100 Weeks Of Scotland: Going west in the dreich

A disused torpedo testing site at Loch Long. Picture: Alan McCredie
A disused torpedo testing site at Loch Long. Picture: Alan McCredie
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I had a couple of free days this week and decided to head into the west. The weather was beautiful when I left Edinburgh, all diamond-hard sunlight and ice blue skies.

By the time I had made it to the southern edge of Loch Lomond things had taken a turn for the worse, but no matter. Bad weather can make for just as good a photo as fine weather.

Before long I had found myself in Helensburgh and headed north up the banks of the Gare Loch. When driving along this road, it is not long before the naval base at Faslane rears industrial and ugly from the shores of the loch. It is then that the fact really hits home: these rugged and beautiful highland lochs and mountains are polluted - burrowed full of tunnels in which lurk the malignant objects that are the utter shame of humankind. Nuclear weapons have been stored in these hills, just 25 miles from some of the most densely populated areas of the UK, for decades. I tried to stop and photograph the gates at Faslane but was quickly stopped by small men with big mouths, in Day-Glo costumes and stupid hats, and told to move on. I did, happily.

On then, away from this cancer at the heart of Scotland, and up and over on to Loch Long before, with a depressing inevitability, more MoD installations at Glenmallan come in to view. This week’s first image is taken here. A jetty and three cranes service a huge ammunitions dump (possibly the largest in western Europe) that is located in the hills directly above. The Ark Royal berthed here to fill her belly with weapons of mass destruction in 2003 en route to the Iraq War.

I headed on towards Arrochar and just a mile or so past the town I came across the now abandoned and derelict torpedo testing station, run by the Royal Navy from 1912 until 1986. Here, from tubes under the jetty, torpedoes were fired down Loch Long. This place, crumbling and ignored, where now I wandered at leisure, was to be the downfall of one Augusto Alfredo Roggen who was accused and found guilty of spying on the facility in 1915. He was hauled to the Tower of London and shot.

With these grim places left far behind I cut overland towards Loch Fyne and began the long climb up Glen Croe towards the mountain pass at ‘Rest and Be Thankful”, a traditional stopping place for weary travellers after the long ascent up the glen. From here it is not too far along Loch Fyne (and past the always tempting Loch Fyne Oyster Bar) to one of my favourite places, Inveraray. County town of Argyll and home to the Dukes of Argyll it stands perfect on the banks of the loch and marked the furthest I had been along this road before.

Further west from Inveraray and you enter the ancient kingdom of Dalriada which 1,500 years ago encompassed large areas of western Scotland and also most of County Antrim in Northern Ireland. It is starkly beautiful and feels very remote, even though it is only a few hours from Glasgow.

The weather had turned pretty nasty by the time I had reached my hotel in Ardfern, whose harbour marina comfortably boasts far more boats and yachts than people in the village.

The following morning I found myself on an incredibly potholed and rocky road over to the west coast of the peninsula. The landscape beneath the leaden skies was incredibly bleak and foreboding and almost completely devoid of human habitation. Much as I love the wild places, I wasn’t too down heartened to finally reach as far west as I could go and then turning, to begin the long drive home. The huge heavy skies and the vast empty landscape had taken its toll and I am ashamed to say I did slightly crave the world of neon and steel.

Home by a different route, I drove for thirty or so miles along the banks of a mist shrouded Loch Awe without encountering a single other vehicle. Not one. I did however come across one of my favourite things – an old petrol pump from the 1930s. We all have our vices…

And on then through Tyndrum and Crianlarich before cutting across through the northern edge of the Trossachs and back to that land of neon and steel. And of course as soon as I got there, I wanted once more to be back under a storm grey sky, looking out over an empty, dreich and wonderful country.

• Alan McCredie began the ‘100 weeks of Scotland’ website in October last year, and it will conclude in Autumn 2014. McCredie’s goal is to chronicle two years of Scottish life in the run-up to the independence referendum.

McCredie says ‘one hundred weeks...’ is intended to show all sides of the country over the next two years. On the site, he says: “Whatever the result of the vote Scotland will be a different country afterward. These images will show a snapshot of the country in the run up to the referendum.

“The photos will be of all aspects of Scottish culture - politics, art, social issues, sport and anything else that catches the eye.”

Follow the project at 100weeksofscotland.com. You can also follow Alan on Twitter.

All pictures (c) Alan McCredie / 100 weeks of Scotland