Monday, 29 May 2023

I have been to....the Scottish Highlands

 We recently got back from a couple of weeks in the Highlands. Although we've been to the lowlands plenty of times, and right up the east coast of Scotland to Thurso and John O'Groats, we've never made it to the northwest. As usual I'll attempt to focus on things of historical interest.

Although it was raining and then snowing when we arrived at Glen Coe, once we got to Skye it was very uncharacteristically blazing sunshine for over a week. This is the Coral Beach near Gairloch.

A Viking ridgeback grave stone near Loch Lomond.

Glen Coe in the snow! The never ending bog of Rannoch Moor is off to the right (we stayed at the far end towards Pitlochry a few years ago).

First stop was Fort William. I've already forgotten who this fine chap was. It was still quite wet and the top half of Ben Nevis was covered in snow.

The Commandos did a lot of training around here, the Commando Monument is a few miles up the road.

Fort William boasts the small, but perfectly formed. West Highland museum. It is well worth a visit as it is packed with great stuff.

It had a fair bit about the WW2 Commandos. 

No. 4 Rifle, Bren and a Garand (which some Commando units used).

The museum also has a lot of much older stuff. The studding on this shield is just great.

This is the old governers room, complete with original panelling from the old Fort William, built in the 1700s. Fort Augustus is further up the Great Glen towards Inverness.

Viking artefacts. The northwest of Scotland was heavily settled by Vikings.

Bonnie Prince Charlie. There was tons and tons about the '45.

Original tartan. Surprisingly finely woven.

I love this painting. The guys are all in their blue bonnets, just like 'Outlander'.

More original clothing.

First World War uniforms, including kilts and a kilt cover.

More Commandos.

This is Neptunes Staircase, 18 locks on the Caledonian Canal which link the Irish Sea with the North Sea via the Great Glen. There are two swing bridges beneath these locks, including a railway swing bridge.

At the Ben Nevis visitors centre there was a great model of an Iron Age Fort, Ben Deardall. Although we went up the lower slopes of the mountain, the weather was too bad to go very high and all walkers were advised to stop at the snow line. There were a couple of eagles flying around though. 

While motoring to Mallaig to catch the ferry to Skye, we saw a mysterious cloud of smoke ahead, and when we finally overtook it, it was a steam train! It eventually arrived in Mallaig behind us and discharged a big bunch of happy tourists.

By now the rain and snow had blown away and the weather was spectacular for the ferry crossing.

The Fairy Glen on Skye, some very unusual rock formations.

St Marys Church. There were a couple of wartime graves in the cemetary.

The local clan leader.

Loch Ewe. This was a WW2 naval base used to assemble convoys for the Murmansk run, and held anything up to a hundred merchant ships and warships. My grandfather will have sailed from here. There is still a small Royal Navy base here, and the Loch is surrounded by old AA gun emplacements.

There was an excellent information board on the overlook point, showing the anchorages and wartime defences.

It is Scotland, what did you expect? This time we didn't do a distillery tour and get absolutely plastered though.

Just up the road from Loch Ewe is the excellent and fairly recently opened Arctic Convoy Museum.

As I've previously mentioned on the blog, at one point in his RN career my grandfather served on the Murmansk Run, before transferring to Landing Craft in 1943.

The usual model ships. HMS Sheffield.

A fine selection of hats! Sadly not for sale. I was very taken with the Royal Navy Ushanka.

A fabulous painting of a Ju 88 (extended range version).

Various U-Boat stuff, including a huge pair of binoculars. 

U Boat pennant.


An original WW2 Duffel Coat, a much finer weave than modern versions and very, very thick. My Dad used to wear one of these on his motorbike going up to the 100 Club back in the 1950s.

Another tick on my 'bits of old battleships' quest! A piece of the Tirpitz!

A rather nice model of said battlewagon.

And HMS Belfast.

A very nice model of an escort carrier, made by an ex sailor who served on one. I kept being reminded of the fate of the escort carriers in 'HMS Ulysses'.

Spot the Airfix kits! A diorama of an airbase at Murmansk.

More Airfix kits, Coastal Command planes.

I really like this Halifax in Coastal Command colours. I don't think it is the Airfix model though, although the fuel truck certainly is, as are the bomb carts and tractors around the Control Tower.

And the Airfix fuel bowser with this Grumman (Helldiver?).

Loch Ewe with an assembling convoy, complete with sheep being herded past.

Although it isn't a huge museum, it was excellent and well worth a visit if you are in the part of the world.

North of Ullapool is the very isolated Croigach peninsular, the only way in and out is down a very, very narrow and winding road between precipitous mountains.

Off the coast however are the Summer Isles (yes, very Wicker Man), and on this particular uninhabited island just off the coast is a project to restore the old fishing station, and somewhat bizarrely, erecting an old AVRO hangar.

Ullapool is the largest town for many miles around, population 1500. It was established as a fishing station, but the railway never made it here, although it is one of the main ferry ports to Lewis and the Out Hebrides. 

The town has an excellent local museum however

Models of traditional fishing craft.

Through the 1970s until the late 90s, the fish processing facility dealt with lots and lots of Russian fishing ships, up to a hundred at a time. The trade died out as the Soviet and Russian economy collapsed.

That was a great trip, aided by the amazing weather and an added bonus being a great view of the Northern Lights (a five strength solar storm!). Next time I'd like to do the Outer Hebrides as Uist and Lewis were tantalisingly on the horizon.