By John Russell.
I had gone with a friend up to Durness for a day out, and decided to show her Balnakeil Bay, which, in my opinion, is the most beautiful beach in Scotland.
I had walked along here previously and my plan was to go to the army station at the end and watch the sea birds. Having seen the watch tower before I knew it was related to the Cape Wrath firing range, but never before had I seen it in use. However I noticed a red flag flying on top of the tower and there were people in attendance which presumably barred us from approaching the station.
Consequently, we decided to walk to the right to a cliff that was looking across to Cape Wrath. Bathed in sunshine, on approaching the cliff, we went down a small dip which brought us close to the cliff face.
As we arrived in the dip, there was a strange shock wave came over us, followed by the sound of an almighty bang. We reached the top of the cliff and saw smoke coming from a small island (Dulcis island) which was about a mile away from where we were and about five hundred yards off the Cape Wrath peninsula.
We realised that this was a jet doing target practise, Cape Wrath being the only place in Europe where armies or navies from all over Europe can fire live ammunition. What shocked me was that we could see all round us and in the distance an eye can see there were no jets within visual range.
Now, I have a limited knowledge of how it would be to be bombed, but from movies I would expect to hear the planes flying over which would give people time to run to the bomb shelter. However, this was just so scary, the missile was fired, hit the rock and exploded, and only then did we hear it. This was followed by a shock wave which I physically felt it going through my body.
Where we were sitting was approximately a mile away from where the bombs were exploding and it was nothing like the movies at all. I then tried to imagine what a family would feel if they were sitting at home with the building next to them being targeted – or even a house in the next street. Remember, we were about a mile away…and still felt the shock go through us. Overhead, an empty sky and no early warnings of noisy planes.
we could hear the rat-a-tat of the gun, then saw the bullets running in a line up the rock
After a few moments, three Tornado jets, (the ones you have no doubt seen on television programmes about the Lossiemouth base closures) flew past at a tremendous speed and quickly disappeared into the sky again.
As we settled back down to have a cup o tea and a sandwich, another round of explosions went off and once again there was the shock wave, black pillars of smoke rose to the air, then you heard it, then the shock wave again.
The jets then returned speeding past us and, looking across at the rock, we noticed that a machine gun was now being fired, we could hear the rat-a-tat of the gun, then saw the bullets running in a line up the rock, each mini explosion was, from our spot, about the size of a football – but bright enough to be noticed on a sunny day.
A single plane then flew over us, and when it was approaching the rock, there was a largish splash in the sea, which I assumed was something that had either missed its target, or failed to go off. Whichever it was, there is, I assume, now a live missile on the sea bed (look out any crab fishermen in the area). On my last visit to Cape Wrath, I met a group of people from the MOD who were going up to Cape Wrath to retrieve the unexploded ordinance, and detonate them.
The planes then flew past us for a final time then disappeared. This whole episode, although quite exciting at the time (Jake pointed out it was November the 5th), left me feeling really uneasy about the whole incident and again my mind went back to Iraq and Afghanistan and to people who are not really part of the whole war issue. Just people trying to get on with their lives and the only reason for being in danger is their proximity to some unsuspected target which could potentially have their families killed and their homes ruined.
After all the jets had gone there was a lingering smell of sulphur in the air, like the smell a match makes after it had been blown out… A strange day altogether