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.