MARCH 2002 - NO. 125

Military tourism: ‘possible avenue’ for Durness

The Cape Wrath Range is “second to none, anywhere, to see live bombing,” Durness folk learned last month, and it may be turned to commercial advantage if an idea floated by a local landowner is taken up, writes DAVID JARDINE.

MoD representative , Lieutenant Commander Rufus Redman, who attended a liaison meeting in the village on February 20, said: “Following an idea from Mr James Clark of Eribol Estate at the last meeting, I have looked at the suggestion of ‘military tourism’ for the Durness commercial community to consider.
“In November 2001, a small group of aviation enthusiasts were arrested in Greece for allegedly spying at an ‘open’ air show. Having used the initial story from the BBC News website as a starter, I found a wealth of information relating to ‘plane spotting’ and ‘aviation enthusiasts’. One particularly useful link was a site called Aviation Links: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/hjcurtis/spotting.htm#groups.”

Although the military cannot actively invite aviation enthusiasts to visit the Cape Wrath range, Commander Redman said they will not be obstructive towards any local initiative to encourage it. A dedicated sheltered area near Durness to view aircraft using the Cape Wrath bombardment range, perhaps on An Fharaid at Pol a’ Gheodha Bhain, could be developed by local businesses, he said.

None of the tours he had seen advertised can offer the chance of witnessing live bombing runs. “This experience for a military aviation enthusiast would, I imagine, be second to none,” said Commander Redman.

Iris Mackay, an MoD “trusted agent”, runs bus trips for bird watchers, walkers and sightseers to Cape Wrath in the summer. She said: “I can’t see military tourism being a big issue here. The only ones who like to come during exercises are ex-military personnel who’ve seen the place from the sea or air and want to see it from the land. Military tourism could be a good idea if some organisation could market it. I wouldn’t be against it,” she said.

“I think it’s one avenue possible,” said Fiona Mackay of the village’s Lazy Crofter Bunkhouse. “We’d have to talk to the military. In the present economic climate we can’t turn down anything.”

James Clark, “a humble, impoverished sheep farmer” and former helicopter pilot, has lived at Eribol for seventeen years. He said: “Up here you can see the latest technology delivering the latest weapons, totally in sight — and its totally free. There’s nowhere else you can see a Tomcat dropping a 2,000 pound live bomb. There are some anti’s in Durness who would be opposed in principle — incomers, in a very small minority.”
Mr Clark’s interest in military tourism is personal rather than commercial, he said. “During the last JMC I had ten helicopters, 700 people and sixty trucks at Eribol. I regularly host exercises on my land,” he added.

A dissenting voice is that of the SNP’s Rob Gibson, who also attended the meeting. He said: “I think it’s the last thing the local community needs. What it does need is the peace and quiet that tourists come to enjoy.

“The military attitude is one of unbelievable contempt.”

There are about 120 days a year of bombing during three periods — New Year to early April, mid-May to early July and the beginning of September to mid-November. Faraid Head offers a clear view across three miles of open sea of the target, An Garbh-eilean.

Return to front page