Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Pub-crawling cat emigrates from Campbeltown, and continues in Helelnsburgh

I wouldn’t normally mention anything from a source that aggressively ties to block me from viewing it because I’m using an adblocker (or tries to force me to disable or even uninstall it), so while I’ll return the favour by not identifying the source of the tale, I will tell about the cat (which I should point out only eat there, doesn’t drink).

The cat was being cared for by a lady in Campbeltown, who sadly died, so the cat lost its home.

A couple who had been friends with the lady tool the cat in, and brought it to their home in Helensburgh, thinking/hoping it would settle in with the incumbents.

However, the cat had been used to wandering around Campbeltown, and visiting the pubs.

It wasn’t long before it decided it wasn’t going to change its habits, and it left its new home.

However, far from being lost, it was spotted on a pub’s security camera, they opened the door, the cat came in – and made itself at home!

Long story short – a deal was done, and the move from the couple’s home to the pub became official.

Sorry for the generic tuxedo cat pic (obviously I can’t go with the original) – but Brook is tuxedo lady.

Tuxedo Cat

Tuxedo Cat

15/09/2018 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Restored Campbeltown Picture House reopens on 22 December 2017

I’m tempted to be naughty and say the picture house will open just in time to close again, for Christmas holidays.

However, I’m sure they want to give the fixtures and fittings, and all the toys, a trial run without any hiccup causing them to close for a day or two for snagging.

Not being negative, just practical.

The Picture House in Campbeltown was first opened in 1913.

The art-nouveau building closed in 2014 and has now been fully restored, with the interior based on its appearance in the 1930s.

The cinema will reopen 22 December with a screening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A number of other new releases will be shown in the following weeks.

Via Date set for reopening of Campbeltown Picture House


Campbeltown Picture House

Campbeltown Picture House

14/12/2017 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , | Leave a comment

Campbeltown Picture House finally reaches restoration goal

One of the (many) things that has irritated me in recent years has been the discovery of Campbeltown Picture House – long after the days I was either able to visit the place at the drop of a hat, or was there on a reasonably regular basis most years.

Still, I was at least able to watch its fight for survival since it was closed, and its supporters were able to work on raising the money to save it, and eventually even restore it to its original glory after a £3.5 million restoration, at least as it was following an earlier refurbishment in 1935.

Described as one of the first purpose-built cinemas in the country (maybe even the first, according to some accounts), it opened in 1913, and was designed by the celebrated cinema designer Albert V Gardner, who studied architecture at The Glasgow School of Art between 1901 and 1905

Gardner embellished Campbeltown Picture House with a blue sky with moving white clouds projected across it, and two plasterwork buildings (known locally as the “wee houses”) on either side of the screen. The effect was to give the auditorium the ambiance of a Mediterranean courtyard.

These special features have been meticulously restored with other elements of the original design such as the art deco lights recreated by contemporary craftspeople.

Few of these atmospheric cinemas now survive with Campbeltown Picture House being the only example left in Scotland and one of only a handful in Europe.

The cinema celebrated its centenary in 2013 but closed a year later while efforts to secure its refurbishment continued.

Via Campbeltown Picture House returned to former glory

Campbeltown Picture House

Campbeltown Picture House

As it’s been so long since I was able to go to Campbeltown, I was also interested to read that:

Two derelict hotels have been reopened, a new golf course built and the town hall and other nearby buildings restored.

A seasonal ferry service to Ardrossan has also been established to provide an alternative to the long road journey to Glasgow.

The hope is that the restored Picture House could help attract more tourists to the area.

The biggest problem I had when I was in the area (to sneak around the then still active RAF Machrihanish) was to stop bursting out laughing if stories about it being Scotland’s Area 51 crossed my mind, with invisible secret aircraft flying around, and an entire underground city hidden below, accessed by giant elevators hidden in the hangars (and Project Aurora was always a favourite of the local conspiracy theorists).

Wonder if it is still down there?

Perhaps now accessed via secret underwater caverns, visited by the UK’s secret nuclear submarine fleet, since the base has been sold off.

