Ardmaddy Castle is 15th century tower house built originally by the MacDougalls. Referring to it as the Estate is something of a misnomer according owner Charles Struthers, who describes it, somewhat self-deprecatingly, as a “hill sheep farm, with some forestry and letting cottages”.
When Charles and his wife Minette succeeded to Ardmaddy in the 1970’s, the 3000a farm business had to diversify and become self-financing to ensure its long-term success. Their initial investments were limited in scale but targeted at improving revenues, and this careful approach has seen their holiday cottage business gradually evolve into one of Argyll’s finest destinations for visitors.
The sea, hills and islands around Ardmaddy provide a range of excursions and activities that make the most of the brilliant West Highland coast. They have a hefted flock of over 1000 Cheviot and Blackface ewes and provide grazing for 160 beef cattle from neighbouring farms. Business at Ardmaddy has improved over the years but is still subject to the vagaries of annual farm and tourism incomes. It makes more sense for farmers to invest in renewable energy if they have the natural resources available. They have the storage capacity and height for successful Hydro so why not make best use of it and provide a relatively secure income for the farm while supporting the government’s policies for a greener and more sustainable future.
The dramatic topography of Argyll also provides for the development of onshore hydro-electric generation. Ardmaddy made the move to Hydro in the 1930s but the old kit was beyond repair and an upgrade was necessary. After a very lengthy planning process, including arguments about the relative value of a population of Bryophytes on site, which eventually reduced the scale of the project, a gravity dam and pipeline feeding a 100kw Gilkes Turbine was designed by consulting engineer Adrian Laycock Ltd, Barcaldine and is now providing a sustainable power supply for the National Grid.
This new source of income has allowed Charles and Minette to employ 3 new members of staff who now live full time on the estate with their families. In this part of Argyll, job creation is important in preserving local service. Argyll & Bute Council recognise that they are losing population and need to reverse this trend by encouraging the private sector to open up new businesses and grow those already trading. Ardmaddy is stepping up to the mark at national as well as county level.
Charles is delighted with the investment. It will help secure the future of Ardmaddy for his children, but he is not stopping there. He is keen to extend the scheme with a larger soil bank dam which would create a small loch above the existing intake. Let’s hope the planners at Argyll and Bute Council are ready for the next application.