A first time visitor to Wester Ross could be forgiven for thinking that the idyllic beauty of its coastline has always been the way it is today. It is easy to forget that great changes and significant events can take place in the most remote areas as easily as they can in busier and better known ones.
The huge sea loch of Loch Ewe penetrates deeply into the mountainous landscape, providing a magnificent natural harbour that would certainly have been appreciated by our distant seagoing ancestors, including the Vikings. Up to eight miles long and (give or take the odd island) three wide, Loch Ewe remains of naval significance as a refuelling base, but it was during World War II that military activity in the area reached a peak.
"Loch Ewe During World War II" by Steve Chadwick provides a fascinating account of this activity, and helps today's visitors find the traces on the ground of what took place. The book was first produced in 1996, but what we have now is a significantly updated and expanded edition that takes into account a considerable amount of fresh information. Some of this has come to light in response to the first edition, and some has become available thanks to the Internet. The result is a book that should be considered essential reading by any visitor to one of the most attractive parts of Scotland.
We'd always known of naval activity, past and current, in and around Loch Ewe. On our first visit in the early 1980s we ran into, not quite literally, a group of heavily armed Dutch marines on the A832 beside the loch during a training exercise. But the picture presented by Steve Chadwick is a revelation, both in its extent and its variety. Loch Ewe's role as a naval anchorage is covered extensively, as is its use as a gathering point for many of the Arctic convoys carrying supplies to northern Russia. But we also find between the covers information about the Highland Fieldcraft Training Centre (think "Outward Bound" for trainee army officers); about air raids on the area; about sinking ships and crashing aircraft; and about the people involved, both residents of the area and the military personnel who arrived here in large numbers for an indeterminate length of time. The inglorious story of biological warfare experiments with anthrax on nearby Gruinard Island is also related. And thanks to this book we even know which room in the Gairloch Hotel, used as a hospital during the war, served as the morgue!