Friday, April 17, 2009

A day for discoveries and secrets

Today we have our car back and so we reluctantly take our leave from the Pitcullen Guest House. Peter has been such a delight to stay with - he was totally hospitable and friendly and his home (the guest house) was sooo comfortable! Perth has been a lovely spot to spend a few days and everyone has been welcoming but there is almost no street parking!!

We have fallen in love with Scotland so much so that I was driven to write a letter to the Editor of The Scotsman, the country's main daily newspaper:
We would like to take this opportunity to say a heartfelt thank you to the people of Scotland. We are currently on an extended holiday in Europe and Scotland has been a wonderful and delightful surprise. We did not have any particular expectation of Scotland (probably to our shame) as none of our contacts had ever visited here - much the pity.
The greatest asset that any industry has, and probably one of the most important components in the tourism sector are its people. Scotland can certainly hold its head high in this regard - we have found the people to be warm, welcoming and genuinely wanting to help us enjoy the best there is to offer. And boy - is there a lot on offer!

Scotland is a land of the most incredible and diverse natural attractions, a history that is rich and passionate and people who are willing to share all their local secret and not-so-secret places! So, our trip criss-crossing and travelling up and down the west, north and east coasts has been a wonderful journey of discoveries and new friendships - Scotland - from our hearts, thank you!

We wanted to see a little more to the east of here and so drive to Dundee through picturesque rural countryside that is quickly being covered in plastic in the form of hothouses. It is amazing how much land is being planted under them! And the skyline is dotted with castles. One in particular looks stunning and so near the town of we pull off the highway to take a look. However, this turns out to be one we don't want to get too close to - it is HMP Castle Huntly - translating, that means Her Majesty's Prison! We could not even get real close and so had to be happy with a mid-distance photo. The other thing that we see more of are standing stones in the middle of fields. In rural settings, life just goes on around the monuments!! At least they are not destroyed.
At Dundee, the whole of the city centre is being redirected around construction works and so it is a real mess. We don't have a lot of time. We follow the signs to have a look at the HM Frigate Unicorn. With 46 impressive 18lb big guns, the ship was launched in 1824 having been constructed after the Napoleonic Wars to re-equip the battle weary Royal Navy. However, it was never fitted with masts and never saw active service. Because the hull was roofed over, it has stayed in excellent condition and is now acknowledged as the finest example of all the wooden ships in the world from her era.

However, it is still a ship. It is still in the water. And the water continues to move and the ship with it and my stomach with that! So I have a quick look at the Gun Deck and leave Michael to climb up and down impossibly steep narrow cramped stairs to the other three decks. He later tells me I would have also been claustrophobic - something I have never had a problem with - smart alec! Still, the Unicorn is impressive.

(Michael) The preservation of this vessel is quite amazing when one considers it still sits in the 'briny', whereas some historical ships are in a dry dock. The subtle ebb and sway of the tide adds to the overall experience and appeal, either when standing on the main deck or crouched in the confines of the hull. The impressive array of the replicated 18lb muzzle-loaders, and the cannon barrels are cast in fibreglass! However, the icing on this ordinance cake is represented by the original cast iron short barrelled 24lb carronades, equivalent to 20 century howitzers.

The expanse of the main deck diminishes as you descend the lower decks. It becomes immediately apparent, the decks are indicative of the ranks on board the ship - the lower the deck, the more cramped it becomes. So sinister, when you realise the grunts lived in poor ventilated conditions with the perpetual stink from the gunpowder magazines and bilge.

This preserved time capsule which exemplifies the anthem 'Rule Britannia', and as interesting as it may be, cannot disguise the life of a 'English Tar' on board one of HM's ships of wind and sail: poor food; cruel punishment; disease and a violent existence. Happy days.... (M)

So we head over the Tay Road Bridge towards St Andrews - no, not for the golf, but because it is the most direct route to Scotland's best kept secret. Don't know why this area is so well developed for golf courses - and I count at least 5. Yes, I know that St Andrews was where the game was first played in Scotland, but why all the others? The weather is so inhospitable. Even today that was glorious in Perth and Dundee is bitterly cold and blustery in St Andrews - it was ewok time again. We spy the St Andrews Cathedral and Priory ruins as we leave town - too bad we don't have the time to stop and explore them - they look very interesting.
As 'golf overload' passes us by, we digress south in the direction of Anstruther towards another 'overload' a.k.a. Scotland's other best kept secret - 'Scotland's Secret Bunker' - and this structure has to be seen to be believed. This is a shrine to the paranoia of the western world at the time of the Cold War.

The entrance to the stronghold through (as described) "an innocent looking farmhouse"; cordoned by a perimeter of an electrified fence and by eight foot high chain link, barbed-wire capped boundary. All of this is punctuated by protruding concrete capped 'listening posts'. Welcome to an era of paranoia. Built during the onset of the 'Cold War', this was the nerve centre of the United Kingdoms' first line of defence in the event of a nuclear attack.

Entry into this subterranean labyrinth is indeed through the farmhouse, and descending two flights of stairs which leads the visitor onto the threshold (guarded by two 3 tonne blast doors,) of a 150 metre long tunnel. To lend this underground city an element of proportion; imagine the excavation of a 40 metre by 40 metre hole, and within was constructed a building with an outer shell of 3 metres of solid concrete and reinforced, every 15cm, with 2.5cm thick tungsten rods. Capable of supporting 2230sq ms of accommodation: communication, observation, tracking, RAF operations and living quarters.

As we made our way through the various sections and levels, an element of distrust and paranoia appeared to ooze from those very walls. There was no ambiance here, just an atmosphere of incredulousness, interspersed with the impression of seeing a 50's 'B Grade' science fiction movie unfold! However, there still remains sections of this complex which are inaccessible to visitors - very much on the QT. I that there were two facts of immense interest -
1. the women were well catered for with 500 internal and 2800 external (yep, those figures are correct) phone lines!
2. in the event of a nuclear strike, those inside the bunker would have been sealed. There would be no-one outside te rescue them (they would be assumed to all be dead) and even if there were, the bunker was a secret (doh), so they would have lived here for the remainder of their lives (but of course, they had those phone lines to keep in touch hehe).

With time running short and us expected in Edinburgh between 5 and 6 pm , our stay at the complex was short as there far too much to explore - so, it was farewell to 'Scotland's Secret Bunker'. We cross the Forth Firth bridge and marvel at the engineering of the rail bridge of to our left. We will try to get a photo in the coming days - they really are stunning!

We finally arrived at our destination, after negotiating a myriad of roundabouts and feeder lanes. We have a 2 bedroom unit at the Hot-el Apartments on the waterfront in a new area of Edinburgh that was almost impossible to find (and none of the locals we asked knew the area at all!) The weather had deteriorated from our visit to the bunker, and continued to follow us into Edinburgh!

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