Take the A82 from Glasgow and drive north for two hours. Turn right at Glencoe, deeper inland, until you come to a huddle of identical white houses on the far end of the loch. This is Kinlochleven. Park by the visitor’s centre and take the footpath east (marked West Highland Way), moving against the current of the river. Zip your jacket up! This is Scotland, after all, and the sky will be low, dull, and pregnant with rain. Persevere up the gutted and ill-kept trail, ignoring the mud that sucks hungrily at your boots, until the valley opens up into a bleak expanse of moorland. Feast your eyes on the sight before you. Wedged into the crooked hills, braced grimly against 24,000 million gallons of water, is Blackwater Dam: a two story high wall of pale concrete, smeared all over with slimy green moss.
Lots of horror games prefer to keep you closed off and claustrophobic in a spaghetti dinner of tight corridors and vent shafts. However, I think there’s something to be said for the terror of open spaces, long empty roads and barren moorland, where the eyes play tricks on the mind. Cast your gaze to a far-off glen. Is that thing you took for a tree actually moving? Is it – no, surely not – is it coming closer?
At the centre of the spookiness is a certain graveyard that lies along the trail. A wooden picket fence has been hammered up and over a small uneven hill, closing in a plot of land pockmarked all over with concrete slabs. Some of them are carved with names: Mr W. Smith. Mr Cummingham. Mrs Reilly. Most just say ‘Unknown’.
Every ghost story must, to some degree, be a detective story as well. Who were these people? Why were their names lost? And why (a detail for the observant player), were they all buried to face the hulking figure of the dam? Solve this melancholic mystery before their vengeful spirits polish you off, Gore-Tex™ raincoat and all.
In case you were confused, yes, Blackwater Dam is real. It’s a strange combination of marvel and relic – an ingenious piece of Victorian engineering, and the last major construction project in the UK to be built entirely by hand. Thousands of men camped in the freezing Scottish wilderness, doing backbreaking labour day in and day out, working for pittance in conditions that make modern construction sites look like the lap of luxury. Most of them didn’t even know what the project was for. They called it ‘the waterworks’.
I’ll not give away every detail of the dam’s sad history here. It’s a story that includes captured Germans, Irish poets, nameless men vanishing into the snow, and a feverish pursuit of progress at the expense of human life. Needless to say this is fertile territory for some good old-fashioned psychological horror. Frictional Games, I’m looking at you.
If this article has piqued your interest, you can even go there yourself and have a sort of real life walking simulator experience (some people call it ‘hiking’). But be careful. The hills are vast – and still waters run deep…