etc. was carried out by site staff

I, along with other graduates, was interviewed at Glasgow University in 1952 by a senior engineer from Sir William Halcrow, Duncan Kennedy, who was in his seventies (and had worked on the construction of the Ballachulish to Oban railway built between 1898 and 1903!) He was in charge of the office in Inverness and being a bachelor, lived in the old Qeensgate Hotel - a wonderful man but he didn't suffer fools gladly!! He offered me a start at Mullardoch Dam which was in the final stages of completion. Despite being brought up in Inverness I really didn't know where Mullardoch was -no getting around in cars in my young life!! After 4 months at Mullardoch, I was transferred to the Upper Moriston Scheme in September 1952 -on the day John Cobb was killed on Loch Ness. I of course, started on survey work -preparing contoured plans of the new reservoir area above Loch Cluanie - somewhat tedious work with the usual midges and the roar of the stags in the rutting season to cheer us up! This was to allow calculation of the capacity of the "new" reservoir when impounded. I then spent 6 months in the Low Pressure Tunnel from Cluanie dam to the Underground Power Station at Ceannacroc and then on the design and construction of the new road to Cluanie Inn to replace the old sub standard existing road which would be submerged when Cluanie dam was completed.

2 Life in the Glen

The appointed Contractor, The Mitchell Construction Co from Peterborough, started setting up a camp to house 700 employees including a Police Station, a First Aid Facility, a Cinema, a Canteen and a wet Bar (beer only-no spirits!).

Meantime we engineers, were found temporary lodgings in the Glen. (I was one of four in a farmhouse at Achlain above Torgoyle Bridge). There was no electricity in any of the houses and having to spend the winter there, was a cold and damp experience! But bachelor quarters were constructed and ready for occupation in February 1953. These were ranch type buildings with about 20 single bedrooms, a dining room, and a large lounge plus a games room- real luxury! We ran the quarters on the same basis as an Officers mess (some of us were ex service!) i.e. on a points system 2 for breakfast, 3 for lunch, and 2 for High tea! (In other words you paid only for the food you ate!). I was appointed the first Mess Secretary and this task was shared around on a monthly basis thereafter! I remember being given a cheque for 100 to spend in Gilbert Ross's Ironmongers shop in Academy Street purchasing kitchen equipment, cooking utensils, crockery etc. The late Gilbert Ross was marvellous -"anything that was unsuitable take back and get it replaced!" Incidentally, all shopping had to be done on a Saturday afternoon as we had to work until noon every Saturday! (and often Sundays!)

Some of the more affluent engineers had cars and usually we could cadge a lift into Inverness on a Saturday and enjoy a bit of civilisation in Inverness - afternoon tea in the Caledonian Hotel lounge- a visit to the Playhouse cinema followed by high tea in the Carlton Restaurant in Inglis Street and mebbe for some, a bit of the dancing in the Caledonian Hotel Ballroom! The collection point late in the evening was the lounge of the Station Hotel!

However Dho Lodge, as we called the quarters, was quite an experience and on reflection, a jovial place. We even bought a piano for 25 from Mr Leslie's store in Fort Augustus. We even resurrected an old overgrown tennis court (now gone back to being to a hen run!) and this provided plenty exercise despite the midges! We occasionally held Mess parties and there was never any problem getting the odd bus load of nurses from Raigmore for the dancing! Country dancing was taught in a small hall beside the old lodge-mostly supported by the English engineers!!

Married quarters were provided in nearby cottages and in converted flats in the old Ceannacroc Lodge which had been badly damaged by fire prior to the start of the Hydro scheme. The Contractor constructed timber chalet type houses for his married staff. His bachelor staff were housed in an old shooting lodge at Corrielair- later burnt down as it was below the impounded water level after the completion of Cluanie Dam

We participated in the local activities in Invermoriston playing badminton and helping Invermoriston to win the Glen Albyn cup! We also formed a male voice choir to perform at the local Ceilidhs. In Fort Augustus the married staff based there took part in the local Amateur Dramatic Club. The engineers from Garry and Moriston helped to resurrect the Golf course in Fort Augustus which had been overgrown since the thirties. So we all added quite a bit of life to the local scene. We even had an annual formal ball in the Caledonian Hotel Ballroom!

We worked very long hours and as the Contractor worked 24 hours a day and if there was any concrete pours on the Dam an engineer had to go out to check the setting out of the shuttering before concreting was allowed to commence!!.

3 Tunnels
One of the most often asked question is "how it was possible to drive tunnels from two directions and meet within an accuracy of an inch or so?" This was done by carrying out a very precise triangulation survey. On top of the highest available hills survey stations were built. In the case of the upper works the materials to construct the survey stations were taken up the hill by ponies from Kintail - an 18 inch dia pipe was concreted in and a securing plate for a theodolite was fixed on top. The angles between adjacent stations were very carefully read - this often meant that the engineers and chainmen had to set off at 4 am or dawn, so that readings could be taken at sunrise - often the teams would get to the top and find mist or rain made visibility impossible, - all very frustrating - no satellites in those days! Down at ground level a base line of say 500 feet would be measured very accurately with a steel tape with corrections for temperature and tension (achieved by spring balances and thermometers). Then using 7 figure logarithm tables the co-ordinates of all the survey stations were calculated.