23/11/2017 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

World War II missile discovered near Campbeltown

GBU-27 missile

Modern missile

It’s a while since a bomb disposal story has popped up, but a slightly unusual tale appeared in this evening’s news.

It related to a story released by the MoD, confirming that a Royal Navy bomb disposal team had blown up a missile which had earlier been dragged up by a dredger operating near the harbour at Campbeltown. The team took the missile out to sea, and blew it up in water of approximately 12 metres depth.

The item was described as both a ‘missile’ and as a piece of ‘historic ordnance’, and it was stated that there was “no reason to suspect the missile was live.

Why did I describe the story as slightly unusual?

Simply because of the use of the word ‘missile’, rather than ‘projectile’, or ‘shell’, or ‘rocket’.

When referring to World War II, the latter descriptions are fairly common, and describe various weapons, with projectiles and shells generally being fired by guns, while rockets are self-powered and fired from various types of launcher, which does make them missiles by definition.

The story caught my eye because when referring to missiles from the time of World War II, the subject is generally something like the V-2 rocket, Hitler’s long-range ballistic missile (which was 11 metres, or 46 feet long).

Rockets were usually just referred to as rockets, and were smallish devices fitted to some aircraft, or larger devices  arranged in arrays as anti-aircraft batteries, known as Z-Batteries.

As far as I know, no Z-Batteries were installed anywhere near Campbeltown, so the discovery of a missile, or rocket, is suggestive of the use of this type of ordnance in the area, possibly from an aircraft, or other craft, for training, which was prevalent in the general area. A number of bombing ranges were established around the Kintyre peninsula, and some included facilities for aircraft weapons training. From reading about these ranges, the assumption has been that this would have related to guns, or cannons, but this find may mean that aircraft equipped with rockets were also active on the ranges.

02/05/2010 Posted by | World War II | , , , , | Leave a comment

Clyde coastal resort windfall

Possibly sending one or two readers to check the date and be sure it wasn’t April 1, news that five towns on the west coast of Scotland which had been fighting for shares in a £10 million regeneration found that they had not only secured their shares, but that the fund had actually grown to £19.5 million with the addition of a further £9.5 million.

Originally, Independent consultants were reported to have recommended that the original £10 million be split to give Rothesay £2.4 million and Campbeltown £6.5m, leaving the other contenders, Helensburgh , Dunoon, and Oban with nothing (no, the numbers don’t add up for me either, but I can only quote what was reported).

The additional funding comes in the form of an additional £2.5 million being added to the programme, while the council’s budget for loans charges will be increased over the next five years to allow another £7 million to go into the overall fund.

Councillors unanimously agreed to divide the £19.5 million fund as follows:

  • Rothesay, £2.4 million as per the original recommendation
  • Campbeltown, £6.5 million as per the original recommendation
  • Helensburgh, £6.6m towards redevelopment
  • Dunoon, £3.5 million to be added to £5.3 million already committed to the redevelopment of the town’s Victorian pier
  • Oban Bay, £900,000 for a marina, increased to £6.9 million by an additional £6 million from the council in unallocated roads money from 2012 onwards

The process now requires the council’s executive committee to wait for a report setting out the full business cases for the approved projects.

Read more of the details, with a particular perspective on the restoration of Rothesay’s historic Art Deco pavilion.

27/11/2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Machrihanish airbase to be sold

Thousands of conspiracy theorists will be reading news of the sale of the former RAF, NATO, Cold War, MoD airbase, and by dismayed that one of their favourite sites – which they christened “Scotland’s Area 51” – is to be sold.

We look forward to their theories as to how the British, and Americans who they must be in cahoots with, will sneak out all the black secrets from the area without being seen, and how all the flying saucers and Top Secret, non-existent, craft that use the area are going to continue without this essential European staging post.

Then there’s the question of the “City Beneath the Runway”. Surely all the resources and peoples living and working down there are not just going to be abandoned. Or will there be another Mary King’s Close event, and the underground city will just be sealed off and forgotten, together with its occupants. This would, of course, conveniently eliminate anyone that might later run to the papers and sell their story and the secret.

