Saturday, 25 September 2021

Taking the high road (Off Topic #31)

We spent last week in a holiday cottage on the banks of Loch Ewe on the northwest coast of Scotland. We’ve been living (or more correctly ‘staying’ in the Scottish vernacular) north of the border for nearly five years now but I’m still blown away by the sheer beauty of the Highlands each time we venture out.

Bonny Scotland - the view east from Mellon Udrigle (no I didn't make that name up).

Until we arrived at Loch Ewe, I had no idea of the significant part it paid in WW2 as the base for the Arctic Convoys, where the ships assembled before heading out on the dangerous route to Murmansk in Russia. The Loch banks still contain many relics of that activity of 80 years ago which, of course was fascinating to me (not sure if Mrs S was so pleasantly surprised).

This was just a few hundred yards from where we were staying and appears to be a base for some sort of gun-mount.
These concrete blocks were originally used to anchor the submarine nets at the mouth of the Loch (old git is for scale).

This is the remains of a jetty near the position where the anti-submarine booms would have been.

A serious looking gun position near Aultbea (again the old git is for scale).

There is a small Russian Arctic Convoy Museum in Aultbea which is worth a visit if you’re driving the North Coast 500 and need a break from tailing all those camper vans. The exhibits tell a lot of personal stories from the participants in the convoys, explaining the incredible conditions that the sailors had to endure at sea during the Arctic winter.

This model in the museum had been made by the son of one of the crew of HMS Honeysuckle. I like the way he has modelled it with ice covering the decks.
'The worst journey in the world'

As the route home on Friday took us to Inverness Mrs S indulged me by agreeing to a visit to Fort George. Although I’ve been to Culloden a couple times before I had never made it to Fort George and I’m really glad that we finally got there because saying it’s impressive doesn’t really do it justice.

The imposing entrance to Fort George.
There are quite a few cannon dotted around but none of them are original.

Fort George sits on the banks of the River Ness and was built by the British following the Jacobite Rebellion to control access to the Moray Firth and inland to the Great Glen. It is a huge construction based on a Star design that remains virtually intact. It took 22 years to build and was said to have cost the equivalent of a whole years’ Scottish GDP (the modern equivalent would be the cost of five Trident nuclear submarines).

Mrs S took this rather arty looking photo - how does she do that?
A member of the old git Home Guard on lookout - who do you think you're kidding Mr Jacobite?

Mrs S thought that was a bit of an overreaction by the British, but I explained to her (patiently) that King George was understandably just a little paranoid that the Jacobites would have another go unless he cracked down hard on them. The main point of the fort was to prevent the French from sending troops, money or supplies to the Highlanders as they had during the 45.

These flags on display in the Highlanders' museum were carried by the 79th Cameron Highlanders at Waterloo and the bag-pipes were thought to have been played there too. I like seeing such tangible links to the past.
Some of the barrack blocks - they looked quite cosy.

I had no idea (until we got there) that Fort George was still an active military base being home to the Royal Regiment of Scotland. The accommodation blocks (improved from the original 18c ones) are neatly laid out in the centre of the fort around an impressive parade ground. There is also a very good Highlanders’ Museum which as far as I could work out houses exhibits on every one of the Highland Regiments except the Black Watch (who have their own museum in Perth).

An unusual sight in Scotland - the Union flag flying over Fort George.

I would say that Fort George is an absolute must for any history buff/wargamer wandering the Highlands but allow yourself at least 3 hours to look around (they do a great bacon butty in the café and a nice cheese & tomato bloomer for veggies - vegans can pick out the cheese).

To visit Fort George you must book in advance.


Rob said...

Looks like a great day out, wonder if the missus feels the same?
I'm amazed that you managed to get that Old Git to schlep around after you just to provide you with a scale for your photos... ;o)

Matt said...

Lovely part of the world and it looks like the weather with with you.

Stryker said...

Rob, yeah the old git was useful although he did slow me down!

Stryker said...

Matt, the weather was typically Scottish with 50mph winds one day but the sun always seemed to shine at the appropriate moment!

rross said...

Great scenery around Loch Ewe - I think I have been to Fort George twice - once as a teenager when we had a scout camp up that way - I seem to remember the museum at that time was solely the Cameron Highlanders - I guess like the regiments of the Scottish Infantry Division, the museums have all been amalgamated into one generic Royal Regiment of Scotland affair - although as far as I know, the Gordons still have a separate museum of their own in Aberdeen - 22 Viewfield Road or Street - something like that!

Duke of Baylen said...

Thanks for a reminder of my trips to Fort George some 16, 17 years ago. I echo your comment about what a great place it is to see.


MSFoy said...

Super post Ian. I've seen the outside of the fort, but never been in sufficiently tolerant company to allow a proper visit. I'm intrigued by the history - like Fort Augustus, at the other end of Loch Ness, I understand that the original Fort George (which was in Inverness) was built by General Wade after the 1715 rebellion, both were captured by the next lot of Jacobites in 1745, and FG1 was blown up. The current FG2 was built afterwards, in its present location. I don't think Fort Augustus was rebuilt. I stayed in Fort Augustus some years ago, but couldn't find the fort (I was a bit distracted by food poisoning at the time) - I think it was gradually absorbed by the monastery and school. Anyway, terrific stuff - thanks for this.

Being a dabbler in fortification, I was impressed by the picture of the Old Git in the Guerite feature - every fort should have one.

Stryker said...

rros - I think you are right, the collection seems to focus on the Cameron and Seaforth Highlanders.

Stryker said...

Stephen, thanks for your comment, yep truly a great place to visit.

Stryker said...

Tony, certainly worth a trip especially with your interest in star fort fortifications. The place is very well maintained presumably because it's still a military base.

That old git does seem to follow me around, think I caught a glimpse of him in the mirror this morning!

Ross Mac said...

Thanks for sharing these.

Stryker said...

My pleasure Ross.

Wellington Man said...

Lovely pictures, Ian!
I never made it Fort George either when I lived in Scotland (over thirty years ago), which pains me greatly. All we've got on NZ is the occasioanal earthen redoubt, although if WW2 fortifications are your thing we've got plenty of those.

David said...

Thanks for this teaser Ian. Hoping to experience some of that Scottish highland myself next summer, though WM is lobbying hard for NZ...

Stryker said...

Thanks WM, I'm sure you'll make it there one day!

Stryker said...

Ah David, spoilt for choice I would say!

Aly Morrison said...

It’s been many a year since I’ve been to Fort George Ian…
Lovely photos…
50mph winds… it sounds like you have still got a bit of summer weather up there.

All the best. Aly

Stryker said...

Just a bit Aly!

Anonymous said...

Of course Mrs S takes artistic pictures- she chose you!

There are 11 Scottish Regimental museums- two are in England (KOSB in Berwick and The Guards in London)!

The others are:
Royal Scots and Scots Greys - Edinburgh Castle
Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders- Stirling Castle
HLI- Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow
Black Watch in Perth
Gordon Highanders - Aberdeen
Seaforth and Camerons in Fort George
Cameronians - Hamilton
Ayrshire Yeomanry - single room in a small museum near Ayr
Fife and Forfar Yeomanry- single room in TA Centre in Cupar

All are quite good in their own way but most have moved away from the pile em high to less is more style of display. I’d say that The Guards and HLI are the exception.

Stryker said...

Thanks anon, some useful info there!