All this survey work was done separately by the Contractor's and the RE's staff and the co-ordinates of all the survey stations were agreed before any works were commenced. Once agreement was achieved, the bearings of the Tunnel centreline could be calculated and ground stations established. From these ground stations candle pots were hung from the roof so that the tunnel face could be marked up for drilling and blasting by the Tunnel foreman. All done by basic trigonometry!! The old joke was that if the tunnels didn't meet rarely at the break through v

At the time of the Upper works at Cluanie there was a national shortage of cement (which incidentally was shipped in cwt bags into Inverness Harbour and delivered by road transport to site) so the Contractor elected to use the Trief process. This was a wet grinding process using blast-furnace slag from Colvilles steelworks in Motherwell The slag was delivered to site by road, 24 hours a day on the old Glen road which could hardly cope with the heavy delivery lorries. The slag was crushed into a fine powder in special ball mills on site and this was made into a slurry and mixed with cement and the resulting concrete used for both Loyne and Cluanie dams. Also due to the shortage of limber and joiners, the Contractor opted to use precast concrete for the upstream and downstream faces of both the Loyne and Cluanie dams-these facing units were cast on site.

In 1953 I transferred to the Lower Moriston works as the Section Engineer on Dundreggan Dam where the Contractor was Duncan Logan Ltd (from Muir of Ord.) . As before, a camp had to be built with all the usual facilities. In this camp the catering was supervised by Mrs Logan and no bar was provided as far as I recall! This was quite a major contract for Logan's to undertake as it included the driving of several tunnels of which, the longest was the Tailrace Tunnel which carried the water from the underground Power Station , 300 feet below Dundreggan to the River Moriston below the falls at Invermoriston a length of 21,662 feet. The dam was a very compact structure incorporating an Intake structure leading the water into a 300 feet pressure shaft to connected to an underground Power station (The shaft had been excavated by the Mitchell Construction Company prior to the Lower Works contract being let to confirm the suitability of the rock for the Power Station ie whether or not concrete lining in the station would be required.) The dam has three spillway gates. -2 radial lifting gates and one centre tilting gate These were fabricated by Glenfield & Kennedy, Kilmarnock and assembled on site. Again, the transporting the gate components with the state of the Glen road was quite a feat! Incorporated in the dam was a Borland fish lift to allow salmon to go up-river for spawning.

Later I was appointed Deputy RE on the Livishie scheme which was a scheme built to utilise the water from the north side of the Glen-this virtually collects all the water from Meall Fourvanie back into Bhlaraidh Dam(together with the water from Lochs Stac and Liath) and then by a high pressure tunnel to an underground 15mw Power-station at Dundreggan. After passing through the turbine the water is fed via a Tailrace tunnel discharging into the Dundreggan reservoir. These works were built by A. M. Carmichael Ltd now no longer in business.

It is not possible to describe the works in detail e.g. control gates, fish lifts, intakes, new roads and bridges to replace the old sub standard roads submerged by the new reservoirs etc. but hopefully this gives a small flavour of how these works were built and supervised. They were just a small part of the major Hydro schemes which were carried out in the North of Scotland in the 1950's and 1960's to bring electricity into the villages and glens in the Highlands providing employment to many local people building 270 miles of new roads and bringing new industries to The Highland area.

The outputs of the Moriston Scheme were as follows:-

Installed Capacity
(Megawatts )
Average Annual Output
(million units)
Upper Moriston (1956) 20 73
Lower Moriston (1953) 36 114
Livishie (1962) 15 27
Total 71 214

The total construction cost of the Moriston scheme was 13 million

The knowledge gained on these major construction schemes lead to many of the Engineers going abroad and designing and constructing hydro schemes in many of the third world countries and in the USA and Canada - thus making a considerable contribution to the UK's balance of payments!

At the opening of the Lower Moriston in 1958 Sir Christopher Hinton.(chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board) said ;-
"In 20, 30.and 50 years hence people looking at the hydro-electric development of Scotland will say how tremendously fortunate development took place when it did"

How prophetic these words were! Would the Highlands, and in particular the City of Inverness, be as prosperous as they are today if the Politicians and the Engineers and workmen of the past had not the vision and the expertise to carry out these works?

Yes, regrettably, there were casualties and we must never forget them, but the construction industry at that time was at the frontiers of major new works and plant and machinery was primitive in comparison to what is available today.

In conclusion, in a letter to the Inverness Courier, which itself was a strong supporter of the Hydro-Electric Development, dated 18 July 1962, written by a former critic of the Hydro schemes, A. K. Brandon . He wrote:-
"I feel it is only fair now that I have seen the great works completed to pay tribute to the wonderful way in which the Contractors have carried out their operations"