Friday, July 21, 2017

The Victoria Falls and The Dark Island

On day three of the 500 we did a tricky little drive - the green bit at the top of the line here.
This part of the route runs along the coast, with spectacular beaches, huge cliffs and stunning rock formations.  On day four, we were planning to reach the Caves Of Smoo - which I always say as The Caves Of Smoooooooo in a Sir Ian McKellern kind of way.

Here is the photo blog of the day.
recalling another much darker day....

The Gairloch

Carrot cake!

The Victoria Falls

The top of the falls

They only drop a few feet but they made a lot of noise.

Gairloch has a community garden along the wall of the harbour

And a few hundred yards away, the air is affected by the gulf stream. There are a few botanical gardens in these few square miles.  But they were mobbed by tourist coaches.

I knew we were going to have Gruinard Island in our sight at one point.  It lies in Gruinard Bay between  Gairloch and Ullapool, a wee island 1.2 miles  long by 0.6 miles wide. 

I didn't realise that it was so close to the shore - only about half a mile away at its closest point. The name might be familiar to you as it has been mentioned more than a few times in books and films. The Enemy by Desmond Bagley for one, and the Alistair McLean one set in Rassay is another. Why?

Because the island was dangerous for all mammals after experiments with the anthrax bacterium in 1942. It was supposed to be decontaminated in the 1990s but some folk remain unconvinced. And my pathology lecturer told me it is actually quite difficult to catch anthrax. As a spore, it is heavy so you really have to sniff it to get into your lungs.  Hence why heroin  that has been cut  on contaminated hides is so dangerous to immune compromised substance abusers- we have seen a lot of that in Scotland in the last few years.

In 1881 the population of Gruinard was 6! And it was an island full of trees. Now there are no trees and no people.

 Operation Vegetarian (????!!!) was a biological warfare test carried out on the island in 1942. Those who carried it out were from Porten Down - which is in the South of England. They were testing the use of Anthrax as a weapon.

They used a nasty strain of Anthrax, "Vollum 14578" and this was placed in a bomb and some sheep were tethered next to the bomb. They then exploded it,  and filmed what happened.  The sheep died within days of their exposure.  These films were declassified in 1997.

The plan was to drop Anthrax bombs on Germany to make their large cities uninhabitable and this plan was supported by the difficulty they had in trying to decontaminate Gruinard.  The spores were so durable and hardy, they couldn't get rid of the stuff.

Gruinard Island was quarantined indefinitely.

In 1981 a story began to circulate, "Operation Dark Harvest", a movement to decontaminate the island,  had reported that a "team of microbiologists from two universities" had  got onto the island, collected samples and were sending them to  various people of interest ( and to Porten Down). they demanded  that the public be educated about the island  and that the government  stopped their indifference.

 None of the samples contained anthrax  and although the soil was similar to that found on the island, it couldn't be proved as to where the samples had been taken.

But it was in the news and it didn't go away. By 1986 a determined effort to decontaminate the island started by spraying 280 tonnes of formaldehyde solution diluted in sea water all over the place.

 Then they put some sheep on it. And they survived.

                                                        The Island, the photo taken from the road.

                                               A close up. Nothing much going on there.

Ullapool bay. Height of summer!

Ullapool high street. 

I liked this boat's laid back approach in contrast to

The ferry terminal that resembles an airport.

The weather was flexing it's muscles.

And the world started to look like Tolkien had designed it. ( a bad hobbit to get into )

And the award winning sands at Alitanabradhan
(that's Gaelic for sand gets everywhere )

Nice innit? It was very cold.

Caro Ramsay 21 07 2017


  1. It does all look just a WEE bit chilly. I'm surprised that they haven't dropped seeds from local trees on the island to help restore some of it's natural habitat.

  2. The original owner was paid £500 by the gvt and was promised he could buy it back at the same price - which he ( the family) did in the 1990's. (a similar island has just gone on sale for £400, 000). I guess he thinks sheep are more profitable than trees or maybe
    young trees need the protection of older stock to thrive in that environment. It's very bare now. or very Baaaaaaare as we are talking sheep!

  3. "A bad hobbit to get into," and "nice innit?" There weren't many puns you missed, Boss, though I did sort of hope you'd have done something with the Caro T. Cake insert.

    In all seriousness...well, at least some seriousness, that was a very interesting bit of reporting. And the tale of the effects of drug cutting on contaminated hides was mind a manner of speaking.