Farms lost to Backwater Dam

A few weeks ago I was telling you of where our water comes from and this recalled to mind when the Backwater Dam was built. The East of Scotland Water Board based at Bullionfield, and whose chairman was William Low then lived at Lisden in Kirriemuir, decided to enhance our water supply.

Here are some fascinating facts I have taken from ‘The Backwater Reservoir’ book.

The scheme provides 42 million gallons per day and holds 5,500 million gallons (24,800,000 cubic metres).

At an elevation of 1,000 feet above sea level it is two miles north of the major highland geological fault which runs across Scotland.

The Backwater dam has a catchment area of 8,500 acres and was the first earth dam in Britain to have a “chemically grouted cut-off curtain through overburden”.

The much photographed valve tower projecting out of the scenic reservoir is 177 feet high.

Main contractors were Babtie, Shaw and Morton of Glasgow and the tunnelling and grouting were by Soil mechanics-Soletanche Ltd.

The huge embankment was built by Balfour Beatty (Scotland) Ltd. Edinburgh & London and the road works by John McAdam & Sons Ltd, Aberdeen and Wm. Briggs & Sons Ltd, Dundee.

The Backwater Dam was built between 1964 and 1970. I find it quite sad to think of the farms going under the water and their occupants having to move elsewhere. The buildings were not actually demolished beforehand, only their roofs and timbers were removed, so they sit there in the depths.

I can clearly recall riding on horseback with some of the Ferrier family (a local pony trekking business), through the ruins while the dam was filling up.

We reckoned we would be the last persons to cross the deserted glen and so it proved to be, except for one particularly dry summer when I went back to see some of the ruins.

The most northerly house in the glen that was demolished was Glenhead Lodge, formerly a shooting lodge, but then a boys’ Reform School. Below the lodge was a small cottage called The Hole, a former shepherd’s house and another little house called The Harran, both derelict by then.

Further down, at the end of the public road, was Easter Ravernie or Glenhead Farm, as it is now confusingly called. At the time the dam was being built, the Glenhead tenants emigrated to New Zealand and there is still a wee New Zealand reminder with a ‘kiwi’ painted on a shed roof there. Round the corner from Glenhead is Glendamph, known at one time as Wester Ravernie. Further down the glen, you come to the site of Backwater School that was closed sometime in the 1940s. However, the building was still there and the schoolhouse was still occupied when the new road was built, but they too have since been demolished.

Clintlaw was one of the farms to go under the dam but in times of drought when the dam is low, parts of it can still be seen, but you can always see the dykes from the higher ground going down under the water. Coreffie on the other side of the dam was another house to be demolished. Down where the reservoir’s boathouse now stands, was Over Scithie.

Mid Scithie was another farm to go under the water, but this is a sad tale. The tenant there was Mr Tom Robertson, a man of 82 who had been born at Mid Scithie and lived in the glen all his life. His father and grandfather before him worked the farm so there was a long family connection there.

Tom, understandably, was very upset at the thought of having to leave and he had said on more than one occasion, that he wasn’t going to move when the flooding of the glen took place and in the end he didn’t have to face it, as he simply died sitting at his ain fireside, a short while before.

On the other side of the valley below Mid Scithie and nearest the dam wall was McRitch, a white L-shaped house and extensive steading and sheep fanks, which were also submerged. It is strange to think the proposed wind farm is to be known as ‘McRitch’.

So Glenhead and Glendamph are now the only farms which remain in the glen today with the higher land belonging to the submerged farms added on to them.

The Dam was inaugurated (at an additional cost of £2,600) on October 9, 1969 by Her Majesty the Queen. The old characters and a way of life have gone. However, the road is now busier, especially at weekends, with people driving up to view the dam, and today it is still a popular outing as there is an easy level circular six-mile walk around the reservoir, which I can heartily recommend.

Yours aye,