Advantages Free if you arrive by Public Transport, James Bond style visit
Disadvantages Short Tour, Visitor Centre rather cramped
Cruachan Power Station is situated near Oban in the West Highlands of Scotland. The unique aspect of this power station is its location. It is essentially a hollowed out mountain - Ben Cruachan. Indeed if you go for a hill walk on top of the mountain to see the resevoir you can feel the mountain rumble if the turbines are activated!Now i am not going to write a history lesson about the power station other than to say for the engineers amongst us who want to find out about the technical side there is a comprehensive website, which should be detailed below.
An overview though, the power station operated by using water from the resevoir at the top of the mountain to operate the turbines when demand for power is great and the price is high (mainly daytime). At night when electric is cheap water is pumped from Loch Awe up the mountain to refill the resevoir. All sounds a bit stupid doesnt it - but its down to economics really. The turbines are situated almost 1km into the mountain, and providing you book in advance, you can get into the mountain to see this for £3.50 (Adult) or free if you have used public transport. There is also plenty of picnic space outside the centre.Firstly you arrive at the wooden building at the side of Loch Awe. The exhibition centre is free to look around and although small, has some good interactive displays for the kids especially. These displays include interactive demonstartions of how water is pumped up and down the mountain at different times of day. There is also a PC area where you can print off a certificate and a small selection os toys for the kids to play with. You can also find out about the history of the station and the history of Hydro power in Scotland. There is a small coffee shop which as a good selection of baking, snacks, sandwiches and teas / coffees. You can also get some gifts from the gift shop. including the rather cheap but very interesting piece of the inside of the mountain on a small wooden plinth for about £3.75. Or the rather good and very detailed guide for about £2, so you actually know what you are going to see!
The tours run at regular intervals (times vary according to time of year), but you must really book in advance as it is very popular during the summer months. You get called through when the small 24 seater bus arrives. You are not allowed to take cameras, camcorders and bags into the mountain, so free lockers are provided for you to leave you stuff in safely. It was a shame i couldnt take my camera in, as i would have liked some pictures. None the less, you get onto your bus, and you have a tour guide. The bus goes through some metal security gates (James Bond esque!) and you drive about 1km into the mountain. The guide talks about all the safety aspects of working inside, and you eventually arrive at the visitor area. The first thing to notice is the humidity inside - apx 90%. It hits you straight away. It is so warm and humid inside, there are tropical plants growing under artifical day lights. You walk up a path and some steps, and arrive in a small room, which has (Rather garsih) tartan carpets and curtains. The guide gives a small talk about more aspects of the station, and there are pictures on the wall to show construction etc. Then the motorised burtains are opened and you see the hub of the station - the turbines. You look down from the viewing platform and the guide explains the art on the walls and the technical aspects of the turbines. Then you load back up onto the bus, and drive out of the mountain (thinking that you are rentering a post - apocolyptic world!) and are taken back to the centre to collect your belongings.There is adequate car parking at the centre, and it can aso be accessed by regular bus services from Oban. There is also a train station at Falls of Cruachan, however it is a request stop and only open during the summer. The station is on the Glasgow - Oban line.
If you arrive by public transport and book in advance, the tour is free as part of a green tourisim initiative.And another small fact, the main road from the centre looks like is is basically floating on Loch Awe. When it was built they actually built it on metal cantilevers which were pushed into the side of the mountain to support the road.
I really enjoyed this trip and it is worthwhile doing if you are visiting the area. I think my main issues are the visitor centre is far too small for peak times ( I arrived when 3 Shearing Buses arrived so had to fight my way around the centre!). And admitadly the tour inside the mountain is a bit cheesy with the motorised curtains and tartan carpets. But look beyond that and it is the most amazing piece of engineering acheivement, and does not fail to amaze you. And you can also pretend you have entered a James Bond undergroud layer and amuse yourself that way if the people on the bus start to annoy you!And the website - www.visitcruachan.co.uk
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