Defending the Past: Pink Panther and Permanent Puffin
RUTH MACDOUGALL looks back on the Defending The Past project in Cape Wrath
I WAS was invited by The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) in 2009 to research, develop and lead a series of creative workshops for the schools that border Cape Wrath Military Training Centre, as part of a project run by RCAHMS entitled Defending the Past.
This project, which received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Defence Estates (who manage the military estate), aimed to increase access, understanding and enjoyment of the built heritage contained within the Training Centre and build a stronger relationship between the community and the military.
After a series of school based workshops at Kinlochbervie High School that allowed the pupils of first and second year to investigate the location remotely, we took the classes on separate overnight camping trips on the Cape, followed by a day trip with the pupils of primary four-to-six from Durness Primary School.
The Cape Wrath Military Training Centre lies within an archaeological area known as Atlantic Scotland. Over the centuries, man has made his mark throughout the region but nowhere do the ancient and contemporary mark makers’ works converge more contentiously than at Port Odhar on Cape Wrath’s East Coast.
Here, what may be the earliest structure found on Cape Wrath Training Centre, a round-ended building that could potentially be medieval in date, bears two blast craters. Defending the Past without Attacking the Present was always going to be a challenge…
Although there could barely be a better name for the Cape given its current use, its original Norse name was The Parph, meaning Turning Point. Mindful of our heritage and the unavoidable context of Cape Wrath’s military presence, we worked to draw a new map of the Cape, applied directly to its landscape.
Day 3, Second Year Pupils, Wednesday 19 May 2010, 1600 hrs. Breaking our arrowhead formation, we halt above the old croft house at Inshore and look back across the moor towards the highest peak on Cape Wrath, Fashven. From our vantage point we gather: soldiers, historians, teenagers, artists and teachers, some proudly, others perplexed as we ponder our efforts and survey the scene.
Four ex-Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) sit, slumped in the peat bogs before us, once almost invisible, now rallied in opposition to the five principles of camouflage: Shape, Shine, Shadow, Silhouette and Sudden movement. Our four newly styled APCs certainly make an impact on the landscape of Cape Wrath.
The Pink one is my favourite. Despite the bullet marks, Penelope Pitt Stop or Barbie could definitely have made good with this one. You may not think it, but in the same way that black and white striped war ships disappear at sea, pink painted army vehicles, affectionately known as Pink Panthers, disappear in the desert. Not so in the context of Cape Wrath, a sitting blancmange!
Many of the pupils had seen the APCs helicopter-lifted onto the site. They had never been so graceful; swinging gently below the helicopters, ready to take up their new posts as stationary targets. In a playful remembrance of this spectacle, S1 had attached 200 balloons to the second APC during the previous two day trip.
The third carrier clad in its new, reflective skin, is at once hailed as a Dalek. A pool of water and light, mirroring the vast sky and windswept landscape; perhaps better viewed from above as an angular lochen in the next wave of RCAHMS aerial photographs.
After investigating the number plate of the fourth carrier we were able to trace its activities: Into service on 5th February – the 2nd Royal Anglian Regiment – 3rd Royal Green jackets – 1st Yorkshire Regiment – 1st Royal regiment of Fusiliers – 7th January 1997 – made its way up to Tain.
A direct hit to the windshield had failed to penetrate the glass, the rusting, bullet-riddled façade is now wrapped thickly in bubble wrap (the wrap used was biodegradable and taken away 5 days later to prevent any harm to the local wildlife), bearing witness to the precious function the vehicle has and continues to serve.
We walk to the bothy on Kervaig Beach. The type of beach that you want no one else to know about, flanked by the highest sea cliffs in mainland Britain, a natural arch and the Cathedral stack, as it is known locally. We can only wonder why we’ve never been here before.
It’s army ration packs for dinner, playing in the sea and endless games of hard fought Rounders amongst abandoned welly boots as the sun goes down. Heat from the roaring camp fire aids the propulsion of our sky lanterns as they rocket into the air, then fall silently back to earth, redundant flares, inscribed with the hopes and wishes of this excellent packet of second years.
Thursday. After 7am P.T. on the beach with Major Halpin (ex-Sandhurst instructor!), the group set about painting their anti targets. 1m x 1m targets that must not be hit and are placed near sites that the pupils wish to protect from accidental damage by training soldiers, and visiting public. Many of the sites they choose are located along the 12-mile road that was constructed to service the Stevenson lighthouse, built in 1824.
Each mile of the road is marked with a piece of granite incised with the mile number and highlighted in black and white paint. The varying shapes of stone and style of etching have led to the common belief that they were created by the lighthouse keepers.
However, during the 2008 survey of the Cape, the number 8 mile marker was found to be missing! A competition was launched for S1 and S2 to design a replacement marker using lino print. S1’s Jennifer Ross was proclaimed the winner, her bold design of a puffin, proudly bearing the number 8 on its breast was subsequently sand blasted onto Granite sourced from the store house and slipway at Clais Charnach; also built in 1824 to aid supplies to the lighthouse.
Now we place the stone, our permanent installation on Cape Wrath. The Cape Wrath Challenge runners will be glad of it.
Friday, the last day of our own weeklong Cape Wrath Challenge, it is finally the turn of the Primary school. We do not stay overnight or paint personnel carriers but we do get something else rather special. We climb to the top of the Stevenson Lighthouse. Now fully automated, no one is allowed in the lighthouse without special permission. The walls glisten with condensation, the view at the top is misty and dull but the lantern room is spectacular. The lantern’s crystal glass lenses produced by the French inventor Augustine Fresnel are an inspiration.
Whilst the number 8 mile marker is the permanent, physical legacy of this project on Cape Wrath, as we perform our last extraction to the jetty at Keodale, I feel sure that there are now 30 young people in the North West of Scotland whose privileged knowledge and experience of the Cape will be indelibly marked on their minds forever.
From the 28 August-17 September a small exhibition of images taken during the Cape Wrath camping trips will be displayed in Loch Croispol Bookshop, Durness. A unique set of playing cards, showcasing imagery generated by the project of the built and natural heritage of Cape Wrath and its surrounding areas, will also be launched in Durness on 27 August. These cards will be given to soldiers visiting the area to train as well as being available through local outlets to visitors of this stunning area.
© Ruth Macdougall, 2010