The long-haul walking journey between the Firth of Tay (Dundee) and the Moray Firth (Inverness) continued with a repeating theme of airfields along the coastline of Scotland, most of which are now disused. Since leaving Dundee I’d already passed eight and there were more to come this week as I made way to Inverness.
At Spey Bay, the Moray coastal trail uses a pedestrianised railway bridge over the river Spey, a river which is recognised for its excellent salmon and trout fishing. The Spey is also very important for malt whisky production: Speyside is the largest of Scotland’s five key whisky producing areas. This week I passed my first maltings at Burghead (where the grain is converted into malt by soaking it in water) and saw my first distillery at Forres. Typically, I arrived after distillery closing time!
Reaching Forres involved two long days on the Moray trail beside the Firth. On my first day when approaching Lossiemouth, I spent much of the time outside a forest following an uneven pebble and stone track alongside old WW2 fortifications: a mix of pill boxes and anti-tank concrete blocks nicknamed ‘dragons teeth’. It wasn’t until I got much closer to the town that the terrain changed to fine sand. Looking across the beach I saw remains of WWII anti-glider posts embedded in the sand – these were designed to deter enemy aircraft from trying to land on the beach.
Today’s RAF airfield at Lossiemouth was once home to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, HMS Fulmar, playing a key part in aircraft carrier operations. During the past week I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a former Aircraft Handler, a Weapons Analyst Wren, a Meteorological Wren and a WRNS Secretarial officer, all of whom had fond memories of their time at ‘Lossie’. The Aircraft Handler, Les, now in his mid-80s still regards his time in the Royal Navy as some of the best. Listening to Les reminded me of the RN’s recruiting advertisement ‘Made in the Royal Navy’.
My second walking day to Kinloss was equally long, but this time most of it was done along forest tracks, before emerging to see the vast sweep of Burghead Bay close to the former RAF Kinloss airfield. The Roseisle forest dates back to the 1930s and was formed entirely on sand dunes. The Corsican and Scot pine trees were deliberately planted to help stabalise the dunes - both trees thrive on dry sandy soil. At least the walk was cool, although the pebbled path, mixed with sand and old pine cones proved to be tiring for my feet.
RAF Kinloss ceased flying operations in July 2011 and it was somewhat eerie observing such a large airfield so quiet. Signs still exist where spotters could park and watch aircraft from viewing platforms. By chance I discovered that during WW2 Kinloss had a satellite unit with grass runways at nearby Forres. The satellite unit was developed to ease pressure on Kinloss and by 1941 the separate RAF Forres was opened. Here aircrew were trained on Whitley aircraft, preparing them for front line duties with Bomber Command. During those training years 26 Whitley aircraft were lost, together with 55 lives. The airfield also housed Italian Prisoners of War and subsequently displaced units from the Polish Army lived here for two years.
All that remains are a couple of memorials situated by the busy A96, placed in the garden of a long closed and vandalised Little Chef cafe.
Most of my final approach into Inverness had to be done on roads – some peaceful, others not. As I ‘walked the white kerb line’ on a hot day it seemed the hotter the day, the faster the traffic! Before I left the Moray shores I passed the stunning Fort George, with its panoramic views up and down the Moray Firth. Here I came across another memorial, this time to a WWI airfield where seaplanes from Royal Naval Air Station Fort George had once conducted maritime patrols.
Later, when passing Inverness Airport (once RAF Dalcross), I knew that I’d soon be coming into land myself at Inverness. On arrival I was scheduled to meet the Sea Cadets at Training Ship Briton in South Kessock. It has one of the best views you could wish for - the Moray Firth spanned by the Kessock Bridge - my next crossing point.
See Photo Album No 35 - Into Inverness