Highlands & Islands

Power struggle: Family life off the Grid

Pocock family
Image caption The Pococks rely on a generator and a small wind turbine for electricity

In the shadow of a power line undergoing a £600m revamp is a family of six with no connection to the National Grid. A BBC documentary recorded a year in their lives.

For 19 years the Pococks have lived off the electricity grid, on a croft at Cougie in Glen Affric in the Highlands.

They are fiercely proud of where they live and about being self sufficient.

The family grows its own food - they have two dairy cows, pigs, sheep, geese, ducks and hens.

Image caption Sasha Pocock is eager to connect her rural idyll to mains electricity

Mum Sasha, 36, runs a pony trekking business while her 42-year-old husband, Iain, supplements the household income by gathering and selling scrap metal.

The couple's four children - Sarah, Ryan, Ewan and Douglas - help with the running of the croft and pitch in looking after the livestock and the trekking business's 19 horses.

The effort to heat and light the crofthouse, however, dominates family life.

The croft is not connected to the National Grid and the family gets its electricity from a generator and a small wind turbine.

But when diesel levels are low and the wind does not blow, the TV and domestic appliances are out of action and the children have to do their homework by candlelight and head torches.

Solar panels

With a lack of power comes great responsibility.

Iain carries out regular maintenance to the diesel generator and wind turbine, while the children spend a cold and wet Saturday gathering firewood. Tonnes of timber are needed to keep the house warm in winter.

Iain's mother, Val, also lives on the croft. She and her family moved from Cardiff to Cougie in 1962 seeking an alternative to city life.

Sixty percent of her pension goes on paying for fuel.

The Pococks say they cannot get grants to install a larger turbine or solar panels because the funding requires surplus power to be exported to the Grid.

Image caption Sarah is the eldest of the four children

Ironically, the croft is close to a massive multi-million pound electricity project.

Energy giant SSE is upgrading the 137-mile (220km) Beauly to Denny transmission circuit.

The 400,000-volt line will triple the capacity of the existing system, and eventually transmit vast amounts of energy from planned renewable power schemes in the Highlands to central Scotland.

Six hundred new towers are being built - a reduction of 200 on the existing number. However, some towers are taller and reach heights of 65m (213ft).

Opponents to the upgrade have complained that the new towers will spoil mountain landscapes.

The project is expected to be completed in 2014 at an estimated cost of £600m.

'Great place'

Sasha says the upgraded line is a blot on the landscape and, in return for having to live with it, her family should get some help getting mains electricity.

"We live here in a croft at the end of the glen in the middle of nowhere, and we love it," she says.

Image caption Iain Pocock's parents moved to Cougie from Wales in the 1960s

"We chose to live here. It's a great place to raise a family."

But while she and her family thrive in the glen's wild, wide open spaces, Sasha is desperate for a reliable source of power.

Seeing work being done to the Beauly-Denny line only fuels her quest for it.

Tending to a ewe and her young lambs on a hillside overlooking the croft, Sasha's eldest child Sarah admits some people frown at her family's lifestyle.

She said: "One of my friends goes to me: 'Oi, you don't look like a hillbilly, but you live like one'. And I go 'yeah, I suppose you could say that, but we're not quite though'."

For Sarah there is a big distraction from the family's electric dreams.

She has left school for university and swapped Glen Affric's quiet dark nights for the bright lights of Edinburgh.

Power to the Pococks; A year in the life of a crofting family is a Timeline Films production. It will be shown on Thursday on BBC Two Scotland from 21:00.

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