(Your scribe used to work with US technical support staff who had been posted to NATO Machrihanish over twenty years ago, and the stories made for great laughter over a pint).

Meanwhile, back in the real world…

The MoD has given an undertaking to consult with the local community prior to completion of the sale, which will see twenty jobs lost, and Argyll and Bute MP Alan Reid has warned the base should not simply be sold to the highest bidder.

At the forefront of concerns is the future of Campbeltown Airport, which uses the western section of the of the former airbase for its operations, however the MoD has already stated that this operation is not threatened by their plans.

Those who will lose their jobs are currently employed as facilities management staff and security guards, however the MoD has said there may be opportunities for them to provide services to the existing tenants, or transfer their positions to the new owners. Campbeltown Airport operates from a section of the site which is leased for the purpose by Highlands and Islands Airports.

They couldn’t put the airfield at risk now, not with the luxurious developments and Machrihanish Dunes golf course moving towards completion, which are sure to depend on it to bring in wealthy visitors.

The airfield has a long military history, and can trace its roots back to World War I, when a small aerodrome with grass runways was established there to provide facilities for non-rigid airships (blimps) and fixed wing aircraft of the Royal Naval Air Service.

With the end of World War I in 1918, the military left the area, and the aerodrome became established as a civilian operation, serving the growing number of private and pleasure flyers, created from the ranks of those who had been trained to fly during the war, and were redundant as it ended. By the early 1930s, Midland & Scottish Air Ferries Ltd began to operate scheduled, commercial flights from the airfield, which had become known under a variety of names, including Campbeltown Aerodrome, which is simply the obsolete language form of Campbeltown Airport.

World War II

The outbreak of World War II saw the Royal Navy return to the area, requisitioning the original airfield and the area to its north. Sunley’s (an English construction company) began construction of the new airfield to the north of the existing site, on an area of flat land known as The Laggan. On completion, the new airfield opened as Strabane Naval Air Station, and named HMS Landrail on June 15, 1941, becoming RNAS Machrihanish on Monday, June 23, 1941. The old Strath airfield became HMS Landrail II, and continued to operate as a satellite of the new airfield.

The airfield was reactivated during the Korean War (1950 – 1953), and became operational from December 1, 1951 to December 1, 1952. During this period, squadrons used the area’s training facilities to practice their operations prior to embarking on HMS Indomitable in May, 1952. By 1953, the airfield had again been abandoned.

During the 1950s, tensions relating to the Cold War steadily grew in intensity, and this led to the next, and largest, development at Machrihanish.
The base was also home to a US Navy SEAL (SEa, Air, Land) Commando Unit, a twenty person team known as a Naval Special Warfare Detachment. The unit was located at the western end of the runway, together with the buildings and silos of the Weapons Facility. Three such units have been identified: Navy Special Warfare Unit One, Subic Bay, Philippines; Navy Special Warfare Unit Two, Machrihanish, United Kingdom; Navy Special Warfare Unit Three, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.

The need to maintain the base and facilities at Machrihanish gradually diminished during the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the Cold War effectively ended with the breakup of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.

After the Cold War

Operational activity at Machrihanish decreased rapidly in the early 1990s, and on June 30, 1995, the US Navy officially handed control of the base back to the MoD, which is now responsible for the site. Retained on a care and maintenance basis, the airfield could be reverted to military use in times of conflict or national emergency.


On May 26, 2012, the BBC carried news of the sale of the site of the former base, for £1.

The land was bought by a local community group, a company owned and controlled by local people. Their intention is to use the site to reinvigorate the local economy near Campbeltown.

The Machrihanish Airbase Community Company wants to attract businesses to the areas and create jobs.

The site covers some 1,000 acre, and includes Campbeltown Airport and an often troubled factory involved in wind turbine manufacturing. The report by BBC Scotland suggests that both have signed long leases and are unaffected by this deal.

Former RAF Machrihanish bought for £1

07/10/2008 Posted by | Aviation, Cold War, Naval, World War I, World War II | , , , , , , | 4 Comments


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