Dienstag, 21. Mai 2024

The WWI Batteries on North and South Sutor / Cromarty Firth

This is once again a blog post in English, so that those who are supposed to understand it can really understand it.

The highlight of my holiday in Scotland this year was to be a visit to the coastal batteries of North and South Sutor on Cromarty Firth. I had carefully prepared this visit, obtained plans of all the sites and found out the GPS coordinates of the main elements.

The first disillusion came when I studied the ferry connection from Cromarty to Nigg. If you want to get from the Black Isle to North Sutor Battery, you have to use this ferry; the distance between Cromarty and the battery is just 3.3 kilometres. Unfortunately, the ferry service doesn't start until June - we were there in May. Alternatively, we would have had to circumnavigate the Cromarty Firth by land, which is a 64 kilometres drive from Cromarty! That exceeded the distance we were willing to travel by far. So the North Sutor Battery had to be cancelled.

Today, i.e. on Tuesday 21 May, we decided to at least explore South Sutor. As my fortification focus is on the period between 1848 and 1918, the relics of the Second World War are of little interest to me. However, South Sutor has some very interesting things to offer from the First World War, namely a 9.2-inch gun emplacement (‘No. 1 Gun’) and an emplacement for two 4-inch QF guns (Site no. 3). The latter is said to still have remnants of the original camouflage paint from the time of the First World War. South Sutor is considered to be ‘the most complete surviving coastal battery within Scotland’ and is even classified a Scheduled Monument, making it a very promising place to visit!

Fortunately, the South Sutor Car Park, 200 metres above the 4-inch quick-fire gun emplacement, is well signposted. However, the road there is quite challenging: the numerous potholes are of such depth and extent that they actually require a new term. I was glad to be travelling in an SUV. It’s a pity that it's no longer possible to have a proper road financed by EU funds.

We found the car park almost empty. What immediately caught our eye was this uninviting sign on a gate:

Behind the gate is the main complex of the battery, including the 9.2-inch gun emplacement. The entire area is carefully fenced off with barbed wire, so someone explicitly does not want anyone interested in fortifications to visit the site:

In my view, this is blatantly contrary to the nature of a Scheduled Monument; if the site is of such a significance, why is the public excluded? To my opinion that's a real shame!

Next we walked along the ‘100 Steps’ footpath, which runs parallel to the coastline to the eastern outskirts of Cromarty:

The plans of the 4-inch gun emplacement show that there must have been a staircase from the current car park down to the searchlight positions at the foot of the steep slope. In practice, however, there was no sign of this. We walked along the footpath until we were too far south-west of the gun emplacements. On our right there were only steep slopes and thickets, but no way down. Canmore writes: ‘The 4-inch QF battery ... is located at the base of South Sutor on steeply sloping terrain.’ It must therefore be somewhere between the hiking trail and the sea, but cannot be seen or reached from the trail. Climbing down cross-country in unknown terrain would be life-threatening:

To sum up: this part of the Scheduled Monument is also de facto inaccessible and cannot even be seen from a short distance (we are talking about just 120 metres).

Canmore, the Highland Historic Environment Record (HER) database, the Ross and Cromarty Heritage site, the Ancient Monuments UK database, they all report on the South Sutor Battery, but nowhere even a hint that no element of this battery is accessible. I've said it before and I say it again: That is a shame! I don't have the slightest sympathy for it. 

Dear Scots: If you don't want people to visit your places of interest, it's best not to mention them at all!

To make the most of a wasted afternoon, I photographed the four 4-inch quick-firing (QF) gun emplacements (Site No. 2) from the South Sutor Car Park with a telephoto:

Some elements from the Second World War can also be clearly recognised: